When I’d tell people that my mom and I were planning to drive across the country, they’d immediately start suggesting roadside attractions. “Are you going to see the largest ball of twine?” one friend asked. “What about the Corn Palace?” asked another. We didn’t have time to visit each small town’s quirky claim to fame, but as connoisseurs of roadside folk art, we already knew that our top priority was the Enchanted Highway. So even though it wasn’t really on the way to our final destination in northern California, we found ourselves on Interstate 94 in North Dakota.
A series of giant outdoor sculptures, the Enchanted Highway is spread out along a 32-mile-long road that begins at Exit 72 near Gladstone. With nothing else in sight but miles of empty land dotted with grazing cattle, it’s hard to miss. All of the works are made from recycled scrap metal, mostly old oil pipes and well tanks left over from North Dakota’s oil boom. Gary Greff, a local metal sculptor, designed and built each sculpture over the course of fifteen years. Greff retired from his job as a school teacher at the age of 40, and dedicated the rest of his life to creating something that would draw visitors to his dying hometown.
In Regent, where the Enchanted Highway comes to an end, Greff opened a bed and breakfast and a gift store. With just 160 residents, a gas station, grain elevator, cooperative grocery store, and saloon, Regent isn’t exactly a hotspot for tourists. But if Greff has his way, it will be: He’d like to add a water park, restaurant, and amphitheater, making Regent a destination rather than a mere stop along the road.
For now, though, the Enchanted Highway remains quiet. There’s little traffic aside from the occasional tractor. Pheasants hide in the tall grass on the side of the street and fly away when a car approaches. The road passes by wheat fields and cattle pastures and through seemingly endless stretches of empty land rippled with gentle hills. In the distance lies the dark outline of Black Butte, the highest point visible for miles. The light is golden and the sky is vast. Tourists or no, it truly is an enchanted place.