October 9, 2011

South Dakota with Fran Shaff

If you’ve seen the terrain in “Dances with Wolves” then you know the rolling hills of western South Dakota. If you followed Nicolas Cage in “National Treasure, Book of Secrets” or Cary Grant in “North by Northwest” to Mount Rushmore, then you’ve been to South Dakota’s Black Hills.Speaking of South Dakota films, a few decades ago two famous residents of Deadwood, Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok, were portrayed in a rather “unhistoric” way by Doris Day and Howard Keel. Hickock was a gambler who may or may not have had a romantic relationship with the rough and tumble Calamity Jane. He was killed in Deadwood in 1876 while playing poker, holding “aces and eights.” Today Deadwood, South Dakota, located in the Black Hills, is still a favorite stop for gamblers, and most of them, I believe, have better luck than Hickok did.

Not far from Deadwood is Sturgis, where, every August, hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists arrive to participate in the annual bike rally.

Western South Dakota from the badlands to the Black Hills, to the sprawling range land filled with antelope, prairie dogs, ferrets, coyotes, deer, fox and a variety of game birds is an open land everyone should see--at least in film if not in person.

Gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1874, and a rush to cash in on a fortune took place soon after. A few years later, immigrants from Europe and Americans who relocated to the Dakota Territory and South Dakota discovered another kind of gold--wheat. Homesteaders quickly learned the rich black earth in the eastern flatlands was some of the best soil in the world for growing wheat.

Long before European and American settlers came to South Dakota to seek their fortunes the land was inhabited by several tribes of native peoples. The Dakota and Yankton Sioux, the Arikara, Cheyenne, Ponca and Lakota Sioux nations survived the challenging elements living off the produce of the land and wild game such as buffalo, deer and antelope.

Having grown up in South Dakota and having lived there during part of my adult life, I don’t know how the native peoples or the early settlers survived the harsh winters. The cold and snow are trials even now when all we need do to be warm is turn up the thermostat.

On the other hand, having taken in the beauty of the various landscapes, having enjoyed the peace, seen the magnificent sunsets, worked the black soil, harvested the rich produce of the land, I know what kept and continues to keep people staying on or settling in South Dakota anew.

Today South Dakota is a modern state in every sense of the word. If they have it in New York City, we have it in South Dakota--except, of course, for skyscrapers, traffic, an ocean and a state income tax. Instead of an ocean we have the great Missouri River. Instead of concrete skyscrapers we have majestic pines and the Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments soaring toward the heavens.

But what about the symphony, authors and artists, you say? The growing, desirable city of Sioux Falls is home to the South Dakota Symphony, and it offers many cultural activities as do most cities in South Dakota. Author L. Frank Baum (The Wizard of Oz), who lived in Aberdeen, is fondly remembered by the city in their whimsical Storybook Land. Desmet hosts a pageant each year paying tribute to author Laura Ingalls Wilder (the “Little House” series) who lived in that area. The opulent Redlin Art Center in Watertown features many original oil paintings by beloved artist Terry Redlin. (His “America the Beautiful” series is exquisite.)

Unless you’re looking for palm trees or an ocean, South Dakota has just about everything anyone could want including some of the best fishing and hunting in the country, scenic dams, spring lilacs, apple orchards, grain fields, buttes, glacial lakes, top-notch universities and medical facilities and even a very famous palace--a corn palace. The Corn Palace in Mitchell sports beautiful frescos made of corn, grains and native grasses.

People frequently enjoy the rich history of the native peoples and early settlers in a multitude of South Dakota museums. Prairie Village in Madison and Centennial Village in Aberdeen offer visitors the opportunity to walk through 19th Century towns. Many places in the Black Hills encourage tourists to experience the authentic Old West. If you’d like to visit South Dakota, but you can’t do it in person then please get to know this land through movies or books.

My “Heart Junction Series,” set in early 20th Century South Dakota, consists of “Laura’s Lost Love,” “Stephanie’s Surprise,” and “Mari’s Miracle.” These classic love stories give readers insight into life as it existed a hundred years ago on the eastern plains of South Dakota. HJ Series books are available in paperback and e-book on the Internet, at libraries and through bookstores. You’ll find them in a museum too sometimes.

Oh, one more thing. If you happen to be traveling along I-90 through South Dakota for whatever reason, you’ve absolutely got to stop to see the Badlands (and Wall Drug). The rugged, colorful Badlands are living, magnificent works of art. 


Susan Whitfield said...

Fran and Annette, I enjoyed the visit to South Dakota. I've only been once but saw Mount Rushmore after riding through the bad lands. An experience I'll never forget.

Pauline B Jones said...

thanks for the great look at SD, Fran. I grew up in Wyoming, so we're neighbors. Have been to and through SD many times. Cheers!

skystne said...

Good morning Fran. Thank you for such a beautiful piece on South Dakota, but most of all, thanks for the gorgeous video. The lilacs are wonderful.

jrlindermuth said...

I've read a lot (mostly history) about your state, but haven't visited. I'm not a fan of winter, but I think it would be an interesting place to visit in warmer weather.

Nora said...

Hi, I visited the Corn Palace and Mount Rushmore. I agree SD has plenty for everyone. Now I want to go back. Thanks.

Fran Shaff said...

Thanks for the great comments, everyone. I'm so glad to see all of you here. :-)


Lauri said...

Hi Fran,

Another neighbor here, I live in MN and have been to SD many times. Love, love, love it. Can't even chose a favorite. Love Deadwood, Custer State Park, Wall Drug, Corn Palace, and we spend a week a year fishing on the Missouri River! Great post about a great state!

OH, I love the new bridge in Yankton, that old one scared the bejeezes out of me!

Heidiwriter said...

Good post! I grew up in eastern Montana, so not so far away--we were neighbors!

Debby said...

I have been to South Dakota once and loved the visit. You words make it all come back and what a beautiful state it is thanks so much.
debby236 at gmail dot com

Fran Shaff said...

Thanks, Lauri, I lived in MN for years too. I really liked it. In fact, I visit your outstanding state often, next door neighbor. :-)

Pauline, I love WY. I've never lived there, but I've seen those open spaces and all the antelope. It's magnificent.

jr, autumn is wonderful in SD, esp late Sept and early Oct.

To the others, the places you've visited are truly magnificent. It's an awesome feeling to gaze at Mt. Rushmore in person, and even more moving to take in the Badlands and think about the early inhabitants of those lands. Like WY, SD has lots of natural, untouched lands which are remarkable to view. Seeing such sites brings back the amazing wonder we had as children.


Fran Orenstein said...

Wonderful blog about your state. I've never been in that part of the country, other than flying over it on the way west. I know it's quite beautiful and historic. You definitely did it justice with your descriptions.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

A wonderful blog about South Dakota. The family went to South Dakota this summer and brought back some great pictures and stories about their trip there. A wonderful state.

Fran Shaff said...

Oh, Fran, you can tell from Sarah's comments and those of others that you are missing a lot by seeing SD only from the air. I hope you have the chance to see at least part of SD on the ground sometime. Really, MT, WY, SD, MN, WI, NE--they're all quite beautiful. The northern plains just about everywhere offers spectacular scenery.

Fran Shaff

Shelley Munro said...

I live in New Zealand, but hubby and I visited South Dakota a few years ago. We had fun visiting Deadwood and some of the other sights. Devil's Tower is one place that I loved visiting. Thanks for reminding me of our fun holiday. You live in a lovely part of the world.

Fran Shaff said...

Shelley, Thanks for writing a comment. I've only seen the sites of New Zealand on TV, and it looks like a spectacular country. I'm glad you stopped at nearby Devil's Tower in Wyoming when you made your trip to Deadwood in South Dakota. It is an awesome natural formation, isn't it?