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

Friday, June 16, 2017

Valentine, Nebraska

June 8 - 11, 2017:

Our longest ride in a while at 150 miles, but an easy one all the way on route 12 with practically no traffic and clear weather.  This route is very scenic starting off in farm country, miles and miles of corn and hay fields and then becoming miles and miles of open cattle range land.  There were several small towns along the route and I detoured through a couple of them to get a view.

A rest stop

I always thought the prairie was flat

The cattle crowded around the stock tank

Really fried Chicken at the Cattlemen's Lounge ?

We arrived at the Wacky West Camp Ground in Valentine, Nebraska in early afternoon to a very friendly welcome from the campground owner and quickly set up.  It isn’t a very spacious campground and a little on the rough side but they accept Passport America (1/2 price) for our scheduled four day stay.  They also are full hookup, something we haven’t had in over a month, excellant WiFi and are only a couple of minutes from downtown.

We liked the Wacky West Campground

Valentine began in 1883 as a rowdy, end of the track railroad town.  It was named for E.K. Valentine, a Civil War Veteran who became a Congressman. It became home to many cattlemen and eventually clashes developed between the Cattlemen and the Sioux and Pawnee Indians resulting in the establishment of Fort Niobrara.  Fort Niobrara is now a National Wildlife Refuge.  Cattle ranching remains the main industry here along with excellent river canoeing, kayaking and tubing on the Niobrara River.

Scenic view at the wildlife preserve

View of Fort Niobrara back in the day

Valentine is the largest town in about a 150 mile radius with a nice folksey downtown and has no Walmart.  They have red hearts stenciled on the downtown sidewalks along with heart shaped signs on the street lights.  We found a great bookstore that specialized in local Plains history, culture and literature and I ended up buying a book titled “Zen of the Plains”.  We also found the old Post Office built in 1936, now a Text book Library according to the sign on the door.  It looked dark inside, but when I tried the door, it opened and we walked inside.  On one wall was a great old mural, signed by Kady B. Faulkner in 1939 and much of the original post office interior remained intact.  No one appeared and the lights were off, we thought it sort of weird to leave this unlocked (even in Nebraska) so we reported it to the public Library next door.

Valentine calls itself "The Heart City"

A nice wide clean Main Street

Beautiful sculpted brick front on the Bank, the bank owner went to much
effort to have this done, there was a big unveiling ceremony in town and 
sadly the next day he, his wife and a couple others died in a plane crash

Mural in the old Post Office

Youngs is a great western store, they carry everything

Great cowboy murals all around the walls in the back room

Equal time for the Indians too

The Corner Bar is your basic locals hangout

The kids here are started off with Tractors early, John Deere 
seems to be the favorite brand

There are several outdoors adventures in the area, we start with a ride to Smith Falls State Park and do the short hike to the 70 foot tall Smith Falls which is the tallest in Nebraska.  We then do a short nature trail along the Niobrara River.  The Niobrara River for 76 miles between Valentine and Norden is a National Scenic River and very popular with canoeists, kayakers and tubers.  A few miles from Smith State Park is the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Preserve where we hike a beautiful trail past Fort Falls and along the Niobrara River.  There is also a really impressive scenic overlook nearby and a tour road through the preserve to view Bison, Elk and Prairie Dogs. 

The Niobrara River is a revered kayak, canoe and tubing river 

Smith Falls

Fort Falls

Fort Falls Trail along the river was a beauty 

Valentine has the oldest former High School in Nebraska, Centennial Hall, built in 1897, which is now used as a museum and a thrift store.  It has an eclectic mix of donated items that are grouped together displayed in old classrooms. There is a military room, a bell room, a plate room, a fashion room, an old school room, the principals office and they even have a rumored “ghost”.  Strange noises have been heard that have been attributed to a student in the 1940’s who died here, the victim of a poisoned clarinet reed.  

A wonderful building to save

A room full of bells

Looks like the graduates eventually bring their trophys back

Valentine doctor with photos of babies he had delivered, reported to
be 5,000 total over a long career

Americas Liberator was a fairly revolutionary Presidential candidate 
from Valentine, Nebraska

I also visited the Cherry County Historical Society Museum which has many relics from the past and stories to tell.


The Creamery uniforms were cool

Original settlers sod house

Local flier who died in a mid air training collision

Huge donated handmade doll collection

A well used cowboy hat

The “Cowboy Trail” passes within 100 feet of our campsite which is a “Rails to Trails” project, originally the route of the North Western Railway.  The trail is open for hiking and biking from Valentine to Norfolk, Nebraska.  There are many bridges along the route, but the highest one is a mile from Valentine, built in 1909-1910, at a height of 146 feet above the Niobrara River and a quarter mile in length.  It was a thrill to walk across it and I would definitely be nervous going over it from the vantage point of a Locomotive cab.

The Cowboy Trail

Lots of Yucca's along the trail

Dragonfly posed for me

Many Goats beards also

Coming to the Bridge

It seems more than a quarter mile long as you walk on
those creaky boards looking over the edge 

Also seems more than 146 feet down to the river

Especially when hanging over for a better photo

The historic Bryan Bridge on highway 20 over the Niobrara River is about a mile away which was built in 1932.  It is the only Arched Cantilever Truss Bridge connected in the center with a single pin in the United States.  (A good trivial fact to remember)  It is on the National Historic Register and was honored as the most beautiful class C Bridge in 1932.

The Bryan Bridge

Almost across the street from the campground is the Valentine fairgrounds which was having a “Heart of the Sand Hills Ranch Rodeo on Saturday and Sunday.  I went to it for a couple of hours to see what was going on as it’s a different kind of rodeo.  It’s a team competition doing daily activities done on a real cattle ranch.  They included Mug & Tie, Doctoring, Trailer Loading, Branding and Sorting.  Also unusual were Women teams competing in this competition and these girls are tough, I wouldn’t mess with them !  I must admit it was interesting to see “real ranchers” doing rodeo rather than the mostly pro athletes at a big rodeos.

This cow girl was good

Nice toss

This event is aptly called "Mug and Tie"and those cowgirls 
certainly did "mug and tie" that cow

This is the branding competition where have to lasso a calf
from the group and drag it out where they simulate a branding

They learn to rope early here
The Outlaw Trail, route 12, has been a great ride, although the outlaw presence might be hyped up a bit.  The hideout of Jessie James and his gang called the “Devils Nest” and Horse thief, Doc Middleton’s hideout called “Rustler’s Roost” are the legendary ones.  This road has been a massive collage of the Missouri River and its tributaries, the Sand Hills, the farm fields, the grass prairie lands, flavored with the legends of countless native Indians tribes, european explorers, fur traders, Lewis & Clark, Steamboats, Railroads, the homesteaders and ranchers.

We now turn north into South Dakota for another epic ride on the road they call, “The Road to Nowhere”, route 83.

Next Stop is Pierre, South Dakota,
Twinkles and Slick