The Longest Drive Ever – Northern WI to Southwest SD

“You haven’t seen flat until you see prairie flat.” 🌾

From the rolling woody hills and bubbly waters of Northern Wisconsin, through the farmland of southern Minnesota, all the way to the moonscapes of southwest South Dakota where you fill your gas tank for less than $20. You think cows stink? Get used to the smell of manure in MN, it only gets worse in SD. #buffalosmellsworse 🐄🐂

When my stop over in Minnesota fell through unexpectedly, I decided not to waste any more time and to drive over 500 miles from Hudson, WI to Interior, SD in one day by myself. The WI friend I was staying with said if I left at 6am I’d be at destination before dark. Well, I left at dark but it wasn’t before dark when I arrived 🌌 (it was before 8pm though). GPS said 10 hrs, it was more like a 12-14 hrs drive with all the stops I took.

That massive stretch of farmland and prairie I covered in a day was also the true beginning of my solo cross country road trip. I had so far stayed with friends or stopped here and there for a night at an AirBnB but my drives were limited to 4-5 hours and support was close by. Now I was going to be all by myself for a week in South Dakota and Wyoming with no friend in 500 mile radius. It ended up being one of my favorite stretches of the trip mostly because it was one of the most different and it gave me a pure and untainted introduction to the amazing American West! #somuchtolearn

Driving cross country I was always looking for attractions to see on the road. Well, once you go south of Minneapolis-St Paul, there is absolutely nothing else in the Midwest but farmland for hundreds of miles…And the Corn Palace in Mitchell, MN. 🌽 They claim it is the biggest in the world, I wonder if there is another corn palace somewhere else in the world… #oh’Murica

How to top off the Corn Palace sight? Oh, Minnesota got you covered – you stop by Green Giant statue in Blue Earth, MN – I’m not joking, that’s how the town and the attraction are called. #forreal There are no traffic lights in Blue Earth, town don’t need them anyways ⛽🚦. The statue was originally hoisted in the middle of I90 East to West between Boston and Seattle to signify the completion of the highway. (3000 miles total) Of course the Green Giant company was a sponsor so they just erected a statue of their “mascot” in the middle of a farm fields in Minnesota. One of the largest GMO companies names the town of their headquarters Blue Earth…how appropriate…NOT!

From Minnesota I crossed into South Dakota – where driving with 85mph puts you in the slow lane, hoping your tiny car doesn’t become airborne, while huge semi trucks fly by you with 100mph 🚗⛟. #whoknewFITcando90 Passed quickly through Sioux Falls and its casinos (pronounced like the name Sue) and onto the grasslands and prairie flats. This was my first untainted experience of the Wild West and the ways of life of the first settlers. I found the Dakota Territories mesmerizing but then I was equally stunned by Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada. I didn’t expect such hostile lands to be SO beautiful.

First stop in South Dakota was the 1880 Cowboy Village in Buffalo Ridge. I was told to pay a visit only if the old gentleman was working. Well he was, the bathroom wasn’t working though 🙄 The 85 yrs old history teacher built the Cowboy Village and kept it running his whole life. He taught 11th and 12th grade in Sioux Falls and shared with me that life used to be extremely tough in the prairie with very short life expectancy, especially for women.

It was very interesting to hear his stories, I highly recommend the stop over, to see his passion for the history of the land, to walk around the deserted streets and wander in the tiny (by today’s standards) buildings. It can also be incredibly scary. The wind is brutal. The old wooden buildings creak with every step. There is no one around in the off season. There are no birds or trees in the prairie. I don’t know if you remember in the Western movies the housewives always wanting a canary bird – to keep them company – it is awkwardly quiet without birds. All you hear is the wind howling and an old door slamming. #tooexcitedtobescared The old gentleman also taught me my first 2 important lessons in the prairie – #dontpetthebuffalo 🐂 no matter how close or cute they are AND #bewareofpoisonoussnakes 🐍 watch your feet!

A couple of hours after the Cowboy Village, there is a rest stop, a scenic overlook, and a few hiking trails right at the east bank of the great Missouri River. This body of water that originates in North Dakota and eventually flows into the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico is so majestic and grand! I was passing by right at the time of the #wateriflife protests at Standing Rock and as I was observing the power of water and the history and spirit the river carried, I said a prayer hoping the river will live to tell its stories to future generations.

Once you cross the river driving West towards the National Parks I recommend you stop at the Prairie Homestead. (Another 2-3 hrs to get there. If you go, be there before 5pm.) Even though it is not the original location of “Little House in the Prairie”, it gives a true insight into the life and daily routine of the first settlers. To survive on the prairie you must be tough, Dakota Territories tough 💪.

In the 1880s the government decided to urge settlers to occupy the Dakota Territories by giving them 160 acres of land in exchange for only a nominal fee IF they could live off the land for 5 years and make constant improvements to it. (The Homesteader’s Act for Western Expansion) That’s a big IF that took thousands of human lives. Not only I wouldn’t have survived 5 days, but also everything the prairie asked for was completely the contrary to what the first settlers were used to back home (Northeast, Midwest, or Europe).

One can’t farm in the prairie, good luck plowing the grasslands, but one can raise cattle. One can’t keep the buffalo, deer, elk, big horn sheep, etc. off the farmland (at least not in the 1800s with flimsy fencing), but one could hunt them sustainably. One can’t dig wells for water, but one could find natural water sources. Only if the first settlers had looked into adopting the ways of the Native Americans when they occupied their lands instead of “reinventing the wheel” and pushing the Indians out of territories they had roamed for centuries. ONLY IF… #whitepeoplenottoosmart #butwhythinkjustoccupy

A homestead consists of a one room sod house with dirt floor, a root cellar dug into the ground to keep produce cold and out of harm’s way, and some makeshift building for the farm animals. Why sod – well, there is no wood in the prairie and the wind is too strong for wood to provide adequate insulation anyways. A house was considered luxurious if it had a wooden floor and a glass window. The free roaming prairie dogs eventually had the same fate as the guinea pigs in certain parts of Peru – if one looks like a rabbit and acts like a rabbit, one must taste like a rabbit…🐇

After getting educated about the first settlers, I drove for another hour to get to “my” homestead and the last stop for the day. I spent the night at Circle View Guest Ranch in Interior, SD and I loved it every precious minute of it! To get to the ranch you have to drive through Badlands National Park and the little town of Interior. If you happen to be there after dark, don’t think too much, just drive. The road winds between pinnacles and boulders in the park, it can look scary and is deserted plenty. And fill up your tank on the highway, gas is sparse in the interior ⛽. How I found the ranch in pitch black with no cell phone reception, running low on gas is still a miracle to me. Thanks Circle View for keeping your sign lit up!

Circle View Guest Ranch used to be a homestead and the original cabin can still be visited down by the river. Yes, their family survived 😉 Now it is an authentic working cattle ranch (yes, I went and pet the cows 🐄) with luxurious guest quarters and one of the most comfortable beds I’ve slept on 🛌😴. The ranch boasts spectacular sunrises over the Badlands that you can watch off the deck enjoying Boomer’s company and kisses 🐶. It is propped on its own private butte far away from the main road and the homesteader’s cabin by the river can be rented for camping in the summer. Good luck out there, I’ll be opting for the cozy rooms in the main house instead 👸.

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