Great Plains, Laura Ingalls, and Jackrabbits
What an interesting and multifaceted day. Headed out of St. Paul around 7:30AM. The traffic wasn’t too bad on the way out of the city. Once out of the city I started to make my way towards New Ulm and passed through or near towns named Cologne and Hamburg. Guess there is some German influence in this part of the state! Many of the towns have a large church that looks like ones you might encounter in Germany.
It took about two hours to get to New Ulm. It’s right on the Minnesota River. There was not much going on in town but walked along the main street and found the old post office (now the county museum) which is in German Renaissance style. There is a definite German flair to the town, so that was kind of fun to see. One of the more interesting things is the Hermann Monument located on a hill on the south side of town. Ordinarily you can climb the staircase and have a great view of the Minnesota River Valley, but it was closed due to construction.
I got gas and picked up some snacks on my way out of town and began the next part of the day’s journey.
Laura Ingalls Wilder tour, Part 1:
The first town after New Ulm is Sleepy Eye – the town is mentioned in one of her books. From there it was on to Walnut Grove. Drove 1.5 miles north of town and got to see the dugout home where the Ingalls lived on the banks of Plum Creek. Plum Creek is scenic and there are features written about in the book that you can still see, including the “Big Rock” and the springs near the home. The dugout home collapsed years ago, but the location is accurate. There was not much else to see in Walnut Grove – the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum looked a bit kitschy and was expensive. There are some memorabilia from the television series actors and a doll collection. However, it was still fun to finally get to see the town. The next town after Walnut Grove is Tracy – Laura took her first train ride from Walnut Grove to Tracy.
South Dakota, Brookings, Daktronics, and SDSU campus:
Stopped at the border and took a picture of myself in front of the South Dakota sign. Continued to Brookings, home of the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits. Went to the campus first and parked near the Student Union, which is also near Frost Arena (basketball) and the football stadium. The stadium has grown tremendously since the last time I saw it. From there I found my way to the Campanile, the main symbol of the university.
Drove through a residential area and could tell the semester was over, as students were throwing things out of houses and apartments just like they do in Iowa City at the end of the academic year! Had lunch downtown before continuing the journey.
One of the more interesting things to come out of SDSU is the inception of Daktroniks, famous for making scoreboards that can be found around the world, including Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Stegeman Coliseum at UGA to name but two. So, the next time you are at a sporting event, chances are the scoreboard will have been made in Brookings, South Dakota!
After leaving Brookings, I passed through many small farm towns, including Volga and Arlington. Once I passed through Arlington, I noticed three Canada geese flying fairly low above the highway. The next thing I knew my windshield had several splats from said geese. I laughed and was glad they hit the windshield instead of the hood. So… beware of getting goose bombed in South Dakota!
Laura Ingalls Wilder tour, Part 2:
About 40 miles west of Brookings is the small town of DeSmet, which is the “Little Town on the Prairie” and featured in at least four of the books. On the way into town, I stopped to see the Ingalls homestead. The wind was blowing fiercely, but I still went up a wooden observation deck to look over the area. In addition to the homestead, they have brought in several other buildings representative of the 1870’s. From the observation you could see the Big Slough and two other sloughs. Probably the most interesting thing about the homestead site is that there are still 5 cottonwood trees that Charles Ingalls planted ca. 1874.
Once in town, I made my way to see the “Surveyor’s House”, where the family lived in the book, “By the Shores of Silver Lake”, and a replica of a school where Laura taught. From there I made my way to the shores of Silver Lake on the eastern edge of town.
Huron and Pierre:
Stopped in Huron to take a few pictures of the world’s biggest pheasant and drove by the South Dakota State Fair grounds. Once past Huron, it was a long drive to Pierre. After I checked into the hotel and had dinner, I took a long walk around town and went by the capitol building as well as the “Fighting Stallions” sculpture in Capitol Park that commemorates the tragic death of Governor Mickelson and 7 other people in a plane crash in 1993.
As I drove across rural Minnesota and South Dakota I was struck by the vastness of the prairie and the importance of schools to many of the communities. For example, all the street signs in Arlington, SD feature a cardinal, and banners in downtown Miller, SD feature rustlers and the school’s colors. Many towns have signs that indicate state championships.
Throughout Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota there are countless windmill farms that dot the prairie landscape. Lake Benton, MN claims to be the “Original Wind Power Capital of the Midwest”. The wind does blow a lot in this part of the country!
Mileage between St. Paul and Pierre: 431.7 miles
Total so far: 1,739.4 miles
Early Friday morning I took a long walk along the Missouri Riverfront in Pierre. The morning was beautiful with a nice mix of sun and clouds. Stopped to see place where the Verendrye Plate was found by teenagers in 1913. It’s the earliest record of white people in what is now South Dakota (1743). Left the interstate at the Badlands National Park exit and drove home via Interior and SD44 along the edge of the Badlands. The road was a bit rough, but the scenery was spectacular. Got to Kay’s at around 10:30AM mountain time and spent the afternoon with Mom.
Mileage between Pierre and Rapid City: 201.1
Total so far: 1,940.5 miles
Check it out:
Be sure to check out the “Resources” page if you are interested in learning more about some of the things mentioned in the blog! The photo album for Part 1 can be found here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/ELhb6pWuS3YVLNGs9 Thanks for reading!
Top row (L to R): Walnut Grove; Badlands National Park; Verendrye Monument
2nd row (L to R): Fighting Stallions (Pierre); State Capitol; Missouri River from Verendrye Monument
3rd row (L to R): Huron, SD; SDSU (Brookings); New Ulm, MN
4th row (L to R): Entering SD (US14); Hermann Monument (New Ulm); Ingalls Dugout (Walnut Grove, MN)