The long trek across the Great Plains – Pipestone & Badlands NP

02 Oct

Ever since we left Marquette, MI we’ve had a strong head wind and it’s been slow going the entire time.  If you’ve never traveled across the Great Plains it’s long, flat and boring.  There are acres and acres of corn, soy bean and sunflower fields.  This seems to go on for days and days.  There are parts that I find beautiful like the old farm houses, barns and old style windmills, but for the most part its monotonously similar for hundreds and hundreds of miles.

Not only is the scenery the same, but so are the radio stations.  It’s nothing but classic rock, raving religious lunatics and new country.  One can say that there are 3 choices right there, but I’ve given them all a chance and for the most part they all suck.

Country music’s lyrics are just pathetic.  They’re all about how sad their poor lives are, or they’re about some sappy heart tugging story about down home values of “Real America.”  It reminds me of a typical Republican speech pandering to gullible people just to gain their vote, or in this case, ears.  It’s not really so much the lyrics, but that gawd awful twang that is ubiquitous in country music.  It sounds like cat’s claws on a chalk board to me.  Where does that twang come from and why is it so popular?

I’ve got to admit that I really couldn’t take to much of the religious stations, so I’ll keep my thoughts to myself since religion and religious beliefs are such a hot button topic and this isn’t really a place I want to take on that kind of argument.

Classic rock isn’t much better though, since the lyrics are just as bad, and most station just play about 60 of the same songs over and over.  It’s like it just one long loop of the same songs played by one big classic rock radio conglomerate.  Don’t get me wrong since I really like classic rock, but it’s the fact they ignore 95% of the great music out there that is just not as popular.

After hours and hours of flipping the station and just when I think I’m gonna have a melt down if I hear one more Boston, Journey or Foreigner song I hit the scan button and thank gawd NPR comes in loud and clear.  The announcer mentions the next story is about a little known National Park called Pipestone in SW Minnesota just as we pass the sign for it on 1-90.  It seems so serendipitous that I think we better go with the flow.

Pipestone National Park Quarry

Pipestone National Park Quarry

We watch the little movie of the park and take the ¾ mile walk through the park.  We see the quarries where Indians have been quarrying the rock for some 300+ years.  Its labor intensive hard work under the hot sun, biting insects, and wind, so I decide I’d like to support their efforts and buy one of the ceremonial pipes they have for sale.  I talk to one of the carvers and it ends up the being the same person featured in the NPR story.

"The Oracle" in Pipestone National Park

"The Oracle" in Pipestone National Park

He seems like a really nice and interesting person.  His name is Travis Erickson and he tells me that he’s been carving for 25 years and it shows.  One the way to the park I noticed one of the tourist traps sells the pipestone in bulk, so I ask him if sells of any from his quarry.  He does, but cannot sell it during work hours, so I shop around the near by town and bid my time until 5:00 and I’m rewarded with a big chunk of some priced red pipestone direct from the person who quarried it.

I also buy one of the pipes they have for sale.  This one is made “Swift Horse” – Mark Pederson who is of the Sisseton – Wahpeton Dakota Nation and fourth generation quarrymen / pipe maker.  He is a direct descendant of Moses Crow, who settled in the Pipestone area in 1927.

Pipestone National Park

Pipestone National Park

For over 300 years, the red stone ceremonial pipe held an extremely high value and historically was valued as worth one of the finest horses in trade.  The pipe is considered sacred and used in all their ceremonies.  The pipe was also used in all treaty negotiations and thus labeled the “peace pipe” by non natives.  Native people believed that the smoke from the pipe carried their hopes and dreams to the “Creator”, and I plan on putting mine to work in the same fashion.

We spend the night in a big box store’s parking lot and press on to the Badlands, SD the next day.  We do a little hike around before the predicted big storm hits.  We decide to call it a day as the sun is going down anyway.  As we’re looking for a good place to spend the night in the Badlands National Park we come to the little town of Interior, SD.  This place is barely a one horse town with next to nothing going on.  We see a little road house that looks interesting and appropriately called “The Wagon Wheel” because it seems to be more wagons than broken down cars.  We open the door and I was surprised that tumble weed didn’t blow out of there.  The place is deserted, but I like how “authentic” it looks, so we go in for a beer or three.  The bar tender is a woman who kind of reminds me of Flo from some 70’s sitcom I cannot remember then name of.  Wait a minute, scratch that.  She looks more like the contemporary version of Miss Kitty from the old Western show “Gun Smoke and by the way she is looking at me through thick black mascara I wonder is she is also in the same line of business.  She is a genuinely sweet older woman, but I can imagine she could probably kick my ass if I got outta line.

The Badlands National Park

The Badlands National Park

Some of the locals from the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation stop in.  They’re having a good time shooting pool and drinking beer.  We see the pizza they ordered and decide to try it.  It was one of the best tasting pizzas that I’ve had in a long time.  Normally I’d never eat at a place like this just from the looks of it, but this is one of the great lessons we’ve learned from traveling is that people and places cannot be prejudged just from their appearance.  Some of the nicest and friendliest people we’ve met on this trip are people I would not normally get to talk to.  For example we stopped off on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere to check my oil and to pull out a tumble weed that was stuck in my radiator and two people within 15 minutes pull over to see if they could give us a ride or lend a hand.  That is one of the things I miss about small town living is that most of the people out there would be willing to stop and lend a hand if they saw the some one in need.  On the other hand it seems like people living in or near major metropolitan cities have been watching too many crimes shows and are fearful or just don’t give a shit weather you need help or not.

The Badlands National Park

The Badlands National Park

Another example is the person who was sitting right next to me at the Wagon Wheel Tavern.  His name is Leon Little Killer.  He’s got a persistent case of the hiccups.  He tells me he’s had them all day.  I tell him I know of a sure fire cure and he gives me that sideways look like I’m BS’ing him.  I tell him “It works every time” and he finally asks me how after trying one last time to cure them himself by hold his breath as long as he can.  I ask the bartender for a wooden pencil.  I tell him he has to put the pencil in his mouth sideways like a horse’s bit and as far back as he can bite down on it.  Then drink 3 solid gulps of water without talking a break.  I forget to tell him to lean over as he is dribbling all over himself and I then realize that this could be a big mistake if it doesn’t work.  He swallows his last gulp and sure enough he’s cured.  He looks suddenly relieved and chuckles to himself in disbelief.

We shoot the shit for a while and he tells me he is a cowboy and he looks every bit the part with the dirty white cowboy hat, boots and jeans.  He’s a burly Native American, but with a boyishly handsome face and big smile.  He offers to take us for a horse back ride the next day for free.  Wait a minute he adds, we have to buy the beer.  I gladly accept and we get his number and direction to the ranch he works at and agree to meet the next morning.

A wicked looking tree in the Badlands, SD

A wicked looking tree in the Badlands, SD

Thinking about it that night it seems a little strange going out onto the high plains desert with a person with the name Little Killer, but he seems trustworthy.  He tells me he really likes taking people out riding, because he likes to show off his country where he grew up.

Unfortunately for us we wake up and there was a cold windy rain storm rolling in which we wouldn’t have lasted long enough to make it worthwhile.  Hopefully he’ll take a rain check in the future.


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  1. Adam

    October 3, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Beautiful shots.

    You guys headed this direction? I’ll chill the bourbon for the manhattans (or maybe I’ll just try not to drink it all before you get here).

    It’s fall for sure here, temp just changed 10 degrees and suddenly summer was gone 🙂

  2. admin

    October 5, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Don’t worry we bought some sun in S. Cali for cheap and will have to use it up here soon before it spoils in the fridge.

  3. Riley

    May 28, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    I am sorry that you don’t understand country music. Don’t judge it by the worst examples. Like any other art form, it requires sensitivity and understanding of the art form. Because one does not understand an art form, one should refrain from disparaging it. I do not understand or appreciate opera, but I do realize that my ignorance is no reason to further demonstrate my ignorance by making disparging statements about something that I do not understand.

  4. admin

    May 30, 2012 at 11:53 am

    This is a blog about my experiences on a road trip and nothing more.
    You are entitled to your opinion as am I, but I’m not going to edit my comments or refrain from any future comments on what ever I deem interesting, smart or dumb…
    Feel free to go buy yourself some web space and write to your heart’s content about the virtues of country music and how it’s inspired you to be a better person or whatever it’s done for you, but I stick by my original opinion about country music.

  5. Troy

    April 4, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    A lot of people get the same impression of “flyover country” that you have, and I can see why living in Iowa all my life. If you’re ever in the area again, give us a holler and I’ll show you some of the areas you missed that will give you a different impression.

    When traveling west, always take the old highways your grandparents did, that’s how you see the real America.

  6. admin

    May 20, 2013 at 8:48 am

    Thanks Troy!
    Please do not take offense, since it’s a generalization.
    I grew up in Northern Michigan, so I know how it is.