in recent years

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places i’ve been: epping, north dakota

Epping, North Dakota is a really, really small town 20 miles north east of where we are here in Williston. It was founded in 1905 along the Great Northern Railway.

epping cemetery
When I say “small town,” I really, really mean small. Like, unbelievably small. Small like it has a total area of 0.38 square miles. Small like it had a population of exactly 100 in the 2010 census. Small like for the entire twenty minutes we were driving around the whopping three blocks that make up the city, we saw one other human being.

buffalo trails
The Buffalo Trails Museum was closed just like every other business we saw. They’d just had their annual Buffalo Trail Day event which includes a pancake dance and church services and an ice cream social. We figure they must have been recovering.

o. ellingson
There isn’t much here except a grain elevator and oil storage. This is where most of the oil pumped in and around Williston goes to meet the train and head for processing because despite the massive amount of oil coming out of the Bakken formation, it’s all got to be shipped to refineries elsewhere.

epping grain elevator
sons of norway

People in North Dakota are very serious about their Scandinavian heritage. I didn’t know the US was so into their viking-ass history until I got here. Seriously. Wait ’til you see the pictures of Minot.

epping hardware & pool hall
wildlife sculptures
Epping is weird as hell. The weekend we were there it looked abandoned. It didn’t just look like, you know, people were inside or out of town, it looked like the remains of a city after war.

Western North Dakota is really just like that though, a series of wheat and oil fields dotted with places like Epping, places like Zahl, places like Van Hook. It’s hard to believe there’s somewhere in the United States today with so few humans in it.

North Dakota is the third least populous state in the US and the fourth least in population density. There are more populated areas, even areas that are growing so rapidly that there aren’t enough homes — I know, I live in one — but there are less than ten people for every square mile of North Dakota territory. And trust me, when you live here — even in a place that seems crammed with people — you know it.