In the footsteps of Laura Ingalls Wilder

After Wyoming we drove into South Dakota which is beautiful.   We passed so many small towns and each can be spotted from the distance by a large grain elevator that dominates the town.  We drove through many and they all have a sign pointing to their “business district.”  That is funny because one was nothing more than a gravel road with three shops, all closed for the weekend.  I saw one small tavern that had a hand written sign taped in the window saying it was closed until Saturday night.  We were looking for a coffee shop, to get slightly better coffee than the gas stations had to offer.  We struck out in every small town.  Even most of the “big” towns didn’t have coffee shops or Starbucks.

We had zero cell reception through most of six states.  We went back to how we used to travel, by map.  We had to stop at the gas stations in each state and pickup a state map.  It works most of the time but some of those small highways just come to a T and there are no signs, so we had to guess.

We hit Pierre, the capital of South Dakota, and I now know why it is the smallest state capitol.  The people are great in all these small places.  We saw very few police and almost no helicopters.  Living in Los Angeles I had become used to seeing BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi’s, but those were all missing.  Chevy, Ford and Buick were the norm.  The further I got from Los Angeles, the better I felt.  After Pierre, we drove a bit further and arrived at the Pheasant Ranch that backed up to the Missouri River where we would spend the night.  The people who ran it were great.  It was large and very clean with great food.  My dog didn’t want to leave when it was time to go.  I am glad we stayed here at the end of the trip because we would have been spoiled.

Traveling across the great rolling plains of the heartland, you cannot help but think of Little House on the Prairie.  Most of us grew up with the tv show.  The show was based on a series of books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder about her life as a pioneer.  They are geared toward kids, but the offer a rare insight into the day-to-day life of a hard working pioneer family.   She brings to life all the reality and hardship that the life was when the country was not settled.

My wife and I have both read all of her books, and we decided on our road trip to stop at some of the places where Laura and her family lived.

When we left the Pheasant Ranch we headed to Desmet, South Dakota where Laura spent many of her youth and young adult years.  We were able to see the surveyors home where they spent a long, hard, cold winter. It was smaller than I had pictured.  They also had turned the schoolhouse where she taught into a museum, and it was tiny.  We drove down the street and saw the house that her father built in town. It was very well made and bigger than I thought.  Most of the family would live their lives in that house and end up dying there.  The house still stood exactly how he built it, same windows and cupboards inside, everything.

We then took a ride out in the prairie where the Ingalls homestead was located.  They would live on the homestead while farming and move into town for the winters.  The trees Pa planted are still there!  We passed Silver Lake and the Big Slough.  We also saw Laura and Almonso’s homestead, where they lived when they were first married.   We then headed to Walnut Grove, the little town where the TV Show setting was based.  When Laura and her family first moved to Walnut Grove they lived in a dugout next to Plum Creek, until Pa built a house next to the dugout.    Plum Creek was a place where they allowed my dog!  So we had fun by Plum Creek, visiting the dugout site and learning about the local nature.  We saw the Big Rock she wrote about often in the book, and we imagined Nelly Olsen getting attached by leeches in the still water.  I could picture Jack the dog playing in the fields that are much the same today as they were in Laura’s time.  We saw three van loads of Swedish tourists, so they must read Laura Ingalls Wilder in Sweden too!

When we left Plum Creek I felt a little sad because our journey was coming to end.  In reality, it was just another bit of good change coming.

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