Although the Enchanted Highway sounds like a scene straight from the pages of a Lewis Carroll tome, in reality it’s a sculpture-dotted scenic byway located smack dab in the middle of rural North Dakota. And it’s definitely worth a short detour on any trek through the Peace Garden State.
The brainchild of local resident, Gary Greff, this project began on one of Greff’s treks through South Dakota. He spotted a crude sculpture of a farmer with a makeshift hay bale alongside the road, and noticed that people stopped to photograph the creation. That was Greff’s “Eureka moment” — he figured that if he created a whole highway full of sculptures then tourists would visit his hometown of Regent, which direly needed an influx of business. And he figured the best way to do that was to make the sculptures larger then life; so he enlisted the help of local farmers who were masters at welding, and set out to create the giant metal sculptures that dot the Gladstone-Regent Highway, off Interstate 94, just east of Dickinson.
The route can be taken as a side trip off the interstate, or used as a one-way north or south route as an alternative to Highway 85. It’s just 35 miles long, but allow for time to stop and enjoy Greff’s colorful creations that all depict some aspect of prairie life. And the good news is, you don’t even have to get our of your vehicle to enjoy the sculptures. That said, all of the sites (except Whirly Gigs) have level parking in dirt lots, and standard picnic tables in level areas. So pack along a picnic lunch, and prepare to linger on and enjoy the artistic creations along the Enchanted Highway.
Geese in Flight
The first sculpture you’ll come across is Geese in Flight; in fact this piece marks the northern entrance to the Enchanted Highway at exit 72 off of Interstate 94. To be honest this piece is best seen from afar, so head south at the exit, and then pull over on the dirt road on the west side of the road. From there you’ll spot the sculpture, which depicts a flock geese flying around what appears to be a setting sun.
Next up is Deer Crossing, which is located just past Gladstone on the west side of the road. This massive piece depicts a pair of deer jumping over a fence, and measures in at a whopping 50 feet in height. As an added bonus, a small Maze of Enchantment is located near the sculpture. There’s level access to this easy maze, which features pathways that are wide and level for wheelchair-users and slow walkers. There’s fun for the whole family at this stop!
Grasshopper in the Field
What collection of prairie-themed sculptures would be complete without a few grasshoppers? To that end Grasshopper in the Field — which is located 12 miles south of Deer Crossing — certainly solidifies the theme. This piece features one large grasshopper with several juveniles in a wheat field. Better yet, they are all surrounded by a cute little wheat picket fence. Greff got creative in the design phase of this piece, as he collected grasshoppers one summer and froze them for models. He wanted to make sure he got the colors just right, and he did a great job. A jungle gym and a few whimsical grasshopper bouncy toys round out this creative installation.
Fisherman’s Dream, which is located five miles down the road, depicts a scene only an avid fisherman can really appreciate. The sculpture includes a pond complete with cat tails and a large underwater fish population, with a fisherman trolling in a small boat on the surface. A larger-than-life rainbow trout is literally jumping out of the water in pursuit of a circling dragonfly, just off the bow of the boat, while the empty-handed fisherman just stands there awestruck. And to add to the dream, the giant trout is so large that its tail curls around the other fish and rests the bottom of the pond. Considering the epic proportions of the fish, this piece is definitely well named.
Pheasants on the Prairie
Just four miles down the road, you can’t miss Pheasants on the Prairie. which features mom, dad and three juvenile birds. They’re doing what pheasants do best — sitting in the field. The birds are more than just one-dimensional stick figures though, as they’re fashioned out of a metal frame, covered with screen, and painted in realistic pheasant colors. It’s really a quite striking scene.
Teddy Rides Again
In true North Dakota fashion, Teddy Roosevelt is featured in the next piece, which is located just two miles south of the pheasant family. The sculpture, which depicts the profile of the former president on a bucking horse, was chosen by the Enchanted Highway Committee and designed by the North Dakota University Art Department. There’s also a small stagecoach on a level area in front of the sculpture, for kids — or adults — to climb in and explore.
The Tin Family, which depicts a typical prairie farm family, is located four miles south of Teddy and his mount. Local farmers donated the tanks from which the family was crafted, and supplied the manpower to weld them all together. Mom is outfitted in her dress and carrying a basket of flowers, dad is clad in his overalls with pitchfork in hand, and junior is dressed in jeans and a jersey with a firm grip on his lollipop. And in true prairie style, they are bordered by a quaint white picket fence. Not only is this the first sculpture that was constructed along the route, but it’s also a local favorite.
The Enchanted Highway ends two miles south on the main drag in Regent, with the only kinetic sculpture in the collection — Whirly Gigs. At first glance the frame house looks like a static piece; but once you press the green button it all comes to life. The kids jump on the second-floor bed, while another pair of youngsters splash in the upstairs tub, and mom rolls out some dough in the kitchen downstairs and dad reclines in his favorite chair. The sculpture is located next door to the Enchanted Highway Gift Shop, which has several stairs up to the entrance. There’s level street parking on the road nearby and a steep curb-cut up to the sculpture. Still, you can appreciate this — or any piece along the Enchanted Highway — from afar; so don’t hesitate to enjoy this artistic detour on your next road trip.