Wednesday, June 2, 2010

South Dakota

Today was our only day of driving in only one state. South Dakota is long. But we also purposely kept the drive time a bit shorter for today and tomorrow so we could actually stop at some things we normally zoom past at 75 mph.

First up: Wall Drug. If you've ever passed within 100 miles of Wall, SD then you know what I'm talking about. We started seeing the signs for Wall Drug as soon as we hit Wyoming. The signs are just stuck up in the farm fields and are a bit more on the "homemade" spectrum although that is partly part of their vintage Western shtick. Neither Eric or I had ever been to Wall Drug which is, in fact, a drug store. It opened in 1931 and offered free ice water. It is now in it's third generation of owners from the same family and they still offer free ice water along with 5-cent coffee, amazing homemade donuts and . . . pretty much anything else you might want. The place is massive and extremely kitschy. We barely plumbed the depths of all Wall Drug has to offer but we did check out the fun backyard.
When you're at Wall Drug you just have to participate enthusiastically in all things tacky.

William's new favorite sign is "horse" and he's had lots of opportunity to practice out here in cowboy country.

Even Eric got in on the fun.

We pushed on through miles and miles of endless, but beautiful, prairie for the rest of the day before rolling into De Smet. I've mentioned here before that I've always been a Laura Ingalls Wilder fanatic. We finished reading the entire "Little House" series to the kids a few months back and I really wanted to check out the town where several of her books are set. The Ingalls family moved to De Smet when Laura was 13. She was married and became a mother there before moving on to Missouri in her twenties. It was really fun to see some sites and drive around the town. Since I know there is at least one other Little House fan reading, I'll offer a brief tour:

Loftus's Store. This was the store that bought the wheat during the Hard Winter and tried to sell it at a hugely inflated price to the starving townspeople. Ironic that it's the one still there.
Pa's office building where the family lived during the cold winters. It was wood then, not brick.

Just after Laura and Almanzo married, the Ingalls family "proved up" on their homestead claim and promptly gave up on farming. They moved to this house in town and Pa proceeded to do all the things he'd actually been doing in town all along to keep the family alive.

The site of Laura and Almanzo's homestead. They tried farming two different sites and utterly failed in both places. After selling this site and burning down the home on the other they moved into town as well before heading to the Ozarks and finally finding farming success.

After having read the Little House books compulsively for years and years and studying the real history of the characters every chance I could get it was really interesting to see the country in person. Much of the country is given over to large-scale farming rather than the smaller homesteading that was going on in the 1880s. This is certainly a loss in some ways but, on the other hand, no one in these families could make farming work in that difficult country with unpredictable weather. It was also slightly disappointing to see so many trees everywhere. When the land was settled up the government was offering "tree claims." You could own the land if you could keep a certain number of trees per acre alive for five years. Almanzo Wilder almost killed himself trying to keep his trees alive on the dry, windy prairie and gave up in the end. But some of his trees are still there. And while it's still a huge, rolling prairie, the groves of trees and windbreaks everywhere really break it up. I would have loved to see it before all that planting.

Eric is reminding me that I've been exhausted and should get to bed but I'm not worried because I've got:

That, my friends, is coffee. Thanks to our new GPS (thanks, Dad!) we discovered this morning that Grand Rapids, SD is home to a Dunn Bros. coffee shop. Dunn Bros. started in St. Paul and is definitely our favorite coffee. And their iced cold press is our favorite drink (I don't even normally drink iced coffee). When we ordered they offered us their new growler full of coffee which can be brought in when empty for a refill at a great deal. No more suffering through nasty hotel and gas station coffee! I've got the growler chilling in an ice bucket overnight and I will be glad for it in the morning.

1 comment:

Lindsay said...

Loving reading about the road trip, Susan! You guys seem to be having a wonderful time!