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Sep 13, 2016
The verdict is still out. Some friends say I’ve found mature contentment and others claim I’m turning into a stay-at-home curmudgeon.
At issue is the fact that I’ve often traveled out of state in the last year. Sometimes I’ve flown and sometimes I’ve driven but either way, friends say, I’m more inclined to talk about how good it is to return home rather than describe the marvels found in Texas, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio and elsewhere.
This trend began when I spent time in Minneapolis and couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to buy cheap Timberwolves tickets. Then five minutes after crossing into South Dakota via I-90 I heard a radio commercial about a high school boys basketball triple-header at the Corn Palace, and I made a beeline for Mitchell. Of course, what’s a Corn Palace triple-header without a pregame steak at Chef Louie? What an evening: Chef Louie, three games in one of the nation’s unique and most comfortable basketball venues, and good visits with folk from Mitchell, Howard and Stickney. I wouldn’t trade the evening for any NBA ticket.
Anyway, back home in Spearfish, I maybe talked a little too enthusiastically about my big night in Mitchell, maybe even called the Chef Louie and Corn Palace combo the ultimate South Dakota winter experience, and some relatives and friends said I was no longer the jump-on-a-jet-and-see-the-country guy they once knew.
Some other things I’ve found thoroughly enthralling upon returning home (home being anywhere within South Dakota’s borders):
Interstate 90 and Interstate 29
Like most South Dakotans I’ve bashed these highways over the years, saying they’re boring compared to two-lane roads that conform to the prairie’s roll and pitch. But, unlike some eastern turnpikes, they’re toll-free, well marked, and food and fuel services are immediately adjacent. Speaking of fuel …
Mighty Few Pre-Pay Gas Pumps
In some parts of the country, wanting to pay for anything in cash makes you somewhat suspect. So you’re expected to pay for your gas before pumping it. A gasoline purchase is a business transaction. Leave it to South Dakota, a state that still prides itself in conducting business on a handshake, to believe a customer should be trusted to fuel up and then walk 50 feet in full view to the cashier.
Sioux Falls’ Small Town Charm
I know Sioux Falls sometimes promotes itself as urban, and maybe that’s smart, but thank goodness it isn’t a true big city. Re-entering the state from south or east, up I-29 or along I-90, I sometimes stop for coffee or lunch at one of Phillips Avenue’s sidewalk cafes. Pulling off the I-229 bypass I can be in the heart of downtown in 10 minutes, placing my order instead of navigating through rings of suburbs. And the inclusive sidewalk conversations and eye contact are anything but big city — especially noticeable if you’ve spent the previous days in über-urban America.
America’s Best Highway Rest Stop
It’s located at Chamberlain and offers a sweeping view of the Missouri River/Lake Francis Case. Plus there’s a Lewis and Clark museum display, wide lawns, trails, picnic shelters and spotless restrooms. This rest stop so out-distances others that I can’t even think where the nation’s number two or number three stops might be.
Scenic Overlook At I-90 Mile Marker 138
It’s an OK view of the wide prairie, especially at sunset. But if you’re a West River resident returning from the east, the scenery isn’t what impresses you here. Rather, this is where the air starts smelling right again: clear, dry, spiced by grama grass.
Wall Drug Donuts
A few years ago, when the rest of America was going bonkers over Krispy Kreme doughnuts and deciding they were the world’s best, South Dakotans knew better.
Crow Peak View
At Elkhorn Ridge, near I-90 exit 17, westbound traffic makes a wide turn and the whole north range of the Black Hills comes into view. A minute later, mighty Crow Peak dominates the horizon. It stands right on the state’s western edge and I’ve always thought of it as a mammoth bookend, keeping our stories and personalities and traditions from toppling into Wyoming. For me Crow Peak also marks the end of my journeys; we live so close to its base that I can’t see it unless I back away half a mile or so. But I always know it’s there; I always sense its presence. Maybe it’s what keeps me in South Dakota instead of toppling away into the far West.
Editor’s Note: This column is revised from the September/October 2011 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.