I promised myself that I would drive the Lower 48 yet I worried how I would fit North Dakota into my journey. Initially, I planned to stay in Bismarck and visit Fort Mandan, where Louis & Clark wintered in 1804-1805, but as I got closer I was anxious to get to our Michigan lake house and I was growing tired of my life on the road. The driving, the food, the hotels were getting tiresome, and the sight each morning of the car was making me long for my front porch, a cup of tea and fresh breakfast made by no one else but me. During the last week or so, I kept staring at the map conjuring ways to visit North Dakota without logging too many miles or taking an additional day. Finally, I decided that I would forgo Fort Mandan and drive through North Dakota without a destination visit other than to a couple of small towns. My drive would be less than three hours in the southwest corner of the state.
Leaving Little Bighorn Battlefield, we headed back to I-94 across Montana exiting onto Route 12 once again to travel into North Dakota. The topography and vegetation of the area was limited. The geography of the area was plains with occasional buttes, mostly the view was flat grasslands. The first two small towns we drove through were deserted. It was plywood or broken glass on display in the windows of the few buildings still standing on the main streets in both crossroads towns of Marmarth and Rhame. We saw one man in each town, each looked worn-down and worn-out. As we drew closer to the City of Bowman, population 1,641 in 2011, the barren highway grew into a commercial oasis of fast food, used car dealerships and strip malls, but we headed south before seeing downtown. Another hour of the same grasslands and we entered South Dakota with a Mount Rushmore picture on its sign stating, “Great Faces. Great Places.” It reminded me of Michigan’s old slogan, ” Great Lakes, Great Times” and I longed for the big blue lake even more as I stared out at the flat, empty land. I shook myself out of my melancholy and reminded myself that I had wanted to see this wide-open country and that in the morning, I was going to one of the most Americana places in the entire country, Mount Rushmore.