On Tuesday, September 7, we pulled out about 8:30 AM, heading east on ND-43 and then south on ND-3, the path we would take almost all the way to our destination. In Dunleith we stopped to check out the Wee’l Turtle. It is a giant, green turtle that is made completely out of car wheels, since the town claims to be the gateway to the Turtle Mountains. Very creative. We picked up a couple of breakfast sandwiches at the truck stop, then got back on the road. At Rugby, we stopped to see the monument for the geographical center of North America. So how did someone figure that out? Not as scientifically as you would imagine. In 1931, a U.S. Geological Survey employee balanced a cutout of North America on the point of a pin. Sounds like something they would do in elementary school, right? By August of the following year, the citizens of Rugby had built a 21′ tall, 6′ wide monument out of native North Dakota stone. The spot remained mostly unquestioned until 2016 when a couple of guys in Hanson’s Bar in Robinson, about a hundred miles south of Rugby, had a few beers and started wondering. Using a globe and string, they decided that the center was actually, and maybe not so coincidentally, right beneath the bar! Rugby had never trademarked their “Geographical Center” phrase or had let it lapse (stories differ), so bar owner Bill Bender hopped on the internet and paid his $300+. Bingo, Hanson’s Bar became the official center with a seal on the floor to prove it. Rugby was appalled. Word spread, and a geography professor, Peter Rogerson, at the University at Buffalo tried his hand at figuring it out. Using an algorithm he designed specifically to find the center, he plugged in the latitudes and longitudes all the way around North America and let the computer do its work. His answer was still in North Dakota, a little further west than Robinson near the town of, believe it or not, Center. No kidding! A couple of guys from that town, Dave Berger and Rick Schmidt, jumped on the new information and placed a giant, 30,000 lb boulder on their spot with a plaque proclaiming it “The Scientific Center of North America”. And then there were three. In the end, Bill Bender relinquished the trademark to Rugby, but kept his floor seal. Two of the monuments are easily accessible. If you go through Robinson, though, and the bar is closed, just give Bill a call. He’ll happily pop over to open up so you can take a gander. Near the Rugby monument is a rock that is claimed to have old native drawings on it of a hand, a foot, and a face. I’m not really convinced of that one. It really looks like someone took a Sharpie to it.
We continued south through the lake region. There are truly hundreds of ponds and lakes in a variety of sizes in this center section of North Dakota. They must be spring fed for the most part, as there are no associated streams and the water is mostly dark blue, although there are some that lean more towards a grey color. The wind was blowing at around 25 mph and gusting up probably close to 35 or 40, and the water surfaces were whipped up into white caps. The landscape vacillated from almost flat to rolling, with significant hills in some areas. It is beautiful. Except for cattle, horses, farm-raised buffalo, and water fowl, we didn’t see much in the way of animals. At Napoleon, we stopped for lunch at the White Maid Restaurant, which was very good. MW had a taco salad, and I had fried chicken. (When we are on the road, I REALLY miss Michael’s fried chicken!) We also checked out Mabel’s Bakery and Coffee Shop and took a few sweeties with us. Delicious! The lady there directed us to the laundromat (attached to the car wash), which turned out to be a tiny room with one washer and one dryer. Finding a laundromat in rural North Dakota has been a challenge. We picked up a couple of things at the grocery store, and continued a few miles south to the final leg, east over to Beaver Lake State Park. We got a call a couple of weeks ago from this campground saying they were having staffing issues and asking if we minded being alone in the middle of nowhere. We, of course, were fine with that. Turned out not to be the case, though. There was a campground host, and one other trailer pulled in as I was working later. Amazingly, in an otherwise empty campground, he reserved the spot just two sites away. I’m telling you there is some psychological explanation for that, because it happens all the time. The wind finally started dying down about 6 PM or so. Before bed I went outside to check out the stars, but was denied. Why in the world would you put bright lights out in a campground in the middle of nowhere? Are people that afraid of the dark?
On Wednesday I wallowed in the bed for a little bit. The night had been gloriously cool, and I was snuggled down. There was at least one pack of coyotes around that I heard several times during the night. Now that I know what the crazy, insane asylum noise is, I love hearing it. I forced myself to get up, then wrote for a little bit. Later we loaded up the laundry and headed out for a drive and search. It was a gorgeous day! The first stop was Linton where we did find a small laundromat. Hurrah! Except there was water main work being done, and the water was turned off. Pooh! We popped in at the Family Dollar to grab a few things including some cheap movies. One of the things I absolutely love about wide, open spaces is the sky. Sometimes it is totally clear and the most brilliant blue you’ve ever seen. Other times, like this day, it seems that God is working overtime to paint us a beautiful ceiling…fluffy clouds mixed with swirls that look like brush strokes. This world is SO beautiful!
Then it was south to Strasburg to check out the Ludwig and Christina Welk Homestead. I’m sure some of you have absolutely no idea who Lawrence Welk was, but when I was a kid, he was a big deal. He was a musician and accordionist, but what he is remembered for most is hosting The Lawrence Welk Show, which ran for 31 years, ending in 1982. He was one of the last famous band leaders and kept big band, “champagne music” alive as hair bands and rock were taking over. His parents immigrated from Odessa in what is now Ukraine in 1892, and raised eight children in the tiny homestead. Having left school in the fourth grade to work on the farm, Welk decided a music career was for him. He made a deal with his father to stay on the farm and work until he was 21 in exchange for a $400 (over $5,000 in today’s dollars) mail-order accordion. Ludwig agreed, and Lawrence stuck with his end of the bargain. The day he turned 21, though, he was gone…touring with bands playing any gigs they could get, working on radio shows, and trying to eek out a living in music. According to Roadside America, he never returned to North Dakota. In fact, he never saw the love and dedication of neighbors and friends in the restoration of his family’s homestead. He refused every invitation. How sad that this man, raised by hard-working immigrants who spent their first North Dakota winter in a wagon turned upside down and covered in sod, would shun them and his heritage. Maybe, as my grandma would say, he just got too big for his britches. Or who knows…maybe his family was just a bunch of jerks. Still sad, either way. The homestead is in great shape and is now taken care of by North Dakota, proud of their native son. The property has the original home, summer kitchen, granary, blacksmith shop, and privy. There is also a barn and windmill that are not original to the site, but were moved there around 1949. Ludwig and Christina retired in 1928, and the farm was operated by their youngest son, Michael, until 1965. During the summer you can tour inside the buildings, but they had closed for the season when we visited. Sitting right along the edge of a lake, it seems like a beautiful place to grow up and is definitely a nice outing on a pretty day.
Next we drove through Strasburg and then Hague to see what the churches attached to the tall steeples looked like. Then it was east to Ashley, north to Lehr, and west to Wishek. No luck anywhere. So we headed back to Petunia and remade the bed. I’d just have to figure it out on Friday in South Dakota. On the way we stopped to look at a shrine out in the middle of nowhere on ND-3. Built in 1958, it was originally sponsored by the rural St. Anthony Catholic Church, which is no longer functioning. It continues to be maintained and has a “Pray for Peace” inscription.
Beaver Lake State Park has a very interesting layout. Instead of the typical pull-through or back-in sites, almost all are set up end-to-end around an oval. The road parallels the sites on the outside, and cut throughs allow access to the individual sites. While it would not be the easiest setup to navigate if the park was full, it is a nod to its history. In the early 1900s, the oval was considered the fastest half-mile track in the area, and folks came from miles away to watch the horses run. On site you will find a boulder from the first state highway built in Logan County, ND-34, completed in 1923. Atop the rock, sits the fire bell from the first volunteer fire department in Logan County, too. Park amenities include cabins, picnic areas and shelters, a boat ramp, swimming area, and over 5 miles of hiking trails. There is no over-the-air TV, but cell service is moderately okay. Accommodations include 25 50-amp electric and water sites, 3 group campsites, and 5 primitive sites. For this visit in September of 2021 we paid $55.80 for two nights. Our annual pass eliminated the $7 per day fee.
Thursday we left the park at around 7:30 AM, passing through the last of North Dakota for this trip. We headed south on ND-3, then side-stepped over to ND-55 south and crossed into South Dakota. At SD-10, we turned east, then south again on SD-45, down to Miller, where we stopped for lunch at the Ranch Cafe. The food was average, and the service wasn’t great either. Our waitress was an older lady, and she didn’t smile and barely spoke. After multiple attempts to flag her down for water, she finally came and apologized. Someone called in sick, and she was clearly overwhelmed trying to keep up with the full house.
Throughout the day the land was mostly flat, with some hilly sections. It was farmland, filled with cattle, sheep, and the occasional buffalo herd, as well as soybeans, corn, and sunflowers. We also made it back to pheasant country, where you see lots of hunting clubs dedicated to their demise. Aside from the farm animals, we saw lots of hawks, some quite large, sitting on poles and posts looking for a meal. There were also a couple of pheasant running across the road and quite a few deer. We continued on SD-45 down to Platte, then turned west on ND-44. We were once again surprised by the contrast of the mostly flat land just west of Platte and the rugged terrain at the river a few miles away. On the other side of the Missouri River, at the end of 3 miles of dirt road, we arrived at Buryanek State Recreation Area, our home for the weekend. Despite it being a bit warmer, the breeze off of the lake made for a nice afternoon sitting outside. The coyotes gave a serenade from across the lake in the middle of the night, too. That’s three nights in a row!
SIDE BAR: “You don’t make mistakes. Mistakes make you. Mistakes make you smarter. They make you stronger, and they make you more self-reliant.” “Fall on your face. Fail. Fail spectacularly. Because when you fail, you learn. When you fail, you live.” A while back I watched The Last Word with Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried. The main character is a sarcastic, egotistical, controlling old woman who hires a journalist to help her write her own obituary. As the movie progresses, though, you realize she is more than she seems and has some good things to say. The quotes above are samples. No one likes to fail, but for every great achievement, there are plenty of misses propping it up from behind. Our nephew, Alex, once said that baseball players fail all the time. I had never thought about it that way before. Ty Cobb, the best batter in MLB history, had a .366 batting average. Do you know what that means? For every 1,000 opportunities, he hit 366. He missed about two for every one he hit! Yet, he still loved to play the game. Growing up as an OCD overachiever, I worked hard not to fail. Now that I’m on the back end, I wish I had spent less time in my younger days worrying about failure and more time focusing on the journey. Even for those blessed to live a long life, this ride is over far too soon.
Friday the first priority was laundry. After coming up short on Wednesday in North Dakota, the situation was migrating from a want to a need rapidly. I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand to sleep in sheets for too long! MW suggested I call a hotel in Platte, a few miles down the road from Buryanek, and ask if there was a laundromat. (We have found in these rural areas that only some of them show up on a map or internet search.) Turned out that the Kings Inn of Platte had a laundromat on site for public use. Awesome! As I approached the lake heading to town, a flock of turkeys ran across in front of me, so I stopped to give you a pic. After getting a little work done while waiting for the machines, I ran a couple of errands before heading back to the lake. On one of the ranches on the way back, there were a couple of pickup trucks and horse trailers out in the middle of a pasture with a bunch of cows. I couldn’t tell whether they were loading or unloading, but what I did see made me do a double take. There were at least two women out there with a couple of men getting the job done. The men were dressed in normal work clothes, but the women were in long-sleeve, high-necked, ankle-length dresses. No head coverings that I could see, so I don’t think they were Amish or Mennonite. It was, no kidding, 91 degrees out, and I’m passing a scene from Little House on the Prairie. Those were some hardy women! Dinner was spaghetti with leftover pork chops cut up in it…pretty good. The heat drove us indoors for the afternoon. I’m not hardy when it comes to heat, and it got HOT…94 degrees…in September…in South Dakota!! WTH??!! We expected people to start showing up for a weekend on the water with the warm weather, but only a few rolled in.
After only a few hours sleep, Saturday morning was off to a slow start with relaxation and a little writing. Around 11 AM we headed out, first to grab. some lunch at Dock 44 Marina on the other side of the reservoir. They do steaks and a smoked prime rib at night, but it is mostly sandwich fare during the day. MW had a hamburger, and I went for the shrimp po-boy, both of which were good. The really interesting part, though, was the appetizer…fried green beans with peanut butter. I know, it doesn’t sound too good, but surprisingly, it really was. After lunch we continued over to Platte to hit the hardware store and the pharmacy. Located in the nice little downtown area, and both shops are so much more than their names suggest with all kinds of decorative items, food stuff, etc. The pharmacy also has a selection of clothes and jewelry. I enjoyed looking around, and MW picked up some things for a repair project. Next we went a few miles east, then turned south on ND-50 down to US-18, passing through the reservation of the Yankton Sioux tribe, to check out the Randall Dam. At the overlook there is typically a large tipi (Sioux spelling) set up to give us an idea of how they lived, but it has been dismantled and looks like they are rebuilding. Completed in 1956, the dam is very large, and the Francis Case Lake it created covers 102,000 acres and is 140′ at its deepest point. The most interesting thing, though is that the record high on the lake in 2011 of 1,374′ was just ONE FOOT SHY of the dams capacity. Dang! That must have been something to see! I would imagine there were some folks watching that pretty closely. Back on the road, we continued across the dam and went to one of the overlooks, which was up a narrow, very rough dirt road. I was glad Petunia was back at the campground! The haze didn’t make for great pics, but you could see for a good distance. Next we continued west on US-18, where, just short of Bonesteel, we saw something unexpected. I’ve written about Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota before. You see ads all along the interstate for miles before you get there. Well, out here in the middle of nowhere on a US highway about 220 miles away, the signs start. I wonder what they spend in advertising every year? It’s gotta be a bundle! We went over to Burke, then turned north back up to the park. The warm weather kept us indoors for the afternoon. An hour or so before bedtime the wind picked up, and we were, once again, rocking like a train rolling down the tracks. It was blowing so hard that I just had to crack the window to get a full-on crosswind in the bedroom. I woke up around 11 PM, and it was still going strong, but before I got back to sleep, it suddenly slowed to just a breeze.
Okay, if you didn’t guess the answer, go back to the previous neighborhood picture. There are no stop or yield signs. I ended up driving through three different neighborhood areas surrounding the Platte downtown district, and most of the intersections didn’t have any right-of-way signage at all. It was very disconcerting, so I just stopped at every one.
Sunday started with sitting outside and enjoying the sunrise. The coyotes have kept up their nightly serenades, and early this morning MW heard a pack just up the hill from the campground. I slept through that, though. Sneedville First Baptist started doing Zoom Sunday school, but I missed it. Dang! On Central time, I just lolly-gagged right on through! We did remember church, but it wouldn’t stream. Once the livestream was over, we were able to watch it, though. Before lunch, I decided that it was going to be a pajama day. Hadn’t had one in a while, and it was just time. Everyone left with the exception of the park host, leaving us totally alone on our loop on the water. No matter what part of the country we’ve been in, during the summer months you just know that parks will be understandably packed every weekend and pretty full during the week. This time of year, though, you often find only a handful, if any, during the week, and a few more on the weekends. It is very nice. Dinner was broccoli and cheese soup, which was pretty good.
Buryanek Recreation Area is about 13 miles west of Platte, South Dakota. Access is via about 3 miles of dirt road, which has a few washboard spots and several cattle gates, but is not too bad and beats the one to Hell Creek State Park by a LONG shot. There are a couple of hills that we think would make it a little tough during very wet weather, though. The park sits on the banks of Francis Case Lake on the Missouri River and is quite beautiful and well-maintained. It is pretty remote with a self-pay kiosk, and we didn’t see a ranger come through at all. Amenities include shore fishing access, a boat ramp, a fish cleaning station, a playground, a picnic shelter, picnic areas, a beach, a very nice bathhouse (seasonal), several vault toilets (year-round), and a dump station. In addition to the main campground, there are also three really cute cabins with large decks facing the water and three primitive group camping areas available. The campground consists of two loops with 40 electric only, 50-amp, fairly level, gravel campsites. A potable water faucet is available in each loop, but may be seasonal. There are quite a few trees throughout the park, and some sites are partially shaded. I had cell reception, but there was no over-the-air TV available. We would definitely come back. For this stay in September 2021, we paid $137.22, which includes $32 in entrance fees for four nights.
Well, another week down. We are pointed towards Tennessee, but will still take several weeks to get there. Next up…Nebraska! See you on the path!
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