Category Archives: South Dakota

Heading East & North, Part 2 — Rapid City, the Badlands & Pierre, Oct. 3-6, 2016

Continuing east on October 3, we paused briefly to re-inact a remembered photo that featured my father, Wilbur (Bill) Shipley, in which the young man rode on the snout of a triceratops dinosaur.  Actually, a concrete triceratops, one of seven dinosaur sculptures on a hill overlooking Rapid City, South Dakota, created to capitalize on the tourists coming to the Black Hills area to see Mount Rushmore. Constructed by the Works Progress Administration, the Dinosaur Park was dedicated in 1936.  Dad was riding a grey beast, but it turns out that the seven were painted green with white undersides in 1950, so when Dad took his ride I either didn’t exist or was under the age of seven.

After our brief stop, we continued to Wall, South Dakota, where we settled into an RV campground and revisited the legendary Wall Drug.  Next day, we disconnected the toad and drove the loop though the South Dakota Badlands.  A comment by a ranger in the visitor center reminded me that we were close to the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre.  She remarked that there was a photographic display at the Oglala-Lakota College near Kyle, SD.  So we spent the rest of the day motoring south through some of the Pine Ridge Reservation, searching for the College and then the right building, and then experiencing the somber exhibition.  Did you know that after the Lakota were finally pacified — largely because the whites had virtually wiped out the Bison — the Lakota were told that the entire portion (of what would become South Dakota) to the west of the Missouri River would be theirs.  Just another treaty with the Indians broken by the Government.

After our drive through the badlands and some of the Reservation to the south, we returned to the campground in Wall.  Next morning, we proceeded further east, stopping in the capitol of South Dakota, Pierre (pronounced “pier” by South Dakotans.)  We conducted a self-guided tour of the capitol building, constructed between 1905 and 1910.  We learned that the building was patterned after the Montana State Capitol in Helena, Montana.  We then turned and headed essentially straight north toward Bismarck.  While still in South Dakota, we stopped at the private RV campground at South Whitlock Resort near Gettysburg, SD and the Oahe Lake.  We were the only campers in the 71 full-hookup facility, and so we could “parallel park” our camper and avoid having to unhook the toad.  But the campground would not stay empty for many days, since the pheasant hunting season was imminent and the area is prime pheasant territory.  Opposite the resort office and store was a supper club which we could not resist.  I had one of the best New York Strip steaks ever, and Barb had grilled walleye, presumably fresh from the nearby lake.

I write this from Bismarck, at the home of Mom and sister Zona. Mom, by the way, has regained much of her energy and all of her positive outlook. Both Barb and I feel that she looks healthy and much younger than her actual 97 years. Her secret? Staying active and involved (and playing lots of Progressive Rummy). We will put the RV to bed here in North Dakota, and then fly to the Savannah area to see friends, family and doctors. But that is a topic for another post.

Heading East & North, Part I — Devils Tower & Belle Fourche, SD, Sept. 27 – Oct. 2, 2016

We returned to Las Vegas from Atlanta, GA (and from Nellie & Michael’s lovely wedding) on September 25.  We spent a few days visiting with Barb’s dad Cliff and sister Audrey, and with replenishing our groceries for our trip back to the midwest.  Oh, and we picked up the RV from the Vegas Chevrolet repair shop, where work had been done in our absence.  It started with a recall:  brake calipers needed replacing, for no cost, of course.  But we also asked that they replace a leaking seal on the left front wheel.  And then they checked the right side, and it was leaking too.  And then while replacing the calipers they discovered the rotors should be replaced.   And the brake pads.   And I asked that they flush the radiator and replace with new coolant.  By the time we got out of there, we had spent well over three boat units!  (Forgive the inside reference.)

Barb and Audrey went out to a musical at the Smith’s Center one night:  Beautiful, the Carole King Musical.  I had no interest in joining them for the show, but I did regret missing their dinner:  All You Can Eat Sushi.

Next day, we began our long trek back toward Bismarck.  We spent two long days (stopping at Walmart parking lots for the evenings) before getting to Devils Tower, in northeast Wyoming, where we were joined by son Jeff (who was returning from a summer of exploring Alaska) for a few days of R&R.  In an adjoining campsite we noticed a single woman who was camping in her car.  Speaking to her out on a trail, we learned she was from Switzerland, and had remained behind for an extra month when her tour group had moved on.  We invited Nicole over for grilled pork tenderloin followed by S’mores.  Very enjoyable encounter.

On October 2 we (including Jeff) moved further east to the Rocky Point Recreation Area campground adjacent to the Orman Dam near Belle Fourche, South Dakota (where my father grew up).  At this time of year there are very few campers in this part of the world.  The ranger at the entrance suggested that if we wanted to be together, we could use the group site.  That worked well, since we were the only ones present there and since the site was commodious enough that I could fashion an unofficial “pull through” and avoid disconnecting the dinghy.

We parted from Jeff when we left Belle Fourche, Jeff heading south and eventually west, and we continuing on toward Bismarck.  But that is the subject of our next post.

Back to my roots — Sisseton, SD area; September 28 – October 5, 2015

When we left the Minneapolis area our destination was Sisseton, in Roberts County, in the extreme northeastern corner of South Dakota.  “Sisseton” is an anglicization of the Dakota Indian words “Sinsin Tunwan” (also rendered as “Sissetowan”), which means “Swamp Village”.  Sisseton is the largest town in the Lake Traverse Reservation, homeland of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, a branch of the Santee Dakota group of Native Americans.  The Shipleys used to live about 10 miles south of Sisseton on what was (and still is) called the “Valley Ranch”.  Dad was the foreman there and the mechanic for all of a set of farms and ranches owned by A.W. Powell, the president of a Sisseton bank. My sister Zona and I attended a one-room country grade-school about two miles from our farm (and of course we had to walk uphill both ways whenever the weather was less than a full-scale blizzard.) Valley Ranch was just below a range of hills (the Coteau des Prairies) that had been laid down by receding glaciers in the ice age.  Up on the ridge of the hills, about a mile from our former home, is the grave site of Gabriel Renville (1824–1892), the last chief of the Sissetowan and Wahpetowan.  I spent much of my childhood playing with the direct descendants of Chief Renville.  Later, I drove a Model A Ford about 10 miles north to Sisseton for my freshman year of high school, and then we all moved to Romulus, MI for two years before returning to the prairie states to Jamestown, ND in time for my senior year.

So there was a reason to stop at Sisseton with our camper.  We settled in to the only campground in the immediate area (Camp Dakotah), and were joined the next day by Mom and Zona.  We had all long talked about visiting the old stomping grounds, and now we were making it happen!

Mom and Zona had made some phone calls that enabled us to get together for a number of conversations with contemporaries of Mom and with childhood friends of Zona and I. Coffee with Luella George and her son Donald (and his wife Linda).  Breakfast with Luella’s son Phillip and daughter Shannon and with friend Calvin Hove and his wife.  A visit to an assisted-living facility to see Phyllis Karst, where we were joined by her daughter Judy Karst Nelson and son Paul Karst.  And another visit to see my folks’ friend Milton Leiseth, whose wife Jeanne, now deceased, had taught Zona and I in the one-room school.  The visits were as enjoyable as we had expected and we all came away congratulating ourselves for finally making it happen.

The four of us also visited the old farm, which still bears the name “Valley Ranch”.  As we stopped at the beginning of the long driveway to photograph the arch over the cattle guard, the new owner, Calvin Finnesand, happened by on a 4-wheeler on his way to check his cattle.  He gladly gave us permission to poke around the grounds where we used to live.  We already knew that there had been many changes, but were anxious to see if we could find the site of our former home.  We knew that part of the house had been moved away and converted into a granary, and that the attached addition (formerly Mom & Dad’s bedroom) had been retained on the ranch but moved and converted to a bunkhouse.  All of the former barns had long ago collapsed. The bridge that had formerly crossed the adjacent creek had also mostly collapsed, and a huge tree had grown up right in the middle of the approach.  All of which were initially surprising and distressing, until we remembered that we had been gone for over 55 years.  It took a while, but we had a small victory in finding the foundation of our former home.

We all took a trip in to Peever, SD, the little town east of the Valley Ranch, where the Shipley family had originally gone in to shop on Saturday nights.  The association of Peever and Shipleys was long-standing:  Mom and her siblings went to school there.  For a time in my childhood, the Chamber of Commerce of Peever had paid Dad to show free movies on summer Saturday nights.  Several sheets sewn together served as the screen, and Dad had speakers and a projector capable of showing films of commercial format.  But he only had one projector, so every 20 minutes there was a pause while he changed the reel.  Folks pulled their cars onto the vacant lot and watched from the comfort of their vehicles, or while sitting on blankets on the ground.  Afterwards, many bought groceries at one of two small stores.  And we almost always stopped at the Hanson cafe for coffee and pie or a cheeseburger and malted milk.  The grocery stores are long gone, as is the cafe.  As is the Lang general store that used to be across from the cafe.  The schools are all gone; students are now bussed into Sisseton.  The only occupied commercial buildings remaining are a liquor store and the Post Office, and the latter is scheduled to be closed.  Remarkably, the two poles that supported Dad’s movie screen are still there!

We all also took a drive north and west of Sisseton, where we visited Sica Hollow.  “Sica” means “bad” in the Dakota Indian language; did I mention that I grew up on the Sisseton/Wahpeton Oyate Reservation? The state park has a number of horse trails and a few campsites that seemed to be largely intended for hosting folks who have brought in horses on trailers.  And then we stopped at the relatively new Nicollet tower, built at the initiative of Harold L. Torness, a banker and lifelong resident of Sisseton and the successor and son-in-law of A.W. Powell.  Torness was so fascinated by the book “Joseph N. Nicollet on the Plains and Prairies: The Expeditions of 1838-39 with Journals, Letters, and Notes on the Dakota Indians” that he spearheaded a $335-thousand fund-raising campaign to build a monument to the explorer. In a breathtaking view from the top of the tower, visitors can see the states of South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota, six counties, 11 communities and the Continental Divide. An adjacent 2,400-square-foot interpretive center has displays and classroom space.

After Mom and Zona had returned to Bismarck, Barb and I went on several other expeditions.  We went east and south to the village of Browns Valley, located on the southern-most end of Traverse, a long narrow lake on the border of South Dakota and Minnesota that transformed from a north-flowing river to a lake when it was blocked by glaciers in the ice age.  Another trip was to the south and west of Sisseton to Lake Enemy Swim, where the Shipleys used to go to swim and picnic 60 years ago.  We stopped at Waubay National Wildlife Refuge where we climbed a fire watchtower.   Closer to Sisseton, we stopped to see the Buffalo Lake Church, an old “Norwegian” Lutheran church that had been mentioned by the proprietress Marsha of our campground.  Marsha, incidentally, also told me that as a child her family used to go to Dad’s movies in Peever.  On the way back to Sisseton from the Buffalo Lake Church, we drove down a gravel road past a field filled with — are you ready for this? — a huge herd of bison!

When at last we left Sisseton, we drove northward to visit a cousin of Barb near Grandin, North Dakota.  Tune in next time.

Devils Tower — August 21-22, 2014

On our way up to Devils Tower, we chose a scenic route through the Black Hills that took us through Deadwood, where I spent too much time reading the displays in the Adams House Museum.  Our route had us going through tunnels lined up perfectly to see the four faces of Mount Rushmore.  We set up in the Devils Tower National Monument campgrounds and then went up to see the Visitors Center before driving to the town of Hulett (population 383) for supper at the Ponderosa Cafe, where we had a huge meal for an incredibly inexpensive price, served by folks just as friendly as you please.  Next day, Jeff took his leave to continue on to Idaho, and Barb and I went back to the Tower to hike around its periphery.  We saw at least four different sets of climbers on various faces of the Tower, including the descent of a team that consisted of a young guide and a not-so-young 70 year old completing his first climb of Devils Tower.

Devils Tower is thought to have been formed as a large mass of igneous rock which intruded through sedimentary rock beds without reaching the surface, but made a rounded bulge in the sedimentary layers above.  As the magma cooled, hexagonal (and sometimes 4-, 5-, and 7-sided) columns formed. As the rock continued to cool, the vertical columns shrank horizontally in volume and cracks began to occur at 120 degree angles, generally forming compact 6-sided columns.

Devils Tower did not visibly protrude out of the landscape until the overlying sedimentary rocks eroded away.  As the elements wore down the softer sandstones and shales, the more resistant igneous rock making up the Tower survived the erosional forces. As a result, the gray columns of Devils Tower began to appear as an isolated mass above the landscape, today rising dramatically 1,267 feet above the surrounding terrain.

The nearby circle of sacred smoke sculpture honors the American people as a gesture of world peace by sculptor Junkyu Muto. The sculpture is designed to help raise visitor awareness of the importance of the Tower to over twenty affiliated tribes. It is the third of seven works planned by the sculptor around the world. The first two are located at Vatican City and Bodhi, India. The sculpture represents the first puff of smoke from a newly lit pipe.

Wind Cave National Park — August 20, 2014

Wind Cave National Park is the site of one of the worlds longest and most complex caves and 33,851 acres of mixed-grass prairie, ponderosa pine forest, and associated wildlife. The cave is well known for its unusual geology, outstanding displays of boxwork, a rare cave formation composed of thin calcite fins resembling honeycombs, and the winds at the caves entrance. The cave also contains a variety of other cave formations such as popcorn, frostwork, and flowstone. Continued exploration is still occuring as cavers actively search for new passages in this complex maze.

The mixed-grass prairie in the park above the cave is one of the few remaining and is home to native wildlife such as bison, elk, pronghorn mule deer, coyotes and prairie dogs.

While many speleothems have formed as water has dripped into the passages, the most conspicuous feature of Wind Cave, boxwork, has probably formed differently. Boxwork is found in small amounts in other caves, but perhaps in no other cave in the world is boxwork so well-formed and abundant as in Wind Cave. Boxwork is made of thin blades of calcite that project from cave walls and ceilings, forming a honeycomb pattern. The fins intersect one another at various angles, forming boxes on all cave surfaces. Boxwork is largely confined to dolomite layers in the middle and lower levels of Wind Cave.

The origin of boxwork remains a mystery. According to one theory, many of the bedrock walls in Wind Cave have resistant fins of calcite from which the intervening limestone and dolomite bedrock has been removed by weathering. The veins in which the boxwork formed are along narrow fractures resulting from stresses produced when the mineral gypsum dried and rehydrated. The calcite formed in these fractures taking on the shape of the original gypsum crystals.

The original entrance to the cave is a small hole, barely large enough for a small person to squeeze into.  Barometric disparities between the inside and outside cause “winds” to flow through that small hole, and that is how the cave was discovered by white settlers in 1881.  Before that, and continuing into the present, the cave has been regarded as sacred by Amerindians.  Indeed, when we were there, small packets of tobacco wrapped in bright cloth were tied onto bushes just opposite the small cave opening.

A number of different “tours” of the cave are available.  We began ours by entering through a steel door and into an excavated passage that ran some 20 feet before encountering the original cave.  We descended down steps and inclines to a depth of 200 feet, sometimes squeezing along narrow passageways and other times entering fairly large rooms.  We saw virtually no stalactites or stalagmites, since the cave is so dry. We exited the cave via a slow limited-weight elevator that permitted only 10 persons at a time.

When we left the cave we paused to photograph some pronghorns and some bison, and then proceeded to the campgrounds at Bismarck Lake in Custer State Park — the very same that we had used on our trip with the Dockters in late July.

Mammoth Site — August 20, 2014

When it looked like it might rain on us during the night on the evening of August 19, we decided to check into a motel.  Next morning, we visited the Mammoth Site, a museum and paleontological site near Hot Springs, South Dakota. It contains the remains of fauna and flora preserved by entrapment in a karst sinkhole during the Pleistocene era 26,000 years ago, including Columbian & woolly mammoths, camels, wolves and giant bears.

In 1974, a construction worker, George Hanson, unearthed unusual bones while the area was being prepared for a new subdivision. His son recognized one of the finds as a mammoth tooth. The landowner agreed to further investigation, and a complete skull and tusk were found in 1974. Donations, some made by local citizens, along with the work performed by amateur and professional excavators, led to its status as a museum. 

The site has been totally enclosed and is still being actively (but slowly and carefully) excavated by trained volunteers supervised by scientists.  An adjoining exhibit hall displays full-sized replicas of mammoths, a giant short-faced bear and a walk-in mammoth bone shelter.  When Barb and Jeff finally pulled me away — I enjoy reading ALL of the text at ALL of the displays — we drove up to Wind Cave National Park.  Stay tuned for that account.


South Dakota Badlands — August 18-19, 2014

On August 18 Barb and I headed south and west, bound for the Badlands.  We avoided superhighways all the way, soaking in the austere beauty of the plains of the western Dakotas.  Barb’s son Jeff, on his way to Idaho from Kansas, met up with us just as we arrived at the South Dakota Badlands.  He had his camping gear along, and we had ours (newly acquired), so we pitched two tents in one site in the Badlands campground. The experience was pleasant in every way; very nice accommodations and great to spend some time with Jeff again.  We spent the morning of August 19 roaming through the park while making our way west, stopping frequently to admire and photograph.  When we exited the western end of the Park, we headed to Wall, SD, where we stopped for a late lunch and the obligatory visit to the over-hyped Wall Drug.  And then on to the Black Hills.  But the latter experience deserves its own coverage.  Stay tuned!

Black Hills — July 25-27, 2014

On July 24, our caravan (Jon pulling their massive camper and Cathy driving her car) moved from Medora, ND, in the badlands, to the Black Hills, SD, where we spent three beautiful nights in a primitive campsite in Custer State Park at Bismarck Lake.  The lake was so scenic and peaceful that we spent a lot of time just lounging around in the immediate area, but of course we also took some side trips to some of the area’s famous attractions, including Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial.  We also attended a festival in nearby Custer City, where an annual celebration was occurring.  The event that was the primary draw for us was a “bed race”, in which teams of four pushed beds upon which single passengers rode.  The race was conducted in heats, with two teams competing at a time.  At the starting signal, the teams would rush a short block down the street and around a pylon, where they would pause while one of the pushers from each team would rush to a plastic wading pool and snatch a watermelon and run it back to the passenger to carry as the team raced back to the starting line.  A surprisingly large crowd lined the street to watch this bit of innocent silliness.

On another day we visited scenic Sylvan Lake, formed by a narrow but high dam placed in a gap between massive boulders, with the result that the boulders effectively constitute most of the dam. The place is spectacularly beautiful.  We also had lunch at Sylvan Lodge, where we celebrated Jon & Cathy’s anniversary.

On the way back to Bismarck, ND, we experienced a different kind of beauty as we passed through the grasslands of western South Dakota that are punctuated with occasional buttes. 

All in all, it was a very satisfying visit to the western Dakotas.