The Great Northern Route

East of Epping toward Minot, US-2 twists up and through a hundred miles of gentle chocolate-drop hillocks, residuals of great ice-age glaciers, with some beautiful rises and plateaus capped by an occasional abandoned squad of dwellings. Along the way, isolated villages whiz by, full of boarded-up buildings, grain silos, and occasional surprises: Ross (pop. 106), for example, is a typically funky old town with some dilapidated boarded-up buildings and huge grain elevators that look more like spacecraft engines. This unlikely looking place is home to the first mosque built in the USA. Constructed by a Syrian farmer back in 1929, the original mosque was replaced by a newer, nicer temple in 2005, next to a cemetery holding the remains of Ross’s early Muslim settlers.

The one sizable place, Stanley (pop. 1,458), resting along the horizon-straight railroad tracks 7 miles east of Ross and 47 miles west of Minot, is worth a stop to sample the world’s last working Whirl-a-Whip milk shake machine at the old-fashioned soda fountain inside the Dakota Drug Store (107 S. Main St., 701/628-2255), a mile north of US-2. This pure Americana is much appreciated on a hot summer day.