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Minnesota, and Dakota (and a bit of Wisconsin)


It was back in the late seventies, I was right around 20 years old, and had hoped to take a motorcycle trip to San Francisco. A very romantic notion, but one I had been considering since my early teens. I had recently purchased a Honda 750, from the early seventies. This was considered a big bike, at the time, though today we would call a 750 a "middle weight." I put a crash bar on it, with an extra set of foot pegs, and was thankful for those pegs for the next two weeks. There was a back rest, and a tank bag, along with a selection of bungee cords to attach my belongings. In the spirit of the times, I strapped my sleeping bag to the back rest, and my small tent to the gas tank. My only other luggage was a duffle bag, resting on the seat behind me, and fastened to the back rest, opposite the sleeping bag. Thus I set out, the complete nomad, or so I saw myself. 
    Traveling light was part of the charm, along with traveling poor, or so I told myself. It did not seem very likely that $200 would get me all the way to the West coast. It seemed even less likely, that the money would be enough to get me back to Wisconsin. Unfortunately, besides traveling light, I also started out by traveling late. I had planned on leaving early in the morning, in the tradition of vacation travelers everywhere. My early start pushed it's way up to 8 am, then 10 am. Eventually it got to be the afternoon. When I belatedly pulled out of Milwaukee, and hit the open road, it was nearly 5 in the evening. I was reasonably certain, even then, that I would never reach California. My original plan had called for a stop, of a couple of days, at Yellowstone Park. I decided that the park would be my goal; any ground covered, or sights seen beyond that, would be gravy. 
    My first night was spent in Wisconsin. I had hoped to make it into Minnesota that first night, but travel always seems to take longer on the road than it does on the map. I camped by the bank of the Mississippi, in a private camp ground. The night, and the place were both quite beautiful. I wandered around the grounds, looked at the river in the night, and stayed up quite a bit latter than I should have. I stayed on 90/94 for most of the trip, which took me south of the Twin Cities, and over the Mississippi at LaCrosse. 
The bluffs along the Mississippi, at LaCrosse. This goes on for miles along the great river, but merges into the plains very quickly as one proceeds west.
A look at my bike, with the bluffs in the background. As can be seen, it was not exactly the height of the tourist season. In truth, this was late September/early October. This picture was taken in the lot of the tourist information both at Dresbach, in Minnesota.
More bluffs, and a nostalgic look at a REAL DIAL telephone. There is now a touch tone phone in a little shelter there. I suppose if I had gone a few years earlier, I might have seen an actual phone booth there. On my initial view of these bluffs, I imagined they might merge into the Rocky mountains, several hundred miles to the west. I had forgotten about the Great Plains.
 This general store sold a little bit of everything, including fireworks. Unfortunately, there was no place for me to put them. This was just inside of the South Dakota border, as I recall. Having gone through Minnesota for most of the  day, I arrived in South Dakota in the afternoon, and eventually stopped, and spent the night in a little town called Kimball. I was actually permitted to pitch my little tent in the small park in the center of town. I slept, pitched under a light pole.
Kimball was just short of the Missouri River. This is the second great river that I had crossed. The bluffs, and rolling hills are somewhat reminiscent of those guarding the Mississippi, though not nearly so impressive. If the Mississippi has been the gateway, and the boundary of the west, then the Missouri is it's center. 
A little different view from the same spot. I turned a bit to show the companion of the bridge I was about to cross. The bridge off to the right was for rail traffic, and was considerably lower, and more strongly built. It can also be seen that a spit of fill was set out to decrease the true span of the bridge across the water. 
A look at the rolling hills which had been, and would continue to be my unchanging view for miles, until they flattened out. This particular view was taken from the same spot as the views of the Missouri, I was simply turned in the other direction. 
One last view of the river before getting back on my bike, and crossing to the other side. I was now deep in the land of the jackalope, and of the cowboy.
The feel of the plains on a motorcycle. If I had forgotten about them when I set out, I certainly had hours of reminders, as I sped across the amazingly flat, straight roads. It could take months for the pioneers to cross these distances by wagon, so I have little to complain about. The plains are certainly, properly named. They are very......plain.
What's that in the background? are those the Rockies, or the Tetons? Are these never ending plains about to end after all? Surely the mountains are not due to begin for hundreds of miles. After my experience at the Mississippi, I refuse to be fooled again. This is the old cowboy, and sagebrush land. many ranches, and farms, but few towns, and nothing I would consider to be a major city between Mitchell, and Rapid City.
There they are, looming closer, but certainly this can't be the Rockies. In truth this was a glimpse of the Badlands, which I had inadvertently stumbled across. I had read about the badlands, and had seen them on my route, but had given them little thought. I had certainly not expected such a sudden transition. They just seemed to appear in the middle of these interminable plains.
My first real view of the Badlands. Suddenly, the plains simply disappear to be replaced by this foreign terrain. There is no transition area at all. One moment you are on the plains, the next, you are traveling through land like this. I had initially planned on simply touring through the place, but I ended up staying two nights, and spending most of three days there. 

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