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Trip Report dakotas, nebraska, and the midwest

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This was a quick road trip from the East Coast to the center of America to see and revisit some of the places in the center of this great country: Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota. Wanted to see some of Nebraska and North Dakota in particular because I’d never been to either place. During this trip, I got a glimpse of many places that I had missed on other trips out West, to Colorado and Yellowstone.

For me, the “Field of Dreams” in Dyersville, Iowa, where the movie was filmed, was a must-see, but the drive to get there, which took me along the Great River Road in both Illinois and Iowa, was a treat. The communities along the Mississippi were quiet and the river itself was impressive, the views panoramic from portions of the road. At the Field of Dreams itself, families were having a blast, playing baseball. When I was there, the kids were hitting, Dad was pitching and Grandpa was playing shortstop. Just the way I pictured it.

Western Nebraska, beyond North Platte, was a nice surprise: stunningly beautiful prairies, grassland, farmland. The road to Scotts Bluff was deserted for long stretches, save for the passing trains that ran parallel to the highway. On the road north from Scotts Bluff to South Dakota, I was the only car for miles – a friendly resident gave me a wave as I drove past while he was getting his mail.

The Black Hills of South Dakota provided a contrast for a couple of days, as the wide open spaces gave way to trees, lakes, and winding mountain roads. I’d recommend Spearfish as a base for the area, though you couldn’t go wrong elsewhere. I was able to take side trips to Badlands National Park and Devils Tower in Wyoming, and Mt. Rushmore is an easy drive as well. Deadwood has turned its historic buildings into casinos, but it’s still a nice town, rich in history. And I sometimes felt like I was the only person around not riding a motorcycle, even before the annual biker rally at Sturgis. The highways in and around the Black Hills would be a biker’s dream, though some of them braved some pretty high temperatures to get there. I heard one woman talking about how hot it was riding on the back of a bike through Nebraska’s 100-degree heat.

In North Dakota, the Medora area is really the only place to stay in order to tour Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a place where you really feel like you’re out west. The badlands in this park are wilder, seemingly more remote, and the wildlife throughout the park is pretty easy to spot: buffalo, wild horses, antelope. A coyote ran in front of my car twice. Oh yes, don’t forget the prairie dogs. You can’t miss ‘em, and make sure you’ve got enough batteries for your camera. They pose quite willingly for us tourists.

Accommodations in Medora are still a bit limited, but the Medora Chamber of Commerce folks will go out of their way to help you if you don’t have a reservation. They directed me to Buffalo Gap Ranch just out of town – a place off the tourist track but a place that suited me just fine.

It’s worth a drive around western North Dakota to see the impact of the “fracking,” the extraction of the oil that lies under the region. The truck traffic is steady on the two-lane roads, though I found the drivers to be careful and fairly courteous. You can see the industrial operations sharing what had been open rangeland. As you get closer to Watford City, a host of trailers and temporary housing line the highways. At one point, urban-style houses with siding seemingly sprouted out of nowhere.

On the way back home, another detour along the Mississippi along the Great River Road—this time, to Red Wing, Minn., where the shoes are made, and along the river where the views from the bluffs are very nice indeed.

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