on the road

the gadlfy in...

south dakota

gadfly homepage on the road home notes on places last contact: 8/2008 first contact: 7/28/2005

SD Trip Stats (8/08):


Counties visited: 30

Best county:   Pennington Co.

Town visited most: Mitchell

Places slept in: Mitchell, West Bend SRA (tent), Angostora SRA (tent), Badlands NP (tent)

Most impressive town: Hot Springs

Least impressive town: Sioux Falls

Biggest town: Sioux Falls

Most scenic area: Peter Norbeck Wilderness

Most scenic spot: Cedar Pass in Badlands NP

Highest Elevation: Black Hills

Three words: sunflower, prairie, Native

State Animal: prairie dog

State Tree: ponderosa pine

Tourist Traps: Wall Drug in Wall and the "casinos" in every gas station, prairie dog ranch near Cedar Pass

Best Food: buffalo meat at Cowboy Jack's in Mitchell was not so bad

Road Trips: Cowboy Trip (7/05), High Plains (8/08)


Neighboring States: MN, ND, IA, NE, WY


Major Passes: In 7/2005 passed east to west from Garretson to Spearfish along I-90 corridor (except for interruption at the Missouri River.) In 8/2008 also passed the state from north to south from Bowman to Hot Springs.


Heroes: In Mitchell, heroes include native son and former presidential candidate George McGovern and corn, although coen has not done much for South Dakota. Most local heroes were gold seekers and the stuff of western films. A notable hero is Wild Bill Hickock, who stayed in Deadwood for two weeks, before being shot dead while playing poker. He is buried in an honored spot beside another local hero Calamity Jane, who claimed (probably falsely) to be Hickock's lover. Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse are remembered for their stand against federal incursions during the gold rushes.

First Contact: I first made headway into South Dakota on the afternoon of July 28, 2005. I was driving Jessica's car on SD-11 at Garretson, southwest of Pipestone, MN, during the Cowboy Road Trip. At this point, the car was struggling a bit, but managed to get to Devil's Gulch, site of Jesse James' supposed death-defying jump. We then headed west to Mitchell where "Jonah's whale" swallowed us up.

Minnehaha Co. (7/2005)

Garretson. The soft rock cliffs along the Big Sioux River here are home to Devil's Gulch, another legendary Jesse James site bumped into. The wooded site is the setting for a pleasant city park. Sioux Falls. Passed through despite intentions to hang around. The Big Sioux valley seems an intriguing place surrounded by red rock.

McCook Co. (7/2005)

Passed through once along I-90 on the way to Mitchell.

Hanson Co. (7/2005)

Passed through once along I-90 on the way to Mitchell.

Davison Co. (7/2005)

Mitchell. A disaster caused a longer stay than anticipated in this small city that lost the competition to be the state capital. The competition sparked the building of the Corn Palace, a small convention center covered annually with a different facade of corn husks and cobs. (All of this has to be shipped in. There is little corn in SD. Despite the lack of corn, the high school team still calls itself the 'Kernals.') A bunch of tourist trap businesses surround the Palace and are worth a look at. (Although the hot dog pouring ketchup on itself looks like a suicide scene to a Chicagoan like me.) The main drag includes some great antique stores. The neighborhoods bear testament to the benefits of clean, relaxed, Midwestern living, and the people are the friendliest (maybe corniest) around. Thanks to TMA.

Aurora Co. (7/2005)

Passed through this mix of windmills, sunflower fields, and range along I-90 on the way to Pierre.

Brule Co. (7/2005)

Chamberlain. The flatness gives way to bald hills and bluffs surrounding either side of the Missouri River at this truck stop town. I'm sure Lewis & Clark would've enjoyed a Whopper if that Burger King was built 200 years ago.

.Lyman Co. (7/2005)

Oacoma. The sister city to Chamberlain on the banks of the Missouri. Big native population. Fort Pierre NG. Open, hilly range-land south of Pierre. Vivian.

Buffalo Co. (7/2005)

Fort Thompson. Crow Creek Res. Small Crow towns see to it that travelers keep moving along the east bank of the Missouri. There was a carnival here with people camped all over the prairie.

Hughes Co. (7/2005)

West Bend SP. Camped all alone here in a small prairie grove that surrounds the wide Missouri River. Heard frogs and other strange animal sounds all night, including the eerie howls of coyote. Large flies rule the beach front where many natives came to swim during the weekend. Pierre. This unassuming town houses a large capitol dome.

Stanley Co. (7/2005)

Fort Pierre. Across the river from the capital are a few historic areas, but they are overshadowed by modern light industry and dumps. The prairie eventually takes over south of here.

Jones Co. (7/2005)

Passed through once along I-90 while heading for the Hills.

Jackson Co. (7/2005)

Buffalo Gap NG. Visited with some prairie dogs here who enjoy their "prairie dog food" (aka peanuts). Cactus Flat.

Pennington Co. (7/2005)

Bandlands NP. You can see the walls and spires of the dried volcanic ash from miles away. They stand in stark contrast to the prairie around them. The park is populated by pronghorn. Especially beautiful is the ride along SD-240. Wall. The motorcycle-lined street is dominated by the biggest tourist trap I have ever witnessed: the mega-mall known as Wall Drug. The free ice water tastes like dirt. Rapid City. Keystone. Mount Rushmore NM. Saw mountain goats here. It is quite a site to see and did not disappoint. Could've done without the big deal leading up to the mountain. Hill City. Silver City. Not far from the beautiful Pactola Reservoir, surrounded by the dense ponderosa forests of the Black Hills.

Hughes Co. (7/2005)

Deadwood. You can feel the spirit of the "wild west" here. On top of a steep hill is the Wild Bill Hickock burial place, Mt. Moriah.  At the bottom of the hills is what remains of the  town he called home for the last week of his life.The hills are covered with dead ponderosa, hence the name. Lead. Spearfish.

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Driving through the Badlands is like driving through an ash tray... only dreadfully beautiful. (7/05)

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A prairie dog guards his "prairie dog food" near Cactus Flat. (7/05)

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A big piece of folk art, changed annually, and made entirely of corn adorns the convention hall of the friendly city of Mitchell. (7/05)

A classic shot of Mount Rushmore.(7/05)

Mountain goat we spotted feasting on grass in the Black Hills near Keystone. (7/05)


all photos (c) 2005 J. Bezold, all rights reserved