Mead Cultural Center

Cottonwood Campground, a COE campground at the foot of Gavins Point Dam between Lewis & Clark Lake and Yankton Lake just a few miles from the town of Yankton in southeastern South Dakota is our home for three nights. It’s just across the Missouri River from Calumet Bluff and the approximate location of the Louis & Clark Corps of Discovery campsite in August 1804, the location where they met the Yankton Sioux, members of the Dakota/Nakota tradition. Our excursion today was to the Mead Cultural Education Center, the home of the Dakota Territorial Museum. We were immediately entranced with the receptionist/docent as well as the fabulous historic Mead Building, which served as the Women’s Quarters for the the first mental health care facility in the Dakota Territory. We started our visit on the first floor first with a great introductory video narrated by Yankton native, Tom Brokaw before heading into the gallery Journeying Forward: Connecting Cultures. Originally built to be a traveling exhibit to celebrate the Louis & Clark Bicentennial, this amazing overview of their entire journey is now a permanent part of the Mead, and well worth the visit. By the time we had thoroughly immersed ourselves in all things Lewis & Clark we had just enough energy to do a quick walk through the remaining exhibits on the first and second floors. It might be well worth a return visit to this area!

South Dakota: Stay & Play

While we are here staying at the Mitchell KOA Journey in Mitchell, South Dakota over the Labor Day weekend, we conversed with several fellow travelers and learned that for most folks, this is just a quick stop along the way either on their way to or from Mount Rushmore. In fact we did something similar on our 2008 Road Trip when we did a quick stop to visit the Corn Palace on our way from Sioux Falls to the Badlands. These days we tend to explore an area a bit more thoroughly and today we thought it appropriate to revisit Mitchell’s premier tourist attraction, The World’s Only Corn Palace, famous for its annually changing corn murals. We enjoyed taking our time, chatting with a volunteer who spoke of her own lifetime of memories of this local institution, and reading some of the bits of history displayed on the walls on the interior. This in fact is the third iteration of Mitchell’s Corn Palace with a history that dates back to 1880. This current building, truly a multipurpose community center, is celebrating its centennial this year with a theme of South Dakota: Stay & Play. Guess that’s what we’re doing this trip with a total of ten nights planned between Watertown, DeSmet, Mitchell, and Yankton. There’s more to do in South Dakota and indeed in Mitchell than we’ll get to do this trip. Guess we need to return yet again!

1956 Chevy

What an unexpected delight! When we headed to Marlin’s Family Restaurant in Mitchell, South Dakota for a Sunday brunch, we never expected to enter a time warp, but suddenly Steve was transported back to childhood with the two-toned green 1956 Chevy Bel Air parked next to us. This pristine vintage car is almost exactly like the one that Steve traveled in from Cincinnati to Yellowstone and Pike’s Peak one summer and from Cincinnati to Florida the next. Then the Chevy moved with the family to their new home in Florida and transported them back for visits with relatives in Ohio over the next couple of summers. Steve’s dad was quite a photographer and documented the aforementioned family trips well but the only photo of the car that we have been able to locate is one extremely out of focus image, just enough to confirm Steve’s and his older brother’s memory of their parents’ green ’56 Chev. When we called Bill he confirmed that theirs had been a 4-door like this one we found online, but Steve is the one who remembered that the location of the gas cap was behind the left tail light. In any case it was an absolute delight to wander around this beautiful example and to be transported back/to hear tales of family adventures in a beloved transport.

Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village

Combine archeology and a Harvest Hosts location and you’ve got our attention. Although we were not able to do an overnight stay, we did still get to visit an amazing location. The Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village near Mitchell, South Dakota is an active archeological site housed within the Thomsen Center Archedome constructed not only to provide an opportunity for visitors to be able to watch archeologists at work but to protect the site from the elements. We actually started our visit in the visitors center/museum where we watched an excellent video narrated by the archeologist Adrien Hannus who did a fabulous explanation of the migration of hunter-gatherer Native Americans following game herds and water routes across North and South America leading the the discovery in Central America of attractive grasses and thus to the domestication of maize which along with squash and bean led to the beginnings of the agricultural revolution and patterns of settlement to supplement hunting and gathering. By a thousand years ago one band settled here on the banks of Firesteel Creek, now Lake Mitchell. Up to three hundred people lived here for about a hundred years farming, hunting, gathering, cooking, baking, making pemmican, creating pottery, and trading across an extensive network. Considering some of the artifacts that have been found, it’s possible that these people were ancestors of the Mandan peoples that by the early Nineteenth Century were living in northwestern North Dakota. Discovered by archeologists in 1910, the Mitchell site is the only archeology site in South Dakota open to the public. Of course we were fascinated not only with the permanent exhibits but also with the hands-on Paleo Games happening this weekend, watching an archeologist at work, and conversing with the director Cindy Gregg.

The Trees That Pa Planted

Back in 2018 when we visited this area to see some of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homes, we spent an overnight at Lake Thompson Recreation Area near DeSmet, South Dakota. At the time we’d been wishing for a lakeside campsite, but last night on waterfront Site 39 we were buffeted by wind and rain and found ourselves wishing we’d chosen an inland site. Still it was beautiful and we enjoyed watching the fishing boats out on the lake this morning. Later in the morning as we were heading south we discovered we were traveling past another significant site in the life of this beloved author whose Little House novels chronicle one family’s pioneer experience. Without having planned it, we stopped and immersed ourselves in the Ingalls Homestead. In February 1880 Charles Ingalls filed a homestead claim for this land just one mile from the town of DeSmet. Here he first built a shanty then a house to serve as the family home, dug a well, planted cottonwood trees that survive to this day, and farmed the land until 1887 when the family moved back to DeSmet. The current owner of the quarter claim has dedicated a portion of it to a interpreting life on the farm in the 1880’s designed to create an hands-on experience for youngsters and their parents. The two of us participated in a couple of the kids’ activities when we made a corncob doll and a jump rope. We loved touring the dugout and the prairie shanty but instead of riding in a covered wagon to the one room schoolhouse, we planted ourselves in front of a video monitor upstairs in the barn and watched the amazing hour long documentary “America’s Prairie: Where the Sky Began” we only wish we could find a dvd or digital copy instead of only this excerpt. Overall we truly appreciated the opportunity to step back in history for a few hours. Next time we visit this area, we need to remember we could even spend the night here in our own camper, a covered wagon, or a bunkhouse!

Celebrating in Watertown

We’re still celebrating! Yesterday was our wedding anniversary and we marked the occasion at Dempsey’s Brew Pub on Broadway in Watertown, South Dakota with their award winning Casanova Pizza on Cauliflower Crust accompanied by their delicious Black Bear Stout! And then this morning we savored a most excellent Steak & Eggs breakfast at Wheel Inn, a local institution. Both restaurants were recommended to us by locals as we chatted with them while shopping in town. We’re staying three nights at Stokes-Thomas Lake City Park on the shore of Lake Kampeska in Watertown and it has been a delight. We’ve got a spacious grassy full hookups site with a view of the lake at a very affordable price. It’s lovely. This stop isn’t about museums and such but rather just enjoying each other and the ambience of this somewhat sizable community in the eastern part of the state with it’s pleasant lakeside park. To a degree we’re pretending that we live here and are doing everyday things such as grocery shopping, working on the blog, going for long walks in the park, sitting and watching the sunset, reminiscing, planning, and counting our blessings. By the way, today is another anniversary. On the same day as our first Steak & Eggs breakfast, we departed on our first cross country camping trip together, from Cincinnati to St Petersburg by way of San Francisco visiting national parks and far flung family while camping in a vintage canvas tent. Remembering that truly makes us grateful for the luxury of camping in this amazing [email protected] 400!

Nome Schoolhouse

Despite our passions for textile arts as well as fiber mill machinery, if it hadn’t been for Harvest Hosts we might have missed this treasure. In searching for an overnight stay, we discovered Nome Schoolhouse in Nome, North Dakota. Three years ago Chris Armbrust & Teresa Perleberg combined forces to create a remarkable center for all things fiber and more. Both have their own fiber businesses and together they conceived a plan to create an all encompassing fiber arts center. In 2018 they set out on a mission to find the right building in the right location and settled on this lovely building that served as the local school from 1916 until 1970. Although the school building passed to private ownership thereafter, marvelously much of the school remained undisturbed and in fact there were still textbooks, trophies, and many other items remaining that have been preserved and incorporated into what is now an amazing multi-use facility. That is after three years of extensive renovations that required a good degree of sweat equity from not only Chris & Teresa but many other members of their families. We enjoyed our tour that included the fiber mill in the basement, the renovated gym turned event center, classrooms for fiber artists to gather, a fabulous gift shop, and the dining room/bar which is the spot where locals gather weekly for Thirsty Thursdays and where we hobnobbed with some lace knitters who were gathering for a weekend retreat. Besides all of that there is a boutique hotel upstairs. Especially if you’re a devotee of craft involving fibers from sheep, alpaca, goat, camel, bison, and more and would love to tour a fiber mill, take some classes, or just mingle with Nome locals, this could be your place.

Fort Totten Historic Site

On the south shore of Devil’s Lake is the Fort Totten State Historic Site on the edge of the North Dakota town by the same name. It sits on land that was home to the Dakota people at the turn of the Nineteenth Century. Indeed some of their descendants still reside on the nearby Spirit Lake Reservation, but in 1867 the US government established a military post here for the purpose of keeping the peace and protecting overland transportation routes as settlers pushed westward. By 1890 the fort was decommissioned and the property transferred to the Bureau of Indian Affairs who operated an Indian boarding school here with a mission of assimilation through education until 1935 with academic and vocational classes. Then after a short stint as a tuberculosis treatment center, an Indian school was again established here and continued until 1959 with Tribal leaders having increasing input. In 1960 it became a state historic site and today these original buildings house a museum that tells the long history of the people that worked, taught, and studied here. We began our visit in the Interpretive and Visitor Center where we talked with individuals whose parents or grandparents had been students here. We made our way through the various buildings imaging life here in times gone by grateful for folks who care enough to preserve the past.

Rainy Day on Graham’s Island

Sitting here at the campground at Grahams Island State Park actually on an island in Devils Lake, the largest freshwater lake in North Dakota. We pulled in on Wednesday for a luxurious four night stay on Site #154 with full hookups and a very easy walk to the boat ramp and along the lakeshore. This place definitely caters to fishermen and from our spot we can watch fishing boats come and go and successful fishermen cleaning their catch at a state of the art cleaning station. Yesterday we enjoyed a trip to town to visit the laundromat and the grocery. Then last evening on a lovely walk through the campgrounds we had a chance to make friends with some fellow [email protected] travelers from Holland MI. This morning however we’re hunkered down inside our [email protected] 400 totally enjoying the comfort of this lovely shelter as rain pours down. Our Accuweather app promises the rain will continue for hours to come. Life is good and the adventures we’d planned for today can wait for the rain to pass.

Geographical Center of North America

Visiting the Geographical Center of North America Monument wasn’t the magnet that drew us to the heart of Rugby, North Dakota but was a definite bonus. We headed here to visit the Prairie Village Museum, a Harvest Hosts site and an amazing collection of Americana dating back to the 1880’s and chronicling life on the prairie from the late Nineteenth into the Twentieth Century. It’s a self guided walking tour of the twenty buildings and four exhibit halls that comprise the museum, from an 1885 log cabin to the 1930’s city home of a successful businessman, from a one room 1906 schoolhouse to a two story school building that served the community into the 1960’s, and so much more. Besides the geographical center monument, two of the museum’s exhibits rate mention on the Roadside America website: the world’s tallest man, and Queen Victoria’s gown.