Tim Richards finds cowboy culture and burgers in North Dakota.
The capital of North Dakota is little known, a compact city of 100,000 people with a name borrowed from the 19th-century German chancellor, courtesy of its early German settlers. With a selection of historic sites related to Native American culture, the city is a good base for exploring North Dakota's cowboy country.
Have breakfast at Kroll's Diner in Mandan, Bismarck's twin city on the west bank of the Missouri River. It's a replica of the classic diner, with 1950s memorabilia. German specialties include fleischkuechie, a hamburger patty deep-fried in pastry and served on a skillet, for $US7.75.
Kroll's Diner, 4401 Memorial Highway, Mandan, see sitdownandeat.com.
Drive south to the On-A-Slant Village within Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. This was once a thriving Native American village in which extended families shared dome-shaped earth lodges. Then head to Fort Abraham Lincoln from where General George Custer departed on his ill-fated 1876 campaign that ended at Little Bighorn.
Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, 4480 Fort Lincoln Road, Mandan, see fortlincoln.com.
Visit the former Mandan train station, a graceful building with a statue of former US president Teddy Roosevelt. It's now home to Five Nations, an emporium of Native American art and craft. Five Nations, 401 West Main Street, Mandan.
Montana Mike's Steakhouse is an informal eatery in the Seven Seas Hotel with log-cabin ambience and wildlife mounted on the walls. Drop in for lunch, maybe the fried catfish strips.
Best Western Seven Seas Hotel, 2611 Old Red Trail, Mandan, see bestwesternnorthdakota.com.
From the eastern bank of the Missouri River, board the Lewis and Clark riverboat for a cruise. This period replica sidewheeler commemorates both the age of the riverboat and the intrepid explorers who journeyed through here on president Thomas Jefferson's orders in the early 19th century.
Lewis and Clark Riverboat, see lewisandclark riverboat.com. Fares $US12.75 an adult.
Head to central Bismarck to the North Dakota Heritage Centre. Particularly interesting are its dinosaur fossils and exhibitions covering Native American culture and the western expansion that clashed with it.
North Dakota Heritage Centre, 612 East Boulevard Avenue, Bismarck; see history.nd.gov. Free entry.
Take in some country air at Papa's Pumpkin Patch. Dotted around this site in autumn are bright orange pumpkins and attractions with a farm motif - but you can't beat the trebuchet for sheer crazy fun. This miniature catapult launches pumpkins high into the air at a target a few hundred metres away. In winter the property transforms into Papa's Polar Patch.
Papa's Pumpkin Patch, 5001 Fernwood Drive, Bismarck, see papaspumpkinpatch.com. Entry $US2.50, rides extra.
Have dinner at Peacock Alley within the former Patterson Hotel, once the home of spectacular dance parties. The accommodation is long gone but the lavish cherrywood foyer has been transformed into a classy restaurant and bar.
Peacock Alley, 422 East Main Avenue, Bismarck, see peacock-alley.com. Mains $US15-$US30.
Tim Richards travelled courtesy of North Dakota Tourism, zuji.com.au and V Australia.
V Australia flies to Los Angeles (14hr) for about $1670, low-season return from Sydney and Melbourne including tax. From LA, United Airlines flies to Bismarck via Denver (about 5hr, including transit time) for about $650 return including tax. Australians must apply for travel authorisation before departure at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov.