Original Image: Andrew Filer
Meaning no disrespect, but when you think of quirky, artsy, creative roadside amusement, North Dakota is probably not the first place you think of. Ah, but way out in southwest North Dakota lies the Enchanted Highway, running north-south for 32 miles between the mega-cities of Regent and Gladstone. Surely you know Gladstone? Just about 10 miles east of Dickinson? Um, about 80 miles west of Bismarck? OK, now you’ve got it! Gladstone isn’t on the way to anywhere, but it’s less than a mile off Interstate 94, so the world races by just over the horizon of low, undulating, grassy pastures and farmland.
Also known variously as 102nd Ave SW, 101st Ave SW, and 100 1/2 Ave SW depending upon your location between the doglegs in the road, it’s a well-built but unassuming two-lane country highway in a land not thick with tourists, except those pedal-to-the-metalling it east to Bismarck and Fargo or west to Billings, Montana. In order to create a little magnet for eyeballs and tourist dollars, an enterprising fellow by the name of Gary Greff hatched a plan. He had skills as a metal sculptor and envisioned a series of large works of metal art along this stretch of road. Starting in 1990, he created the Tin Family, a farmer and his wife and son who stood around 45 feet tall, made of, amongst other things, a lot of oil drums. His next project was called Teddy Rides Again, a sort of outline of Teddy Roosevelt on a rearing horse, standing 51 feet tall. A few years later it was Pheasants on the Prairie, a group of bird sculptures 40 feet tall and up to 70 feet long! These things are not easily missed, and that’s the point. Their astonishing size demands that you pull off the road and drive to a parking area at each location, where you can have a picnic and shoot all the photos you like.
Greff has done all this work through donations (his pension as a former schoolteacher and principal can’t be enough to fund his effort) and the work has continued through the years, each sculpture a little farther down the road. There are now seven completed works, with one, a display of giant spiders and webs, still in production. The biggest is called Geese in Flight, and has won a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest scrap metal sculpture, standing 110 ft tall, 154 ft wide and weighing 157,659 pounds. Big. He’s opened a gift shop and an inn called the Enchanted Castle in Regent which carries on the artsy highway theme, and future plans include a water park, a restaurant and an amphitheater.
So the next time you are out North Dakota way, take a turn off Interstate 94 and be amazed at the creativity and industry of a man with a vision and a plan to make his obscure corner of the world a place worth visiting.