Jan 31, 2024

Driving the Road To Nowhere – South Dakota

The first leg of my road trip down U.S. Highway 83 (aka “The Road To Nowhere”) through the heart of the country yielded some unexpected fun in North Dakota, such as Fort Mandan and the Lawrence Welk Birthplace.  What would the second leg through South Dakota bring? 

The answer:  Outside of Pierre, not much, unless you count an unanticipated off-road adventure. 

It was still late morning on my second day south on U.S. 83 when I crossed the state line.  Rolling prairie gradually gave way to miles and miles of flat, dusty farmland where any semblances of towns are few and far between. I was fine with that, though.  I had already decided my next stop should be for lunch in the state capital of Pierre.

And the closer I got to Pierre and the Missouri River once again, the more interesting my surroundings became.  Things got a lot more interesting (or at least scenic) by the time I was descending downhill through the northern half of South Dakota’s capital city toward its charming downtown area and the river valley. 

I was almost instantly impressed with downtown Pierre’s vibe which I found to be vaguely reminiscent of what you’d expect from an Old West frontier town – wide sidewalks, even wider streets and mostly brick buildings well preserved and still in use.     

And here’s an added bonus for visitors … keep an eye out for these statues around town and you’ll get a little lesson in South Dakota history.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I had stumbled upon the city’s Trail of Governors, a series of markers – each one depicting a former state governor – that ultimately leads to the state capitol.  I might have been travelling solo in Pierre, but at least I wasn’t alone.  

My main mission for wandering through downtown Pierre, though, was to find a decent lunch spot.  The sight of smoke and the scent of what was cooking led me to Richie Z’s Brickhouse BBQ & Grill.

Apparently, my timing could not have been better.  I was among the first to arrive.

Although they’ve only been in business since 2017, everything about Richie Z’s felt like was what you’d hope for from a good barbecue restaurant.  They even had a nice bar area, which I reluctantly skipped due to time of day and the length of my journey ahead.

The sheet metal walls in particular were a nice stylistic touch, as were the chalkboard drink menus and the descriptive drawings educating you on where your cuts of meat come from. 

I settled on the beef brisket platter and, although it was not thinly sliced like I expected (the cut more resembled chunks of pot roast), it was still quite good.  The juiciness of the meat is even apparent on the plate.  Richie Z’s also provided a nice sampling of sauces to apply to each bite.  And, the sides were evidently prepared with equal care.  I especially enjoyed the barbecued beans. 

After lunch, I followed U.S. 83 momentarily westward out of Pierre, across the Missouri River and into the neighboring town of Fort Pierre.  I had entered the Mountain Time Zone for the first and only time on my road trip, albeit briefly. 

Turning southward, U.S. 83 skirts the edge of Fort Pierre on the left side, even as foothills of rock, sand and dry brush dominate the view on the right side.  The change in terrain had been sudden and striking, at least to this Midwesterner.  And mere minutes later, I had not only re-entered the Central Time Zone but also the Fort Pierre National Grassland.  It was a surprisingly scenic stretch of open prairie and gently rolling hills that lasted until I reached the intersection with Interstate 90 a half hour later.  

And it was at that intersection with I-90 where I made my biggest error of judgement on the entire trip.  I had noticed the road construction and detour signs become increasingly noticeable as I approached the interstate, but I never saw any indication of a road closure.  Determined to stay on my route, I followed U.S. 83 on I-90 west instead of taking the detour option to U.S. 183 which I felt would add considerable time to my day to circle back to my original route.  

Once I turned south on U.S. 83 at Murdo, S.D., and continued for several miles over the increasingly rocky and hilly terrain, I figured I had dodged a bullet.

I was wrong.  This wasn’t a road closure; it was a road dismantling. 

By the time I reached the flagger at the stopping point, I realized the only part of the road that existed at this point was the bed itself.  Suddenly, going “off-roading” had a whole new meaning to me.

The wait to proceed seemed much longer than it probably was, but eventually this guy showed up from the opposite direction with a lengthy trail of vehicles behind him.  Lucky me, I was first in line once he turned around to show us the path to pavement.  

And between the terrain and the cloud of dust he was leaving behind me, it wasn’t exactly easy to keep up.  But, a few miles and a few narrow escapes from ditches and drop-offs later, I was back on my way on the “Road To Nowhere.”  And my next stop would be just another hour down the road in western Nebraska …

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