Road Trips

Nothing to See Here: A South Dakota Road Trip


When I arrived at the Minneapolis airport I was met by the most friendly rental car shuttle driver ever. I didn’t catch his name, but he was an older gentleman driving a bright orange-and-black shuttle for Sixt, a budget rental car company (which I now highly recommend). He asked me where I was headed, and instead of explaining the entirety of my rather long trip, I just went with my first destination. I’m driving to De Smet, South Dakota tomorrow, I responded.

Then, in typical kind older gentleman fashion, he attempted to tell me the best way to get to De Smet (the way I got there was by using Waze on my iPhone, but I didn’t mention that at the time). And he cautioned me: it’s pretty far, and there’s not a lot to look at, that’s for sure. 

Having spent a week crossing through all of South Dakota, from Minneapolis to De Smet to Mitchell to the Black Hills and back, I respectfully disagree.

Why The Shuttle Driver Was Wrong



There were countless things to look at while driving through Minnesota and across South Dakota. I saw a lot of sky. So, so much sky. And clouds, as they were, you know…in the sky. I saw corn, and bright yellow soybean fields, and more than a few lakes. I drove alongside trains filled with (I’m assuming) corn and soybeans; I paralleled one such train for so long that for a moment I believed both the train and I were standing still and it was the landscape which was moving.

As I left Minnesota behind and entered South Dakota, the countryside changed. First came the windmills. Hundreds of windmills, all spinning lazily, like a purposely disorienting road-side modern art museum. Then the power lines stopped, and it was just two lanes and open land, with honest-to-goodness actual prairie grass swaying in the breeze. There were dozens of small swampy lakes–I believe they are called sloughs–rimmed by afore mentioned prairie grass and reflecting afore mentioned clouds.

And then I crossed the Missouri River. I know that St. Louis is typically considered ‘the gateway to the west’ and that the Mississippi is the river of choice when delineating east versus west, but I’d argue that the real west begins just over the banks of the Missouri in the middle of South Dakota. Because once again, the landscape shifted, the sky somehow opening wider. It felt at once flat and high, a strange, mind-bending sensation. In fact, the only bad part of the whole trip was a maybe thirty second period during which my perception totally shifted–because there was just so much sky–and I felt like I might fall up. I’ve heard people compare the western plains to an endless ocean, and I know that millions of years ago, it was a huge inland sea. But I’ve been at sea. This was more vast; this was more humbling.

Oh–and did I mention the fields of sunflowers? Because there were hundreds of acres of fields of sunflowers lining the highway. You know. Hanging out. Being millions of sunflowers.

Eventually I found my way to the Badlands and then on to the Black Hills. Both of these were worthy destinations, and I will be sharing stories and photos of each in the future. But in this case, to use a tired old cliche: the journey really was the destination. A journey which I highly recommend.

I will be sharing more stories of my South Dakota adventure in the coming weeks. Stay tuned! 

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