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Rainbow and bison as seen from Lame Johnny Road in Custer State Park.
Rainbow and bison as seen from Lame Johnny Road in Custer State Park.
A great horned owl spotted along Highway 20 in rural Perkins County.
A great horned owl spotted along Highway 20 in rural Perkins County.
A yellow-headed blackbird sunset along a country road in Kingsbury County.
A yellow-headed blackbird sunset along a country road in Kingsbury County.
A white-tail fawn in a country churchyard along the paved road running west from Oldham.
A white-tail fawn in a country churchyard along the paved road running west from Oldham.
Rain threatens a farmer trying to get his spring fieldwork done in rural Beadle County.
Rain threatens a farmer trying to get his spring fieldwork done in rural Beadle County.
Memories of the past along the road going east of Esmond.
Memories of the past along the road going east of Esmond.
Nearly 8 miles of Highway 49 in view going north from Colome.
Nearly 8 miles of Highway 49 in view going north from Colome.
A dickcissel on a wire along a country road in Turner County.
A dickcissel on a wire along a country road in Turner County.
A white ladyslipper flower along a gravel road in the Coteau Hills of Deuel County.
A white ladyslipper flower along a gravel road in the Coteau Hills of Deuel County.
Sterling Methodist with building rain clouds in northern Brookings County.
Sterling Methodist with building rain clouds in northern Brookings County.
A vivid rainbow spotted from Codington County Road 20.
A vivid rainbow spotted from Codington County Road 20.
Snapping turtle crossing the road in Codington County.
Snapping turtle crossing the road in Codington County.
Fog fingerlings crossing a county road west of Wilmot.
Fog fingerlings crossing a county road west of Wilmot.
A double rainbow in the Hub City area of Clay County.
A double rainbow in the Hub City area of Clay County.
A building storm’s wind cloud south of Presho, along U.S. Highway 183.
A building storm’s wind cloud south of Presho, along U.S. Highway 183.
Yucca in bloom along a road labeled “scenic route” in the Grand River National Grasslands south of Shadehill Reservoir.
Yucca in bloom along a road labeled “scenic route” in the Grand River National Grasslands south of Shadehill Reservoir.
The view from White Butte Road.
The view from White Butte Road.
Peace Valley Church at dusk along Highway 79 in northeast Harding County.
Peace Valley Church at dusk along Highway 79 in northeast Harding County.

Backroad Tripping

Jul 10, 2019

“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – JRR Tolkien

Unlike Bilbo in Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring, I have always loved a good old-fashioned road trip. I grew up on a small dairy operation and the daily chores kept us homebound for much of that time. Anytime a road trip presented itself, it was a chance to see the outside world and other country sides. To this day, I’m perfectly happy driving through “new to me” country, taking in the sights on any given vacation.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that the love of the road is not unique to me. Not by a long shot. Popular music, from country to rock, all have a good share of songs praising and lamenting life on the road.  South Dakota musician Jami Lynn penned a song inspired by her favorite stretch of Dakota road along Highway 34 in the Bridger area called “Cheyenne River Bottoms.” A favorite line from the tune is “Seems Highway 34 could drive me straight into the afterlife.” I’ve been on roads like that. Sometimes it’s the scenery, sometimes it’s the sky — and when it’s both, that is when the view outside the windshield can enter into the mystical.

And now it is road trip season again. Long light days, warm weather, new life and simple wanderlust has taken me all over South Dakota this spring and summer. I’ve become a big fan of backroads and two-lane highways. I’ve especially grown fond of roads with their own names. Back in my old stomping grounds of Ziebach County, there is a road called Leedom Pike that takes you right up to and through the Moreau River and out to Thunder Butte road. This may always be my favorite passage in the state, although I’d not recommend going after a good rain because the gravel eventually turns to slick gumbo in the river hills. I know this from experience. Thank goodness for prairie grass in the ditch or I may have never returned from that trip.

Other roads I’ve come to know and love include the Bixby Road in Perkins County, the JB Pass in Harding County, Jim River Road in Yankton County and the Bad River Road going southwest out of Fort Pierre. I recently drove by Hidden Timber Road in Todd County and nearly stopped just to see what lay yonder over the hill. Maybe next time. Maybe you have a favorite scenic byway that you love. If so, drop a line in the comments and hopefully someday I’ll take a drive in that general direction. In the meantime, here is a verse from Bilbo’s road song to celebrate our love of the road.

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.” – JRR Tolkien

Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midco he is often on the road photographing South Dakota’s prettiest spots. Follow Begeman on his blog.

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