FARGO, N.D. -- It's a good time to be a North Dakotan. An oil boom in the west has fueled an economic surge, the locals' frugal nature helped to prevent any housing bubble, and the threat of global warming looks like an attractive option for the chilly climate. So why not visit the state's largest city, Fargo? With just over 100,000 people, this city on the eastern edge of the state offers local culture with a good dose of pride and quirkiness. You'll need a car to get around, but let's face it: If you're in Fargo, you probably drove here.
The wood chipper: To the chagrin of some residents, the Coen brothers put Fargo on the pop-culture map with their dark comedy "Fargo." But the town has begun to embrace its place in cinematic history. Now the movie's most gruesome prop -- the wood chipper, complete with a fake foot sticking out -- is on display at the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center, just off Interstate 94. Film fans will also find a copy of the screenplay and some extra ear-flapped hats to wear for a photo-op. Want to hear that famous accent? Staff are happy to oblige with a heartfelt, "Yah, sure, you betcha!"
The floods: Fargo isn't just known for the movie, it's also notorious for the floods. Every spring, the Red River becomes a potential menace as snowmelt and rain push the muddy waterway over its banks. If you're visiting then, prepare to help sandbag. But at other times visitors can stroll along the dike and see a giant gauge of the high water marks (not including the most recent record set in 2009 of 40.8 feet.) Nearby is a farmers market and biking paths. In the winter, visit the other slope of the dike for one of the best sledding hills in an otherwise flat town.
Downtown stroll: Park your car, take a walk downtown along Broadway, and imagine how this Gateway to the West looked to pioneers when the city was founded in the 1870s. The street is dotted with well-preserved marquees, including a giant art deco sign for the Fargo Theater, which still shows films and live performances. You'll see blocks threaded with railroads while also enjoying window shopping in today's boutiques and cafes.
Baseball legend: A tribute to hometown hero Roger Maris, who broke Babe Ruth's home run record by hitting 61 in 1961, is just down the hall from a formal wear store in the West Acres Mall. A steady stream of onlookers stops by the glass cases to see memorabilia and learn about the Fargo native, who is now revered as much for his character as his athletic achievements. Walk into a small room and sit in Maris-era Yankee Stadium seats to watch a commemorative movie.
Gallery hop: Fargo has a handful of art museums which charge a small fee, but for a free art fix visit the local galleries. The Underbrush Gallery, nestled in a strip mall in south Fargo, is chock-full of works by local artists and has a notable collection of Native American art. The staff is happy to stop and tell you the stories behind the rotating collection, which includes vases inspired by the Red River and original Native American paintings on a canvas of antique ledgers.