Thursday, June 29, 2017

Mobridge, South Dakota

June 18 - 24, 2017:  Road to Nowhere - part II

It’s 116 beautiful, windy miles across the plains on routes 83 North and 12 West to Mobridge, South Dakota.  This big sky country is somehow as beautiful as anyplace I’ve ever been to although I still wouldn't want to live here.  I’ve been reading the book I recently bought, the “Zen of the Plains” and I definitely feel some of it, (naturally), but the book itself was basically an annoying read. Another book I am reading, “The Last Prairie” is a far better.

I made a stop on the road for this view

Stopped on the tracks for this one

We arrive at the “Bay at Grand River Casino and Resort" campground in the early afternoon about 2 miles outside of Mobridge and just over the Lake Oahe bridge on the Missouri River.  This Casino complex is owned by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and they have a developed campground with electric sites, dump station and water spigots.  It has grass and trees with fire pits and is a bargain at $12 a night.

The Lake Oahe Bridge over the Missouri River

There isn't much room to spare on this Bridge

After setting up camp we take a ride to downtown Mobridge to scout around.  We find a small downtown business area with several nice brick buildings, the Scherr-Howe Event Center with 10 historic WPA murals, a nice Park with beautiful flower beds and a historic metal clad bank (1 of only 7 in the US), a operating drive-in theater and a classic old wooden rodeo arena where they hold the Sitting  Bull Stampede Rodeo.  It’s a nice town, but unless you boat, fish or hunt there’s not a lot to do. 

Mobridge Rodeo Arena home of the Sitting Bull Stampede

Stampede painting on downtown restaurant window

The Scherk-Howe Event Center

Murals were all done by Crow Creek Sioux member Oscar Howe
funded by the WPA in 1941-1942

This mural depicts Oscar Howe's grandfather, "Don't know how",
who was one of the "Fools Soldiers" who rescued several anglo
women and children held captive by the Sioux

Post office mural

The Brown Palace Hotel built in 1915-1918 that is listed
on the register of historic places 

Down Mobridge view

The Rustic Inn sign with western mural and Water Tower

Centennial Plaza with old Mobridge photos

Mobridge was formerly the home of the Arikara and Sioux tribes and became the town of Mobridge in 1906 with the coming of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad.  The Railroad built a bridge over the Missouri River in 1906 and abbreviated the words Missouri and Bridge into “Mobridge” which became the town’s name.  The first settler is believed to have been Lewis Larson from Sweden followed by several Norwegian families. This area continued to be settled by people of Scandinavian decent.

This area west of the Missouri River continues to be native American Indians with the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation to the south and the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to the north.  After riding on both sides of the river, I have to say (no surprise) that the best farm land seems to be on the non reservation side.

The Railroad Bridge over the Missouri River

We visited the highly rated Klein Museum in Mobridge and found it full of amazing artifacts and stories. They have a 1950’s house with an interior about as original as can be found open for display and a log cabin filled with scale model agricultural tractors and machinery.  The models were all part of a collection of a local farmer, some were bought, some handmade by himself and several that were fully operational. 

A few of the great chiefs and many local artifacts

Low Dog became a chief at 14 and fought with
Sitting Bull at the battle of Little Big Horn.  He
certainly looks scary in this picture.

Another great chief whose name was used for one of the most 
famous trains of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St Paul Railroad

Model tractors and farm implement collection

Beautiful full size Case Threshing Machine

The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is home to the Lakota and Dakota tribes and consists of 2.3 million acres spanning South Dakota and North Dakota and is roughly the size of the state of Connecticut.  It is the fifth largest reservation in the US.  The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has gained much attention with the controversy over the pipeline in North Dakota, however I see no signs of this in Mobridge.

I traveled around the Sioux reservation to the towns of Wakpala, Kenel, Fort Hayes, McLaughlin and Trail City.  I also took an interesting unpaved road south of McLaughlin to Wakpala.  I had mixed feelings as I rode around; most of the towns look to be at the poverty level, but the surrounding farm and ranch country seemed to be productive and doing much better. 

View downhill from the Grand River Casino, the Water Tower can be seen for many miles

A group of Tee Pees set up on the reservation

Interesting sign in front of a house in McLaughlin

Cattle on the range

Buffalo are back !

Town of Mahto, the Dew Drop Inn was nearby but not open

Elizabeth's Mission is still in service

Burial site of famed Indian chief Gall 

Ft. Yates off route 1806, over the border, in North Dakota is the largest city on the reservation and is the Tribal Administration Center of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.  They have a couple of notable monuments, the actual “Standing Rock”  for which the tribe is named and the original grave site of Sitting Bull.  I was quite surprised to find the Standing Rock sitting on a almost crumbling pedestal in a parking lot and Sitting Bulls monument sitting amidst weeds and broken glass.  The Indians don’t seem to feel the need to glorify their past heroes in monuments like we anglos do, they operate on a far different mental state.   

Sitting Bulls original grave site

The Sitting Rock that is revered and was carried around for generations

A few miles from the Grand River Casino on route 1806 on a bluff overlooking Lake Oahe is the current burial site of Sitting Bull marked with a iconic monument.  A short distance away is a monument honoring Sacagawea or Sakakawea (depending on which spelling you choose), the famous indian woman who was of great assistance to the Lewis and Clark expedition.  There is some controversy over Sitting Bull as he was originally buried in Fort Yates.  Family members supposedly moved his body to be closer to his original home land on the bluff in 1953, but others disagree.  I will say that the bluff is a much more inspirational final resting place. We were inspired enough to stop at the Casino afterwards and donate some of our money to the Standing River Tribe.

Sacagawea Monument

Sitting Bull grave stone with the mysterious eyes

Sitting Bull Grave and monument overlooking the river

The small farming town of Hoven, SD is renown for its “Cathedral of the Plains”.  The St. Anthony of Padua Church was built in 1921 at a cost of a quarter of a million dollars.  That was a huge amount of money for a small farming community in 1921and would equate to tens of millions today.  The Church seats 1,000 people, is 140 feet tall, 161 feet long and 64 feet wide.  It has stained glass windows fabricated by Bavarian artisans although much of the building was done by local labor.  The Church was completely restored in 1980’s, which was another intensive undertaking. 

The Church from the front

Church entrance, I like the gargoyle looking figures 

Beauitful stained glass windows

Interior of the Church is special

Our original plan was to leave Mobridge on Wednesday or Thursday for Bismarck, North Dakota.  However, when we researched area campgrounds for availability we found that due to a baseball tournament in Bismarck on the weekend, all campsites were reserved.  As we have no schedule to maintain or a place we have to be at, we just extended here for another four days, sometimes no plan is the best plan.

I’m starting to get tired of these towns that roll up the sidewalks at 6 PM and hope to find something more lively at our next stop in Bismarck, North Dakota;

Twinkles and Slick

Friday, June 23, 2017

Fort Pierre and Pierre, South Dakota

June 12 - 17, 2017:  The Road to Nowhere

We stretched it out today doing 130 miles on on route 83 north with clear skies but a very wicked wind. We cross into South Dakota and go through the Sioux Reservation for about 60 miles, lightly inhabited with government reservation houses.  There are huge expanses of grassland, very scenic and also vast expanses of cultivated farmland and cattle ranches.  There were only a couple of towns, I detoured through Mellette, SD but there wasn’t much of interest except an old Ford car dealership.  Route 83 runs for 1,885 miles from Brownsville, Texas to Westhope, North Dakota at the Canadian border.  It’s a Route 66 kind of thing, except you won’t find many neon signs.

The Road to Nowhere

Our destination, the Fischers Lilly Park Campground, is a small non-reservable city campground in Fort Pierre, South Dakota.  There only 12 campsites with electric and water along the Missouri River in a town park setting next to the  Casey Tubbs Rodeo arena, more about Casey latter.  There is only one other camper here, it’s very quiet and peaceful, all we hear are the frogs croaking after dark.  Alice is sitting at the at the screen door now, totally absorbed in the sounds and whatever else cats think about.

The view from our front door

The spot where Lewis and Clark met with the Teton Sioux Indians

The Capital of South Dakota is the city of Pierre, across the Missouri River, which the locals pronounce as “peer”. I read an article that stated the relationship between Pierre and Fort Pierre best; The area history is kept in Pierre, but the history happened in Fort Pierre.  Fischer Lilly Park is one of those historical places at the head of the “Bad River” where it flows into the Missouri River.  It was here that Lewis and Clark had a meeting with a few Sioux Indian Chiefs.  The story goes that one of the Chiefs became upset about his gifts (must have felt slighted) causing a very tense situation until one of the other chiefs, Black Bufalo, calmed him down.  It might have been the end of the Lewis and Clark expedition right there.

Fort Pierre is the oldest town in South Dakota having been settled in 1817 and is celebrating their bicentennial this year.  The Sioux tribe resided in this area for hundreds of years previous mostly living off the Buffalo and other fish, game and plants. The first European contact was in 1743 when French explorers, brothers Francois and Louis-Joseph representing their father, Pierre Verendrye came here searching for a new trade route.  They left a stone marker, the Verendrye Plate, on a hilltop proclaiming this land for France.  This plate was found by a couple of teenagers in the early 1900’s and miraculously someone recognized its importance and saved it.  A monument is now erected on the hilltop where the stone marker was found and the actual stone is in the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre.  
The American Fur Company established Fort Pierre Chouteau in 1832 which was the largest trading post on the upper Missouri River.  It was the happening spot until about 1855 although nothing remains these days. It is now a National Historic Landmark with a monument and interpretive signs.
Fort Pierre has several old historic buildings, the impressive Stockgrowers Bank, the excellent Verendrye museum, a rodeo Arena, a few restaurants, a few stores, a very lively swimming pool and a couple of bars.

The most impressive building in Fort Pierre is the Stockgrowers
Bank established in 1903

The Verendrye Plate

Painting of FortPierre Chouteau

Fort Pierre City Hall

I was equally impressed with the hay truck

The old city jail

The Old Deadwood Trail was a Steamboat landing where supplies
were unloaded onto horse drawn wagons and then transported 200
miles overland to the gold camps in Deadwood, SD

Scotty Philip was an early settler who married an Indian woman
and was a very successful businessman

Scotty amassed a huge Buffalo herd and is given credit as the
one who saved the Buffalo from extinction

Steamboats at the landing in Fort Pierre

A lot is packed into the Verendrye Museum

I went into the “Silver Spur” which has the appearance of an old building hoping to find a real Saloon atmosphere inside.  I was disappointed as it looks just like any other new chain restaurant with a totally redone interior, no character at all.  They had a good dining crowd and the food may be excellent, but they should change the name to the “Plastic Spur”. 

They do have an event room in the rear for music concerts and such

The Chuckwagon was calling me, but I never went in

On the other end of Deadwood Street next to a very rough looking harness shop is the “Hop Scotch” which is the local “Gentlemen’s Club”, but these are the kind of places you go to in a group, you feel like a pervert going alone.

Possible regret ?

I did have a interesting hour or so at the St. Charles Hotel Lounge.  I had been nearby checking out a very cool ice cream shop called Zesto, with the slogan “Zesto is the Besto”, and happened to ride by the St Charles and hear music playing. I had wanted to see the inside of the St Charles anyhow as it is the most iconic of the old luxury hotels in Pierre.  The lounge was packed with people for a benefit listening to a trio playing broadway show tunes.  I never did find out what the benefit was for.  I happened to sit next to a guy who was an off-duty bartender there who was really into this music, knew the words, was singing along and said he grew up with this music as a child.

The Zesto Ice Cream stand is very popular, this was taken in the
morning before opening time

I searched high and low for live music or a nice brewpub in Pierre and found absolutely nothing.  It’s weird, because almost all towns now have a small brewery or brew pub, you'd expect a Capital city to have several.  Casino’s are the thing in South Dakota, there're on practically every corner, not the big Indian Casinos, but rather dumpy little rooms in convenience stores, gas stations, Laundromats, etc.  It’s ridiculous how many there are and most are trashy looking.  I think what you do in these parts is to stop on your way home, buy a 12 pack of the cheapest beer and take it home to drink. On the restaurant front, its slim pickings also as two of the most popular restaurants seem to be Perkins Pancake House and the Pizza Ranch, not exactly fine dining.  We did go to the Pizza Ranch to see what the fuss was about to find a buffet with several varieties of Pizza and a salad bar as expected. The strange thing however was the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn and biscuits ?  It seemed as though more people were going for the chicken and mashed potatoes than the Pizza. 

You can do it all at this gas station

Pierre happens to be the second smallest capital city in the US.  I knew it wasn’t the smallest since I have spent considerable time in the smallest capital city of Montpellier, Vermont.  
South Dakota had been a US Territory from 1861 to 1889 when it became a state. The Territorial Capital had been in Yankton, but with Statehood the location of the Capital was up for grabs.  Several South Dakota cities duked it out to determine which one would be the new Capital.  In the end, Pierre won mainly due to its central location within the State.  Initially a small wooden building was erected which quickly became inadequate and a new grand Capital building was designed and erected.   The new Capital was completed in 1913, was modernized slightly over the years and then totally restored as close as possible to it’s original 1910 appearance.  It’s not the best Capital building we have visited, but it’s very impressive. 

Looking straight up into the Rotunda

I was also impressed with the floor tiles

And this particular mural

And this one

The exterior is stately looking as a Capital should be

Another great Pierre attraction is the South Dakota Cultural Center housed in a unique building built into the side of a bluff planted with native prairie grasses.  Their native American exhibits and artifacts were especially good.  I was quite taken with the horse effigy carvings, done by Lakota warrior "No Two Horns", which memorialize his indian horses who were killed in battle.  I haven’t seen these anywhere else and we’ve been to many museums.
Pierre Street is the old business district which has a several turn of the century buildings, but nothing of particular significance.  Pierre seems to be a nice family oriented place to live, with much fishing and boating but is very lacking in culture, the arts, dining, nightlife and shopping.

No Two Horns horse effigy

You didn't just walk into an Indians house and sit anywhere

One of my favorite buildings in Pierre

Also this one

Pierre has a trail of governors around town where statues
of former governors are displayed on street corners.  This
governor is Peter Norbeck, the only one I might have voted for.

This is one of the best ever historical markers

My favorite sign

A view of the Railroad Bridge taken almost from in someone's
side yard, a very nice private dock there

The largest Dam on the Missouri River, Oahe Dam, is located just upstream from Pierre and the resulting Lake Oahe is reported to be the 14th largest lake by volume in the World.  This stretch of the Missouri River is tightly controlled and tamed, it sort of looks like a canal, not the meandering river we saw back to Ponca, Nebraska.  I know it’s for the common good, but it’s kind of sad.
This brings to mind a poster I used to have on my bedroom wall about 50 years ago of a quote by Henry David Thoreau, “What does education often do ? It makes a straight cut ditch of a free meandering brook”

Scenic viewpoint on the lake 

This was a Mission School that would have ben flooded by the
lake, it was relocated to the visitors center

We had a series of wicked thunderstorms on Monday night, we knew they were coming by the forecast, you need to pay attention to the weather here.  I still was a bit alarmed when at 1AM a emergency alert audio message starts blaring from this campground system waking me from deep sleep.  I’d say the system works well, except for people like Twinkles, who slept right through it all. The wind, rain, thunder and lightning were pretty intense, but luckily only very minor hail.  This storm raged for about an hour, abated and then a few hours latter another weaker band of storms came through.

I visited the Fort Pierre Railroad Depot built in 1906 by the Chicago and North Western Railroad. The Depot was closed in 1958 and eventually sold to a local rancher.  In 2010, the Depot was discovered and a fund raising group “Bring it Home” was formed which successfully did bring it home, set it up near its original location and beautifully restored it.  It has recently reopened as a museum.

They really have done a stellar job, all volunteer's

The railroad had some great looking equipment

On the hilltop overlooking the Depot is the Casey Tibbs Rodeo Center and Mattie Goff-Newcombe Conference Center.  Casey Tibbs was raised on a ranch near Fort Pierre and at an early age became a Rodeo star.  He was the sports biggest star in his prime, was compared to Babe Ruth and made the cover of Life Magazine.  He won 6 saddle bronc riding, 2 all around cowboy and 1 bare back riding world championships in his career.  After his rodeo days he moved on to movies as a stunt rider, producer, horse trainer and consultant to John Wayne.

Mattie Golf-Newcombe was a cow girl from an early age breaking horses on the ranch.  She worked the rodeo circuit for many years as a bronco rider and a trick rider, back when they allowed the cowgirls to do that.  Twinkles asks why women aren’t allowed to compete in the bronc and bull riding competition these days?  My only answer is that the macho cowboys are afraid the girls will beat them.

Casey Tibbs even looks like a star

Statue in front of there museum

Large Cowboy Mural 

This was Mattie's rodeo touring car and trailer.  The car is painted,
the trailer is real and attacks realistically to the rear of the car

Mattie won numerous championships and ended up a
successful cattle rancher.  She lived to be 98.

This was most interesting, Casey failed his army physical
for his broken bones while he was competing and wining
campionships on the rodeo circuit

When a statue of Casey Tibbs was dedicated at the Pro Rodeo Hall
of Fame, Casey in his speech said,  "Thanks for making me
look so good, hell, I was that good".  This was put on his gravestone.

We did a hike from downtown Fort Pierre to LaFramboise Island which was a very long circuitous route  over the Missouri River bridge to Pierre, through Steamboat Park to the Island which is directly across the Missouri from our campsite, in fact we could see our RV from there.  LaFramboise Island is a large sand bar in the Missouri River with well established forest.  They have several trail loops through and around the island.

The trail along the river

The RV across the river

A final evening ride out into the prairie to the Buffalo Interpretive Center was inspiring, the light, the clouds, the wind in the grass, a storm in the distance and a few Buffalo, near perfect.

Beautiful to see that grass blowing in the wind

Rain in the distance

Where the Buffalo still can roam

Next stop is Mobridge, South Dakota;
Twinkles and Slick