As we continue to revisit our favorite road stops of the past quarter century, one distinctly American theme keeps resurfacing:
Capitalism is alive and well on the Great Plains -- every nook and cranny of it.
Where Americana thrives, it's a sure bet that local oddballs, artists and entrepreneurs have sewn their legacies. So it is with the Enchanted Highway in southwestern North Dakota, a 32-mile stretch of a two-lane highway with no official numeric designation.
For purposes of assigning addresses, it's known as as 100 1/2 Avenue SW, and the "enchanted" stretch of it connects the tiny towns of Regent (population 167) and Gladstone (population 271), an off-ramp town on Interstate 94 just east of the more populous (25,000+) city of Dickinson.
Those 32 miles have consumed the life of a sculptor named Gary Greff, who grew up in Regent and was seeking a way to halt the town's demise amid a plummeting population.
“One day I was looking around and said, ‘you know, this town has gone from a town of 500 people to a town of a hundred,’ ” Greff told the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald in 2019. “I thought if someone doesn’t do something, it’s only a matter of time before we’re gone.”
In 1989, Greff, then 41, read an article in the Dickinson paper about a farmer whose small sculpture was drawing passersby off of Interstate 94. "In my mind, no one was going to drive 32 miles off the freeway to see a normal-sized structure. But they might for the world's largest."
Over the next 17 years, Greff constructed eight super-sized scrap-metal sculptures to fill in the space between his hometown and Interstate 94. The sculpture that diverts drivers from I-94, Geese in Flight (above), was certified by the Guiness Book of World Records in 2013 as the world's largest metal sculpture. Its impressive dimensions: 110 feet tall x 154 feet wide and weighing more than 150,000 pounds.
The venture -- a sucession of human-dwarfing sculptures of a tin family, Teddy Roosevelt, pheasants, grasshoppers and more -- proved so successful that in 2012 Greff opened the Enchanted Castle, a theme hotel and gift shop at the southern terminus of the Enchanted Highway.
Like the late Samuel Perry Dinsmoor, a cement sculptor who constructed the Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas, or the entrepreneurs who framed the dusty town of Roswell, N.M. as the center of the UFO universe, Greff's creativity sprang from financial desperation -- another example of the resourcefulness of dying towns bypassed by the intestate highway system along the F5! circuit.
Now 75, Greff recently was successful in getting the state to agree to finance the upkeep on the Enchanted Highway's sculptures.
“I’m doing this for the city, for our state,” Greff said in that 2019 article in the Grand Forks paper. "We’ve got to become the Mount Rushmore of North Dakota for metal art and I’m thinking bigger than what I’m doing. I’m just planting the seed for the state, and hope that the next person that takes over for me will make it even more masterful than what I did. If this project dies when I die, then I haven’t accomplished anything.”