The Tremendous Beasts of Minnesota and North Dakota

Midwesterners have a singular fondness for giant animals. I’m not talking about the overfed things that laze about in pens at state fairs, but rather our inordinate number of tremendous animal statues. Like Lovecraftian gods they loom over the horizon, beckoning all to come and look on in awe at their largeness.

This summer I decided to visit nine of Minnesota’s and North Dakota’s finest specimens. It was a true haul made possible by a flood of black coffee and music played too loudly. I even got my girlfriend to accompany me, though I had to trick her into it by saying we were actually going to her dentist appointment.

First stop: Belgrade, where the World’s Largest Crow perches atop a great stone pedestal. He is a heroic corvid, surrounded on all sides by each of the 50 states’ flags in a display of true national unity. The crow itself stands 31 feet tall, and serves as a heartening tribute to a too often unappreciated bird. Press a button within the crow’s base and a crackling electronic voice praises the crow’s resourcefulness and fidelity. This message was lost on my girlfriend, who seemed to be busying herself with a toothache at the time.

Onward to Alexandria, home of Big Ole. The colorful 28 foot tall Viking bears a shield declaring Alexandria as the “Birthplace of America,” a theory based on a supposed runestone unearthed by a Swedish immigrant in 1898. If authentic the runestone would prove that Vikings beat Columbus to the New World by over a century. Historians simply tug on their beards and chuckle at this theory, but Big Ole wouldn’t pay them any attention. Any man holding a spear long enough to shish kebab an elephant has no need for historical analysis.

We next took a huge dogleg to Madison, where a 25 foot cod named Lou T. Fisk greets all visitors with eyes like archery targets. Madison is the world capital of Lutefisk, a food which proves lye belongs in dinner as much as it does in bar soap. Lou is a faithful representation of his species, replete with dangling whisker and pasty white tum. The Louvre only wishes they could get their grubby mitts on a statue like him.

To cap off Minnesota we visited the World's Largest Booming Prairie Chicken in Rothsay. The 9,000 pound bird is indeed booming, his spacious orange cheek pouches in full state of inflation. Female prairie chickens find this display irresistible, but apparently females of our own species are immune to it.

At the border of North Dakota you can see Wahpper, the 40 foot catfish that stands eternal watch over Wahpeton. “Another fish?” the people in your road trip party might ask you at this point, to which you can only answer “Indeed.”

For the next part of this drive you want to place a cinder block against the accelerator and take a nap. It is four hours to New Salem where you can marvel at Salem Sue. The 38 foot tall Holstein was erected by the New Salem Lions Club in 1974 as tribute to North Dakota’s fine dairy farms. Her strong shoulders scrape up against the Peace Garden State’s cornflower blue sky, and her pendulous udder is lit up by a pink varicose vein – a promise of much more milk to come.

It is a straight shot north up to Garrison to see Wally the Walleye, a fitting avatar for the Walleye Capital of the World. True Minnesotans know precisely which kind of jig bait it would take to land a 26 foot walleye, although they might have difficulty finding enough tartar sauce to cover it. My girlfriend had to be reminded that yes, we had visited two fish already, but cod and catfish are altogether different from walleye. Incomparable, really.

Stop in Minot for lunch and press onward to Bottineau where you can gawk at Tommy the Turtle. He is the pinnacle of American art – a 32 foot tall turtle riding a snowmobile. Tommy’s expression is one of pure rapture, his testudinal maw agape and slanted comma-shaped eyes set in determination. Tommy is what happens when a sculptor wants to convey the concept of “See? This is what a giant turtle riding a snowmobile would look like!” Or perhaps he represents manifest destiny or the plight of the working class or something highbrow like that. I posed for a photo in which it looks like Tommy is about to run me over, and I am no doubt the first visitor ever to do so.

The upper crust of North Dakota must be turtle country, because just east from Bottineau lies the W’eel Turtle of Dunseith. True to his name, the W’eel Turtle is comprised of over 2,000 rims welded together and painted a particularly turtlish shade of green. In the shadow of this colossus I turned to my girlfriend, pulled her in close, and peered into her big, beautiful brown eyes. I then whispered in her ear: “Would you like anything from Dale's Thrifty Barn? It’s right over there.” 

Thus stocked with aspirin we set a course back to the Twin Cities. I highly recommend you make this pilgrimage yourself one day. You’ll enjoy beautiful countryside, art that you would never get to see in “museums,” and the thrill of driving in straight lines for hours on end.

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