Sunday, July 21, 2013

Blue Lady Travels in the Red Lands: Bison South Dakota

On SD 21 heading east

Before I tell you all about the town of Bison, I have to give you all some practical travel advice. Remember how I said I bought a bottle of Starbucks Frappucino in Buffalo? I'm hear to tell you don't be fooled by the appearance of  those sweet, little faux milk bottles. If you happen to have one of these wolf-in-sheep's-clothing items in an ordinary cup holder in a Subaru, opened up so that you can swig it while driving, you know, the way you're supposed to do with bottles of liquids you buy in gas station C-stores, and you decide to stop rather suddenly, said bottle will fly out of said cup holder and whatever contents are left inside that innocent little thing will go all over everywhere inside your vehicle. I'm just telling you.

This may LOOK innocent enough. It's a mini milk bottle after all. But it can easily become a dangerous flying object inside your car if you are not vigilant.

I just have to say, it's a good thing that I have a habit of stashing all those extra napkins I get from McD's or Subway or Starbucks or wherever (not that I actually patronize these kinds of places ..... I eat healthy stuff ALL the time, don't you know. I happen to like to collect napkins, just in case, you know how it goes) inside the little arm rest storage bin in the Subaru.

I stopped suddenly on this empty highway just to get the landscape pictures. I was driving along on cruise control thinking about maybe I should stop somewhere to get a photo for all my blog readers, when I saw this tiny turn out RIGHT THERE. I checked the rear view mirror quickly .... not another car anywhere on the road in any direction, and so........I got several photos after mopping up the whole dashboard, gear changing thing-y, and passenger's seat and place to put the feet (aren't you glad you weren't my house guest when I decided to undertake this little adventure?)

Nice sky you got out there on that lonesome road.

As you travel along Hwy 21, you'll pass through Reva, still in Harding County. This is an unincorporated place, but it does have a post office, individual zip code (57651) and a K-8 country school along with a few houses. Signs said it was known for its turtle races, but there was no evidence of such goings on that day (actually there was no evidence of any goings on of any kind that day) so I am sorry I cannot enlighten you too much about this famous sporting event which might be worth your while to attend some year. (I did happen to find out that it will happen NEXT WEEKEND, July 27-28, so you may want to make travel plans RIGHT AWAY. Perhaps it always takes place on the last weekend in July. If you didn't get enough notice for this year, you can dream and plan for a whole year or more now.)

Just down the road apiece was the site of an the US Army vs sleeping Lakota women, children and older folks encounter  called "The Battle of Slim Buttes." It was a "battle" that took place at Slim Buttes. The Army "won" this one which made them rather happy because they had very recently suffered a rather large defeat back in Montana at this place called "Little Big Horn" (maybe you have heard of it?) (Do you think it's possible the Army was kind of ticked off over recent events and was kind of itching for a fight? Nah, that couldn't possibly happen, could it?)
Head  to I-90 and zip over to this place one day. It's right off the interstate.

This butte area begins a small badlands region which is rather beautiful. Lots of trees cover several of the buttes farther down the road. Now we have entered isolated bits of the Custer National Forest Land. (Notice who got the last say there in naming rights.) Highway 21 goes in and out of these bits of land owned by you, me and everyone else .... your tax dollars at work.

There are a couple of cross roads leading to places like Zeona, Lodgepole and Hettinger. (I forgot to mention that had you turned at Reva, you could have ended up in the Castle Rock that is in South Dakota which is not to be confused with the Castle Rock that is in Colorado or the one in Wyoming or even the one in Utah. The settlers seemed to lack imagination when it came to naming natural features. Or maybe they were just tired.)

I hear a lot of people not from this part of the county who complain that driving out here is really boring. As soon as I hear this kind of comment, I tend to give the complainer that look that says "oh really. Hum."

I grew up in Illinois corn country. Now THAT is the definition of a boring landscape. Ever driven the county roads in corn country in July? Straight grid roads with corn plants that come almost onto the road itself and block out anything else that might possibly be there. But, of course, there is nothing else there besides the road and the corn and the sky.... possibly a soybean field every once in awhile planted by a producer with some sense of humor.

But out here on the high plains you see rolling grassland in about 43 different shades, tints and tones of green (red in the autumn!)  punctuated by fascinating rocky places formed by wind and rain that have double the number of variations on yellow-brown-red. There are wild flowers, mostly in yellow, blue and white in July (pink ones in the spring.) There are trees and bushes sometimes, as I said, and land formations that snake around and show you were there would be water if the water weren't on vacation in San Francisco right now.

And of course, the animals. Cattle, bison, sheep or possibly even goats sometimes. Deer, antelope, pronghorns. Along the side of the road you might spy a badger, skunk or raccoon. Sometimes snakes and turtles cross the road. Look up and you might see hawks, eagles, geese, ducks, or brown pelicans in the right places. Meadowlarks and red winged blackbirds sing and sit on fences or electric wire holders uppers. There are lark buntings and horned larks, but they are harder to see. Kestrels hide on the backsides of signs so usually only the passenger not the driver spots them.

On the other hand, after you've seen one corn plant, you've pretty much seen them all.

There are more crops out here as we get closer to Bison. We pass some fields of .... I don't know, plants in big rows. Not corn or beans or even sorghum (fake out corn), but other stuff like maybe oats or barley. They don't grow much (any) barley in Illinois, so I am sorry to say that my crop-recognition-at high-speeds ability is a bit lacking. Anyway, some people grow plants out here on purpose, not just let cattle wander around and eat grass.

The highway goes right through Prairie City, which is a lot like Reva except it's in Perkins County and lacks all the excitement of the  famous turtle races ... or anything else exciting for that matter, as best I could tell. Finally you can see where Bison must be. This time, down the road apiece, you can spy big grain bins and an elevator (you know, the kind for the crops), a water tower and a bunch of trees on the south side of the road. If there are trees, that must be Bison! Yes, indeed, it is.
You know that you are in Bison now.
Bison is the county seat of Perkins County. The 2010 population was 333, down from 376 in 2000. Like Buffalo, it's a town full of older people. (And it happens that there is one registered sex offender who resides there too, but I will ignore that information.)

Bison has the county building, a motel, a bar, a health clinic, a country club where you can play golf, a fairgrounds, a Lion's Club Park, a swimming pool somewhere (inside the school maybe, not outside that I could see), a sign that says there is a museum which I couldn't actually find, two churches, a library, a weekly newspaper (The Courier), and economic development council, auto repair places and one gas station, a bank, an American Legion Post (#255), a place where you can get your satellite receiver and other electronic things, a post office (zip code 57620), and the schools.

When you go downtown go can shop at the local grocery store (Kari's Jack and Jill, open 6 days a week, a locally owned business) which is next to the post office. People were pulling up,going in to get the mail and then stopping in at the grocery store while I was there. Like all small towns, people knew each other and said "hey" a lot while I watched from across the street.

Downtown Bison

Kitty corner across the street is the city building.
Municipal government in Bison
I thought the Lutheran Church was the prettiest in this town.
The water tower is more than a block away, not on church property, but it does make a nice picture.
Here's the high school with some interesting Art Deco features.
Home of "The Cardinals"
Now, I have a bone to pick about this Cardinal thing. I figure maybe the name was selected by early settlers who must have been homesick for St. Louis or something. I'm sorry, but there are no real cardinals to be found in this part of the world. If you should by chance see one, he would be an exotic, and you'd better put out a notice on the Internet and be prepared for an influx of birders along with the accompanying economic windfall.

And the other thing, since when are cardinals red and WHITE? Since never. I know from cardinals. After all they are the state bird of Illinois. And my mom used to have a lovely year round resident family in her back yard for many years. I had to learn to love western meadowlarks in place of cardinals when I moved out here. (Not that western meadowlarks are secondary in any way to cardinals, mind you. I think they are just different but equally cool.)

I guess I need to be generous. After all, if a team in PHOENIX ARIZONA can call itself "The Cardinals," I can cut Bison, SD some slack. Who can blame folks for wanting to adopt such a lovely bird as their mascot?

It doesn't take that long to explore Bison.
Take the photo of the Lutheran church and then pivot right just a bit.

Time to head home. Across from the grain elevator was a small C-store on Hwy 21. I stopped and and bought a plastic bottle of real Coke. I kept the cap on as I drove back home.

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