We began to explore South Dakota while driving on I-90W towards Box Elder, the third stop of our journey. Traffic was light and there were no other vehicles on the road from time to time. Small ponds surrounded by reeds dotted the roadsides. Groups of white pelicans floated on the clear water bathing in the warm early sun rays. Rolls of hay scattered along the side of highway. That is a better way than grass to use the roadsides. No mowing is needed and the hay can be harvested and be fed to the stock.
South Dakota is the 5th least populated states in the U.S. We noticed a fallen house by a lonely tree on top of a hill. It might be blown down by a high wind. The fallen house reminds us the harsh environment here in winter. The land is expansive with rolling prairie covered by golden winter wheat and some other green crops. A few tractors were harvesting the grains. An agricultural plane flew above the farm. Herds of cows are common scene here. We saw a horse among a big herd of cows but we didn’t see any cowboys. We didn’t see any houses for miles and were wondering where farmers live. There were a few old run down houses by the road. People must have been very lonely when they first came and settled down in this part of the world. Only people with strong wills, strengths, and perseverance withstood the tough life and stayed here. As we wondered about how people live here, we drove into a rest area and discovered a hidden valley – Chamberlain.
An imposing stainless steel statute of a native Indian woman stood prominently on the bluff. Stephen thought she might be the native Indian Sacagawea who helped Lewis and Clark in their expedition. It turned out to be the statute of Dignity erected just a year ago. From Wikipedia, we learned that the sculpture honors the culture of the local native Indians – Lakota and Dakota. The woman holds a beautiful star quilt on her back welcoming people. The blue diamond shaped stars on the quilt are said to be moving with the wind.
As we walked past the statute down the boardwalk, a grand vista displayed beneath the cliff. A valley with houses and blue water appeared. An old steel bridge sat above the water in the north. We were excited to find this little town. This is where people live around here! The Missouri River flows through the valley. This section of the river is also called Lake Francis Case because of the dam. The rest area also serves as a visitor center for the town. It said that Lewis and Clark camped in this valley on their journey to explore the Louisiana territory. From the balcony of the building, I enjoyed a nice river view with the sculpture of teepee in the foreground, and a new bridge sitting on the upper stream in the distance.
I learned that Sacagawea was the only native woman who accompanied Lewis and Clark and traveled thousands of miles from North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean more than 200 years ago. Thinking that she and other explorers made the great adventure on horses and on foot, her spirits moved me to tears. What kind of hardship they have endured and championed!
Drove across the new bridge over the Missouri River, we entered the Western South Dakota and Mountain Time zone soon after. The Missouri River divides South Dakota into two parts. Eastern part has fertile soil and more populous, whereas western part is barren and less populous. Ranching and tourism are the main businesses in the western part. We saw hundreds of rolls of hay scattered on the prairie at one area near Badlands National Park. Billboards promoting Wall Drug and Firehouse Brewing Company were along the highway for hundreds of miles. On top of that, each billboard for the Firehouse Brewing Company had a red fire engine! How important tourism is for Western South Dakota!
We could see the top of the Badlands from I-90. This is a moonlike world with spires, buttes and crevasses. The exposed sedimentary rock layers have spectrums of colors, from creamy white, tan, light brown, rusty red, black, and yellow, to black. Deposition and erosion are the nature’s powers that carved this land. I learned from the nps.gov that it had a subtropical climate some 30 million years ago. Inland sea and rivers retreated and erosions continue to shape this land. It was hot and dry, windy and bright. The temperature might have been in the upper 90s in the park. Tourists climbed up the rock formations or walked down the valley on trails to explore this broken landscape up close. A family of four were sliding down the slope and having fun. We were all awed by the magnificent scenery. The layers of rock formations of canyon resemble that of the Grand Canyon. Driving through this otherworldly land was exciting with ever changing scene unfolding. The imposing bright colored rock formations stood up tall against the blue sky like castles. The road cuts through the canyon and twists and turns on the back of the hills. Stephen drove very carefully at a low speed.
Badlands is also home to a variety of animals. As we were leaving the Badlands, we saw a big horn sheep grazing grass close to the road. Adjacent to the Badlands is the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. Lots of white mounds which were homes to the prairie dogs were on the grassland. Cute little Prairie dogs were everywhere, some were standing on their feet looking out, some were running around, others were eating. Several RVs were sitting in the distance against the sky in the grassland. Stephen said they might be boondocking.
We did stop by the Wall Drugstore and bought two donuts just for the sake of their efforts on the ads along the road. It was packed with tourists. At 3:30 p.m. Mountain time, we reached today’s destination – Box Elder. This is our new mailing address while we travel.