Did you know there truly is an Enchanted Highway? I like to think that, metaphorically, the highway we travel to escape our ho hum, day-to-day life is enchanted, but there is only one truly by name. This highway meanders along the desolate prairie landscape and concludes in the humble, but beautiful small town of Regent, North Dakota.
While our travels through some very ghosted towns in North Dakota led us to this mystical adventure, even if you remain on the interstate, you’ll be a witness to the very wide open landscape of small towns, fields, & former farmsteads that dot the land all the way to the horizon’s edge. North Dakota is treasure to my eyes. It’s easy to fall in love with the open prairies and townships where people all know and help one another, to do more than merely hang on. Enter Gary Greff…
Gary felt the same way a lot of people do, but he had some plans in mind to help his small town of Regent and beloved state of North Dakota. Starting in 1989, with little to no money and lots of volunteers, he put his plans into motion to construct mammoth metal sculptures along a 32-mile stretch of rural highway. The enchanted dream was now a reality.
“Geese in Flight,” Gary’s first sculpture, acts as the Enchanted Highway’s welcoming beacon, for it resembles a colossal eye watching over the prairie, a roadside oddity you can see for miles before you arrive at the exit. As we traversed up an uneven dirt road to the top of the sculpture’s lone hill, the wind twisted wildly across the prairie and the rhythmic sounds of steel clanking from this beautiful piece almost resembled the sound of a flock of flying geese above.
We took a good hour or two to travel all 32 miles and take in each of Gary’s Enchanted sculptures. Our adventure along the highway was amazing in all regards. At times we felt like we were the only ones alive. This alone is something I struggle to put into words. Each sculpture stop included a small parking lot and even picnic areas, as well as plenty of space to marvel and in some cases walk through and underneath these giant steel structures. The scale and whimsical creations seemed to get more and more elaborate as we approached Regent.
I won’t list the sculptures here in a critical fashion or describe which one is next. I think the best part about this journey is discovering them for yourself and making up your story as you go. Dusk eventually rolled upon us as we stared magically at the last of eight sculptures, which dutifully encouraged us to continue into Regent.
When we arrived in town we had one option to lodge: the aptly named Enchanted Castle Hotel with functioning draw bridge and all!
Low and behold, we approached the check in desk and there was one Mr. Gary Greff — the spearhead for not only the Enchanted Highway, but the very “castle” we had entered! We asked if he had a room available. Apparently it was pheasant hunting season for the entire Dakota area, and Gary told us that the former-elementary-school-turned-castle was booked solid, but by a stroke of pure luck, he had just received a cancellation. Relief! Sure the next town was a long distance away, but staying at the castle was a must! I really wanted to absorb some of Gary’s time to talk about his creations, but alas, the place was swamped with hunters and he had to help out the dining room. Plus, I guess there’s something to be said for making up one’s own stories…
We got our key and headed to our classroom, er, castle quarters. Talk about spacious and considerably imperial in its decor! It was hard not to proclaim I was in fact a King and Katie the Queen of our chamber. I couldn’t help but feel giddy that we had finally experienced the majesty of the Enchanted Highway, but also got to lay our heads down at this hidden gem. A mission accomplished…well, not yet. There were still night photos to capture!
First, we needed food…and the castle had a really quaint and cozy dining room with an ambiance of pure relaxation! The hostess sat us next to a wall of trickling water, calming after our long travels. Just after we ordered, the room loaded up with orange sweatshirts, camo hats and some glorious hunting stories. Our food was delicious and harkened back to filling home-cooked meals with family.
After dinner, we explored the hallways of this former school. We passed the old gym, complete with newly installed hot tub tucked away in the old locker room and full basketball court where the Mott-Regent Wildfire once played home games. Their mascot, a “wildfire” flame personified with a set of menacing eyes and sharp-toothy grin, still emblazoned upon gym wall.
The moon was gloriously full that night, and the sky, devoid of light pollution, was packed with glowing stars. We threw on a few more layers, packed up the camera gear and headed back north on the Enchanted Highway. We stopped at certain sculptures and set up our camera to record the long exposures of the wide open landscapes and gorgeous night sky.
The temperature proceeded to drop lower and lower as the night grew long. I had envisioned capturing a composition of the Deer Crossing sculpture with a car-trail of tail lights. Far from our warm castle quarters, setting up this arrangement proved to be a challenge. As I waited patiently for a vehicle to approach the scene, it finally dawned on me that me that we were in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night. To capture the car-trail, we’d have to do the drive-by ourselves. But the final result was just as I had envisioned, so I was satisfied.
At this point our toes and hands were close to frozen. A warm and running car was a welcome treat for our appendages! Time to return to our Enchanted Castle with my Queen in tow. A beautiful moonlight journey back that included one final high speed glimpse of the steel giants’ darkened silhouettes from our car windows.
To see a better glimpse into Gary Greff’s story, please watch this short, sponsored by the new TV show Fargo on FX.