Jennifer Rorich
This pair of moccasins is one of more than 1,000 artifacts found in the new Innovation Gallery: Early Peoples. (Submitted photo)

The story of the earliest peoples living on the Northern Plains began more than 13,000 years ago. The Innovation Gallery highlights the beauty and breadth of the State Museum's collections, including these Metis artifacts. (Submitted photo)

The Northern Lights Atrium projects images across backlit screens in the evenings. (Submitted photo)

As North Dakota celebrates 125 years this November, the North Dakota Heritage Center will mark the completion of its legendary expansion project. Visitors will be able to enjoy roughly 39,000 feet of museum space, almost double the previous gallery size. The addition of four new galleries will take visitors through the history of life in North Dakota, beginning with geologic time and adding seven decades of history where the former galleries left off. New exhibit spaces will tell not only the stories of the past but also the stories of emerging industries in North Dakota like coal, gas, wind power, agriculture, manufacturing and technology.

One of the most unique architectural additions to the facility is the Northern Lights Atrium. Made of steel and glass, the atrium features backlit screens that project colorful lights against the ceiling, allowing visitors to experience the Northern Lights at any time of the year. Other additions include a theater for smaller audiences, a café and hallway exhibits. The State Historical Foundation describes the new North Dakota Heritage Center as the "hub of history" for our state as well as the "Smithsonian of the Plains."

The historical journey begins in the Adaptation Gallery: Geologic Time, where visitors can experience North Dakota when the dinosaurs ruled. Stunning life-size skeleton casts of a Tyrannosaurus rex preparing to battle a Triceratops make up just one of the many impressive exhibits. The Adaptation Gallery guides visitors through the eventual extinction of the dinosaurs, shifts in climate, the first mammals and the Ice Age, offering a glimpse into what the glaciers left behind.

The Innovation Gallery: Early Peoples is devoted to the native inhabitants of North Dakota. The gallery tells the story of the tribes of our region, from life before contact with European-Americans up through the tribal nations of today. Collections feature clay pottery, hunting tools such as bows and arrows and textile collections of quillwork and beadwork. Visitors will get to experience the way of life in North Dakota's earliest cities, learning about human innovations from bows and arrows to the addition of guns and horses.

The Inspiration Gallery: Yesterday and Today ties it all together, telling the stories of agricultural innovation, industry and energy, settlement, immigration and migration, and conflict and war. Visitors will learn about the impacts of energy development and experience what it means to live in our communities, both rural and urban.

Kimberly Jondahl is the communications and education director at the Heritage Center. When asked about her typical day, she says, "It is always changing and exciting." Jondahl enjoys educating the public about events at the Heritage Center and at state historic sites through publications and new releases, and she also manages social media. The day we talked Jondahl was writing a script for a new documentary.

Working for the State Historical Society and especially on the expansion of the Heritage Center has been one of the professional highlights of her life, Jondahl says. Plus, she adds, "Who wouldn't want to come to work and greet a mastodon every day?"

While children of all ages love the Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops exhibit, Jondahl's favorite piece is the Double Ditch Indian Village mural. The mural, located in the Early Peoples gallery, was painted by nationally renowned Boston artist Robert Evans during the winter of 2013. The mural features earth lodges, people and daily life in the village in 1550. Jondahl explains she witnessed the passion, dedication and research that went into the painting of the mural for nearly four months to create the perfect blend of art and history, making it her favorite part of the museum.

The Inspiration Gallery and the Governors Gallery, featuring temporary and traveling exhibits, will open November 2 in conjunction with North Dakota's 125th anniversary celebration and the Heritage Center's grand opening. Free public events, including concerts, children's activities, presentations and performances, will be held from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Heritage Center is located at 612 East Boulevard Ave., on the east side of the State Capitol grounds. For more information on the expansion and grand opening, visit

California-born Jennifer Rohrich lives with her farmer husband in Ashley, N.D. She writes about family, food and farming at