North and South Dakota

Text: Rick Schunk • Photography: Rick Schunk, Linda Schunk

During the summer and fall of 1804, Lewis and Clark with the Corps of Discovery covered much of the same ground that Linda and I had planned for this tour. Their favorite byway was the Missouri River. Ours would primarily be SR 1804 and SR 1806, which accompany the river on its journey south.

Cool Water

The jumping-off point for our adventure is the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center in Chamberlain, SD. Reaching Chamberlain, after a 360-mile slog on I-90 from our home in Minnesota, we find immediate relief as we pull into town on a hot August afternoon. The facility, which started as St. Joseph's Indian School in 1927, has blossomed into a present day museum and cultural center. It offers a look into the native way of life before and since Euro-American contact. The manicured grounds, with their stately oak trees, provide an idyllic setting. Admission is free.

Three miles north of Chamberlain a small but beautiful scenic overlook offers a great place to check out the landscape. Two bridges cross the Missouri River at this point, but views of the river become rare as the highway pulls further to the east.

State Route 34 runs straight for 6 miles before we make a slight left and pull up in front of Lode Star Casino in Fort Thompson. Having stopped here numerous times before the friendly staff makes us feel right at home.

Refreshed and cool we're once again on the road as it weaves its way over Big Bend Dam on the river. We both fail to see our turn north and end up riding what seems like halfway back to I-90. Retracing our steps, we eventually find the way when Linda spots the familiar, brown Lewis and Clark Trail sign. In the small reservation town of Lower Brule, SR 10 makes a sharp left, which can also be easily missed. Just beyond Lower Brule, the scenic byway starts to live up to its name.

Shade For Sale

With high rolling hills, and us half expecting to see a buffalo herd around the next bend, the road takes us past coal-black buttes as it rolls over Medicine Creek. Cattails and reeds catch our eye, and we slow down for a brief rest. After a hot and dry 16 miles, SR 10 evaporates, and SR 1806 picks up these two parched travelers.

If you're not familiar with Lewis and Clark history, the significance of these four-digit highway numbers might present a mystery. Both Dakotas numbered the immediate east and west roads, which parallel the Missouri River, 1804 and 1806. The Corps of Discovery's outward travels up the Missouri took place for the most part in 1804. Their return trip, on the west bank of the river, was run in 1806.

The Missouri River is quite distant during the remaining ride into Fort Pierre, but SR 1806 provides plenty of entertainment with its long sweepers. These roads don't offer an extremely technical ride, but to clear your head of all the urban clutter most of us live with, it's hard to beat a jaunt through the Dakota prairies.

It's 104 degrees in the shade as we reach Fort Pierre, and we are quickly informed that shade is selling for $ 10.95 a square foot. As much as we enjoy camping, the thought of being parboiled inside a tent is a bit much so we check into a motel.

The sister cities of Fort Pierre and Pierre, separated by the Missouri River and a time zone, offer all the services a weary traveler needs. Pierre, which is pronounced pier, is the larger of the two and is South Dakota's capital. With thousands of acres of open prairie surrounding both cities this area has become popular for western-theme movie production. Perhaps the most famous, Dances With Wolves, was shot on the high bluffs to the west of Fort Pierre. Tours of this and other movie sites are available.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the May/June 2011 back issue.