Mitchell to Pierre, SD

From Mitchell, South Dakota, I was headed for North Dakota, but there were a couple of potential routes. Rod at the Discovery Museum in Mitchell had suggested following the Missouri River, and hence the “Middle Border” of the state. He said it would take me through an area without a lot of people, which I think he considered a warning, but I felt it was a bonus.

Heading west out of town, I crossed an area of alternating but always interesting landscapes. There was still plenty of farmland, but more rolling than what I was leaving behind. This was interrupted by bursts of bare, rounded hills that rose up suddenly, usually near waterways, by surprising views from the tops of rises, and deeply carved arroyos. I thought to myself that it was very evocative of the type of region one saw in old Westerns, and then reminded myself that it was not evocative at all—it was the reality—this was the old West.

I crossed the Missouri River at Oacoma (yes, towns also dotted my route). I began seeing more signs for historic venues, local wildlife, Native American Reservations, and Lewis and Clark sites. Then, turning northward on Route 83, I crossed into the Fort Pierre National Grasslands. The wide, rolling, treeless terrain was covered with short, green native grasses mingled with the taller, golden stems of last year’s growth. The Grasslands sprawl across nearly 200 square miles—and crossing it makes me think of those early settlers who must have been stunned by the seeming endlessness of it all. The sight of a few pheasants by the side of the road and a hawk circling overhead reminded me that I’d read that this was a popular spot with birders.

As I drove, I was reminded that wind is one of the reasons the Great Plains remained treeless. Since it was early in the year and the grass was not really tall enough to show the effects of the wind, I wasn’t seeing the telltale ripple that indicated wind, but I could certainly feel it, with occasional gusts pushing my car about. Nearing settlements on the far side of the Grasslands, a few flags snapping in the wind gave visual confirmation of the smart breeze that had been buffeting me.

The land became hillier again as the Missouri River’s meandering path brought it across the road again. I crossed the river again and drove into Pierre—pronounced “Peer” in SD—the state’s capital.

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