Every April, bloggers from all over the world participate in the April A to Z blog challenge, and you can too. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a great way to meet other bloggers. To play along, all you do is make a blog post for each letter of the alphabet during April, then visit as many other bloggers as you can.
I live to travel the back roads of America. These are the core of my travels around the United States and Canada. They always offer the best of everything: scenery, traffic conditions and a myriad of surprises.
To me, the definition of a back road is anything that is not an interstate highway. However, I prefer the kind that are two lane and in many cases don’t even have stripes down the middle. Those are the best! I am even happy to be on a gravel road at times!
In this day of GPS maps and tracking, taking a back road is all the more opportune! If I take a road and get lost, I can typically depend on my GPS to get me back on the road where I’m going. But, more often than not, I don’t care where I’m going, I just want to see where I’ve been.
Back roads are the threads and fibers of our country. Many might travel the big interstate to get from one place to another, but sometime along the way they will need to leave the highway and get on to a smaller road to get to their final destination. For me…the back road is ALWAYS my destination!
Back roads lead to numerous discoveries. I have driven back roads through every state in the United States (except for Alaska — I took a bus in Juneau, so does that count?) and always have come across something unique or interesting. I have driven through cornfields in Iowa and pineapple groves in Hawaii. I have seen many a wheat field in Montana and Saskatchewan. I love driving the roads through the mountains of Colorado, Montana and Idaho, but am just as happy on a desert road in New Mexico or Texas.
Sometimes my back road adventures are planned. I will have learned about something unique in a certain area and will try to go there via a back road. (You may want to check out my road trip from Bugtussle, KY to Bugtussle, TX — through Only, TN, for instance. See it HERE.) Other times, I just take a road and see where it leads. And that is often the most fun!
Not every back road leads me to where I want to go. I specifically recall a time on a trip in Missouri. Driving down the highway I saw a sign pointing to Romance. And as I turned there was also a sign pointing to Romance Church. Since it was only 2 miles down the road, I decided I would take the road to romance. It was a windy, narrow little road that eventually turned into a gravel road and by the time I got to the end of the road there was a large building with some people sitting out on the porch. It looked as if it might’ve been a church at one time, but it was obviously a residence. I believe that this was once the community of “Romance.” But there was nothing there indicating such and so to this day I claim that I took a road to Romance and it was a dead end.
On a similar trip in Missouri I saw another sign to a town called Success. Obviously, my penchant for wanting to go to towns with unique names has always sent me down those roads. I turned left out of the town of Houston, MO and headed down the 16 mile road to Success. Much to my surprise, all the way along the road I could see abandoned old trailers and rusty old cars littering both sides. Granted, this is in a section of the Ozarks that is known for its poverty. I finally made it to Success and even got a photo in front of the Success Post Office. But I learned quickly, that, at least in Missouri, the road to Success is not very glamorous.
One time, on a road trip with the family through Louisiana, we came across a café in the middle of nowhere. We decided to stop and maybe try some Cajun food. They had blackened alligator! None of us had ever eaten alligator. But what was more fun was the Cajun music that was being played. There was a Zydeco band with lots of dancing and some of the dancers actually came after my children and asked them to dance. It was a wonderful and totally unplanned experience that we would’ve never seen had we not taken a back road.
Back roads always lead to somewhere, even if it is only a dead end. However, you’ll never know what’s there unless you take one! Following are a few more photos of some of the back roads I have been on. I have hundreds of these, so this is just a sampling. Enjoy the ride…. and preferably on a back road!
In early April 2013 I had the opportunity to drive across the Hi-Line (US Route 2) in Northern Montana and then made our way to South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore and all the across South Dakota to Mitchell and the Corn Palace. With another work trip to Idaho, I took a different route and, similar to the Hi-Line Drive, I mainly took US Route 18 (also known as the Oyate Trail) as it crosses most of South Dakota. It goes through many small and unique towns.
The Oyate Trail is a 388 mile route that generally follows SD 50 and US Route 18 across southern South Dakota. The name is derived from the Lakota word “Oyate”, which means “a people or a nation” and “Ochanku”, which is Lakota for “trail.” Thus, the trail of nations, initially meaning the trail to the various Lakota Nations — the Yankton, the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Sioux nations. But, the meaning is even more complex with the coming of the Europeans and the mixture of their cultures along the trail.
I started off in Kentucky on May 31 and spent the evening near Omaha, NE. On June 1 I headed north towards South Dakota, entering South Dakota in Sioux City on I-29. I took the freeway into the small town of Elk Point, another of the many places that Lewis and Clark had visited. They made camp nearby the area in August 1804.
My main stop in Elk Point was at Edgar’s Soda Fountain, a throwback to the good old days. Originally opened in Centerville in 1906 in a drug store, the soda fountain was taken out of the drug store in the 1960s. It eventually was rediscovered and rebuilt by the granddaughter of the drug store owner. They have even brought out the old manuals and have some concoctions directly from those manuals, such as The Standard Manual of Soda and Other Beverages.
Owner Barb Wurtz was there and the staff was ultra friendly. They had an old-fashioned candy case, nice neon, original wooden booths and bar seating. Its a great place to take a quick break off the road.
I also wanted to drop by Edgar’s with my good friend and amazing guitarist Edgar Cruz in mind. So, “Welcome to Edgar’s!”
After consulting with the great staff at Edgar’s, I determined to make my way along US Route 18 (the Oyate Trail), which would take me across the lush prairies of southern South Dakota and into some small and unique towns. After visiting the Lewis and Clark Campsite monument n Elk Point, I headed north on I 29 to Exit 47 near Beresford and then west to Viborg. The Oyate Trail actually starts in Vermillion, SD, just NW of Elk Point, but I wanted to hit Viborg first.
Viborg is a town of around 700 and was settled by Danish immigrants in the 1860s. The town is named for Viborg in Denmark. The town was originally named Daneville, but with the coming of the railroad in the 1890s, the residents had to move a bit north so they could be along the railroad. Thus Viborg was born and was finally incorporated in August 1903.
As I drive through town I got glimpses of the culture. The Kountry Kookin’ Cafe, with its built in neon sign above the door, gave me cause for chuckle. The window on the right says “Dis is vare Sven loves the dinners” and the window on the left says “Dis is vare Ole gets the pie.” Had there been time, it could have been “Dis is vare Sumoflam gets the lunch!”
Like many small towns, there are the old fashioned theaters that thrived in the 1950s and 1960s. But these are a dying breed so I try to get shots of them when I go through these small towns.
On the outskirts of Viborg I came across this unusual, yet decorative grain silo. As I drive the back roads of this country, whether in Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin or elsewhere, silos are a common site. Yet, I don’t recall ever seeing brick silos like this one, nor do I recall the decorative nature. After a bit of internet research (thank you Google!!) I have learned that these are Glazed Block Silos. They are apparently very common in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. I am assuming that they are of Scandinavian origin, though I have not yet found anything definitive.
Living in Lexington I see plenty of horses. But, I couldn’t help but notice this happy trio in the lush prairie grasses near Viborg. I sat and watched them for a few minutes as they frolicked and played.
From Viborg I headed straight north on SD 19 past Swan Lake to US 18 and began my trek across the state.
I passed the two establishments along the road. Both were basically in the middle of nowhere. Meridian Corner has a fairly active Facebook Page. They are apparently quite popular and have T-shirts, etc.
I rolled into Menno, SD next. Menno was settled by German-Russian immigrants around 1874. Continuing west my next stop was in Tripp, SD. This was the first Tripp I have experienced on my many trips!! The town slogan “Easy to Find, Hard to Leave”. For me, its as my friend Antsy McClain says “Its All in the Trip”.
Tripp recently became a destination for a group of Amish families that moved from Wisconsin in 2010. This, of course, brings the need for a blacksmith. The name on the barn reminded me of the Amish, so I checked and indeed, as the link above explains, the first Amish in South Dakota are in this area.
I continued west on US 18 passing by farmland and a few trees. I found one set of trees that struck me…these were near the junction with US 281, where US 18 heads due south towards Ravinia, SD.
US 18/US 281 again heads west near the base of Lake Andes, which is a National Wildlife Refuge. As I drive along the southern border of the lake, I saw a huge flock of white birds. From my viewpoint I thought they were swans, but I decided to take a closer look so I took a drive into the small park just before getting to the town of Lake Andes, SD. I was thrilled as I got closer and discovered it was a huge flock of pelicans!!
Seeing the Pelicans was a real thrill for me as these were birds that I have never had a close encounter with. While at the lake, I also saw some beautiful purple wildflowers.
From Lake Andes I continued south on US 18/281 to cross over the dam at the Randall Creek Recreation Area. At the top of the hill past the dam I had an excellent view of the Old Fort Randall Cemetery.
US 18 continued west, then southwest for a while and then began heading northwest again towards the town of Bonesteel.
The town of Bonesteel was basically the first town of many on the actual Oyate Trail that I would hit on this drive. Bonesteel has an interesting name, named after H.E. Bonesteel and hasjust about 300 people.
The railroad first made its way into Bonesteel in 1902. there were a limited number of registrations for land ownership and eventually many of the prospective homesteaders fought leading to what was called “the Battle of Bonesteel.”
On the outskirts of town is a small little restaurant. Great name…
The next town on the trail was Burke, SD, another town with about 600 people. As I approached town I ran into a place called Rooster Tales Hunting Service. They had a unique sign and even a patriotic hay bale! Turns out that they have a Pheasant hunting service.
This part of South Dakota is considered the pheasant capital of the U.S. (including a number of towns competing for the title). So, despite the small towns, there are hotels and accommodations for pheasant hunting enthusiasts.
Despite its size, Burke is also home to the Burke Stampede Rodeo, supposedly the largest amateur rodeo in the Midwest.
The next major stop on the road is Gregory, South Dakota. This is in the midst of pheasant country. South Dakota is the pheasant capital of the U.S. and this area of the Oyate Trail is one of the centers of the pheasant hunting world (and, in Gregory there is also a Gorilla or two….)
I got a kick out Mary Bob’s Bar — out in Kentucky we hear of “Jim Bob” all the time, but I have never heard of “Mary Bob.”
The Hipp Theatre in Gregory is a community volunteer run theatre, but does show up to date first run movies.
Then there is the giant pheasant….
Apparently Gregory is “The ground-zero of pheasantdom” according to Fortune Magazine in 1992.
Next stop was not too far — Dallas, South Dakota
Dallas is a really small town but has some interesting things…
Frank Day’s looks run down, but, apparently it is one of the “happening places” on the Oyate Trail. They have fashioned themselves as an old western-style saloon and also seem to be an attraction for bikers.
Moving west on US 18 I finally arrived at one of my “planned destinations.” Those that follow my blogs know that I am always looking for unique town names like Uncertain (TX), Boring (OR), Peculiar (MO), Tightwad (MO), Odd (WV) and more. Well, this town is a real Winner!!! Yes, Winner, South Dakota.
Winner was part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and later part of the Dakota Territory, which was established by an act of Congress and a proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln in 1861. Winner was named because it was the “winner” in the struggle to establish a town along the railroad right-of-way when the Chicago North Western began moving west from Dallas, SD in 1909.
Frank Leahy was one of Notre Dame’s most famous coaches. He grew up in Winner.
While I was in Winner, I stopped for a drink and a snack at a gas station. I just had to ask…had anyone ever won it big in the lottery in Winner. And, believe it or not, there was indeed a winning ticket sold, and, ironically, the winner’s name was Neal Wanless (awfully close to Winless…). Wanless was a Winner in Winner to the tune of $232 million. He apparently has many friends that frequent the Pheasant Bar.
Want a winning place to buy groceries? Try this place….
The Motel Parking lot above is home to another Pheasant Statue, as seen below…
Now, for that “Pheasant Capital” bit…. Research has shown me that Redfield, South Dakota is the “Pheasant Capital of the World” and they have even registered the phrase. Redfield is in the northeast section of South Dakota, north of Mitchell. As late as 1994 there has been a dispute between Winner and Redfield as to which is the “official” capital. I found an interesting article that shows that on October 26, 1994 Redfield had trademarked the phrase. Winner still claims it as well. But, Gregory is still the “ground-zero of pheasantdom.” I think this argument has gone to the birds!!!
I continued to head further west to Mission, which would be my last stop on the Oyate Trail as I planned to head north to the Badlands from there. By the way, Mission, SD is the home of Bob Barker, famous as the host of The Price is Right. The town of Mission is in the Rosebud Indian Reservation, home of the Sicangu Lakota tribe of the Sioux Nation.
While driving through Mission I came across this colorful restaurant called the Buffalo Jump. It is owned and operated by Native Americans and offers buffalo burgers, Indian tacos, and, yes, Asian, Mexican, Italian, seafood and other goodies.
From Mission I headed north on US 83 until I arrived at SD 63.
I found it interesting that my GPS sent me onto SD 63. I think my GPS is learning my penchant for back roads. SD 63 is 23 miles GRAVEL ROAD that cuts mainly through the Rosebud Indian Reservation to Belvidere, SD on I-90 near Badlands National Park. What a wonderful drive it was!!
I crossed over the White River just south of Belvidere. The White River is the 36th longest river in the US at 506 miles. It truly is whitish gray as a result of the clay, sand and volcanic ash it picks up along the way.
I finally got back onto pavement as I entered Belvidere, just a small town with 63 people and perhaps that many horses and goats….
It was time to fuel up so I stopped at the Badland’s Travel Stop in Kadoka just off of I-90 west of Belvidere. I loved the skies behind it.
Kadoka, South Dakota is “The Gateway to the Badlands.” The name Kadoka is a Lakota word which means “Hole in the Wall,” but the town doesn’t seem that way….
I really got a kick out of all of the homemade signs in Kadoka…..
And then there is the old Wagon Wheel motel sign…
And that was the end of the road to the Badlands — Kadoka is the “Gateway!”
On my next post I will have some great shots of prairie dogs and badlands!!