Tag Archives: South Dakota

Little Town

18 Sep

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I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.  — Laura Ingalls Wilder

Morning comes early, and South Dakota is empty.  Pull off on the side of the road, stand in the middle and take all the pictures you like.  No cars to the east and none to the west.  Just the sky, luminous and new.  But I’m hungry, and the diners are not leaping out at us.  Few people means even fewer restaurants and on this crack of dawn Sunday morning they are hiding themselves well.

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Thank god for Huron, home of the worlds largest pheasant, behind which Mom clocks a combined bowling alley/VFW hall with a little clump of cars parked out front.

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The Plains Dining & Recreation Center, whose breakfast menu includes The Haystack, The Hot One and of course, Klazy Eggs.  My diner instincts are good, but Mom’s the master, and sometimes the best cup of coffee is the only one you can find.

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A few miles further along we come to De Smet, South Dakota and the home of Laura Ingall’s Wilder.  The family’s final home, De Smet is the setting for Little Town on the Praire, The Long Winter, and These Happy Golden Years.  The house they rented upon their arrival is getting a new coat of paint this morning.

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While a couple streets away the house Pa eventually built stands quietly amidst more contemporary neighbors.

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But the land they homesteaded, just outside of town, is breathtaking.


A memorial to the family and their times, it has a quiet dignity and a strong sense of the beauty to be found in everyday things.


And the world they exist in.

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The Graveyard is not far, and we stop for a few minutes.

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We’re quiet, separating to explore.  The wind rustles the leaves, and after a time I follow Mom up the hill where we look beyond the graves to the surrounding farms.  And then, remembering the distance before us, we get back on the road, heading across Minnesota and into Wisconsin, where dinner is waiting with family of our own.

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24 Aug

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Keep a fire burning in your eyes, pay attention to the open skies, you never know what will be coming down  —  Jackson Browne

Leaving the Occidental early,  we share the morning with some of the gentleman I’d seen the night before.  White haired all, they gas up their bikes as we fill mom’s car, and then drive off ahead of us into the fierce morning light, a vision of what aging should be.


Sailing along at a legal 80 mph, we pull off in Gillette, Wyoming for a quick breakfast at Lula Belle’s, downtown across from the rail yards.  Crowded, Lula Belle’s sports more than it’s fair share of big men with crazy beards; grizzled is not a look that’s shied away from.

A woman at the counter is doing a fair impression of late career Liz Taylor on a four day bender.  With jet black hair going in no certain direction and hand-drawn eyebrows, she is smoking hard and keeping a keen eye on me.  Apparently, I’m up to no good.

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We have a short day in front of us, the only plans being a drive through the Badlands.  But looking at the map, Mom notices Deadwood.

“Let’s stop.  Chuck and I stopped there once.  You’ll like it.”

So we exit and drive seven miles south along Whitewood Creek, into a narrow valley.  It’s crowded.  With motorcycles.

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It turns out that the next town over is Sturgis, and every year they have this little motorcycle gathering.  Today is the 75th anniversary.

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Bikers and cowboys seem to go together, but while their ancestors may have been soldiers, gamblers and gunfighters, the biker spirit seems to have gentled over the decades.  An amiable bunch with a taste for freedom and the wind in their hair, they also have a fine appreciation for fashion.

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I love a good bar, none of which, interestingly, seem to exist in this town whose legend is based largely on saloons. Wild Bill Hickok took a bullet to the head while playing poker in Nuttal & Mann’s No. 10 Saloon, which existed in the space now inhabited by this completely different saloon, which, nonetheless, continues to work hard making money off the dead man’s spirit.

DSC_0214 (2)Tiring of the noise and hucksterism, and just when I thought our homage had been paid, Mom decides we need an old-timey portrait.  Looking at the photographs lining the walls, I note the popularity of nearly naked biker chicks sprawling across Harleys, or wrapping themselves in the American flag, but mom’s looking for more of a “Little House on the Prairie” kind of thing.  Not sure where this leaves me, I go for the duster and the cropped Tom Petty top hat.  Combined with the 2 day beard and the guns they shove into my hands, the end product is more like Ma Ingalls and her son who returned from the Civil War not quite right.

Finally, with little in the way of gun play, we make our escape.

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My spirit lightens as we leave the valley.  After a time, the Badlands begin to appear.

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Seemingly out of nowhere.

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Stopping at a scenic overlook, I hear someone say, “Do you want me to take your picture?”

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It’s Christie, who, with Eric, has traveled all the way from Philadelphia to Sturgis to take part in the festivities.  It’s their first time.  Like us, they’re heading home


Picking up 14 East, the light begins to fade.

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The sky changes minute by minute.  Severe thunderstorms are coming in from the northwest.

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We do our best to stay ahead of them, wondering about Christie, Eric, and everyone else making their way home from Sturgis this afternoon.

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The sky to the east is clear before us, but we make it to Pierre only minutes before the rain, and are just settling in as the drops begin to fall.