October 28, 2014

Native American Scenic Byway

Deciding which route to follow after leaving Bismarck on October 8 was quite easy.  We still wanted to follow the Missouri River, but we noticed an intriguing scenic byway when we looked at the South Dakota map.  This byway mostly follows the river, as well as much of the Lewis and Clark Trail, so this seemed like the perfect route for us.

Tim and I love to drive scenic byways.  The traffic is usually light, the countryside is easier to appreciate, and the drive is often more peaceful and relaxing.   Tim and I also like to tour as we drive, which we can easily do with our smaller RV.  We can stop almost anywhere we want, including narrow driveways that would be off-limits to RVs much larger than ours.

The Native American Scenic Byway was a wonderful and thought-provoking drive.  We passed through the reservations of four tribes of Lakota Sioux:  Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Lower Brule and Crow Creek and stopped at most of the memorial markers, monuments, museums and sacred sites along the way.  These sites, which commemorate the heritage of the Sioux Nation, helped us experience the history and culture of the four tribes.

The Native American Scenic Byway Extends for 350 Miles in North and South Dakota

The northern section of the byway travels through the Standing Rock Reservation and is the most developed in terms of interpretation.  Visitor centers, printed guides and an extensive marker system make this section the most rewarding in terms of helping us to gain an understanding of the Sioux.

One of our favorite stops was the tribal visitor center at Fort Yates, North Dakota, on the campus of Sitting Bull College.  Here we enjoyed talking with Jennifer, the visitor coordinator, and listening to her perspective about life on and off the reservation.  She provided a special insight into the history we would be encountering along the byway.

We made our way into the town of Fort Yates, which was established as a military post in 1874.  Here we visited the Standing Rock Monument from which the Standing Rock agency derived its name.  According to the legend inscribed on the monument, the stone is the petrified form of a woman and her child.

Standing Rock Monument

In Fort Yates we also stopped at the original burial site of Sitting Bull, the spiritual leader of the Lakota.  Sitting Bull was killed by Indian agency police on the Standing Rock Reservation on December 15, 1890, during an attempt to arrest him.  His grave was subsequently relocated, and we planned to visit that site the next morning.

Burial Site of Sitting Bull in Fort Yates

We stopped for the evening near Mobridge, South Dakota, at The Bay at Grand River Casino, a great campground operated by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.  The campground, which we almost had to ourselves, is nothing like most casino campgrounds.  This one overlooks the Missouri River and provides large spaces underneath mature trees.  Kitty loved it, and so did we.  We were honored to receive the “elder” campsite rate.  It was tempting to stay for several days, but we needed to move on. 

What a Great Campground!

The following morning we visited the second burial site to memorialize Sitting Bull.  The setting here was beautiful, with its view overlooking the Missouri River, but, sadly, the site itself was not well cared for.  This site is marked by a stone bust carved by the famed sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, who designed the Crazy Horse memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Also on the site is a monument erected as a tribute to Sacagawea, who died not too far from here.

Memorial to Sitting Bull near Mobridge

The Bluffs Along the Missouri River Provide a Wonderful Setting for the Monument

Monument to Sacagawea

The byway soon turned inland from the Missouri River and into the land of the Cheyenne River Sioux.  Here we encountered a diverse landscape, and not one we were expecting.  Vast prairies and rolling agricultural fields gave way to the high escarpment overlooking the Cheyenne River valley.  This time of year the river appears as a ribbon of green in a sea of gold.  It was a beautiful drive. 

We arrived in Pierre, South Dakota, in the afternoon and settled into a city campground in the middle of town.  Although the campground was not much more than a paved parking lot, it backed up to a lovely park along the Missouri River.  The location was perfect for exploring our own state capital (remember, we are South Dakota residents now).

Kitty Liked the Campground in Pierre

We toured the lovely State Capitol building, which had been restored for the centennial celebration of the State of South Dakota in 1989 and stepped into the Governor’s Reception Room where we learned about the history of the building.  We often fail to make the time to visit the interiors of state capitol buildings, but this visit has reminded us to put these buildings on our must-see list.  We always appreciate the architectural grandeur of these spaces when we do make it a point to open their doors.

South Dakota State Capitol

A Magnificent Interior

Pierre was also our first opportunity to stop at a Walgreens to pick up prescriptions and get our flu shots.  There are no Walgreens in North Dakota, except one in the far eastern corner of the state, so we were happy to find one here.

Our favorite venue in Pierre was the Cultural Heritage Center, which provided an excellent overview of the history of South Dakota.  It was a bit difficult to get to the building, however, since there was no place to park even our small RV.  It seemed a bit odd to us that a state that is so friendly to full-time RVers would not have a place for these residents to park.  Once we finally shuttled to the Cultural Center in the car, we were impressed with what the museum has to offer.

The exhibits begin with the stories of the Native Americans who inhabited South Dakota before it became a state.  Various artifacts helped us understand the Sioux way of life, but we were disappointed that the singular piece of the museum’s collection, the Sioux Horse Effigy, which is a masterpiece of Lakota sculpture, was on tour and not available to view.  The exhibits continued with displays that chronicle the experiences of the homesteaders, military men, miners and statesmen who called South Dakota home.

The People of the Plains

After leaving Pierre, we picked up the Native American Scenic Byway once more and traveled through the Lower Brule Indian Reservation.  Again, we followed the Missouri River, where high bluffs along the river give way to rolling hills and then the vast grasslands of the Great Plains. We kept our eyes peeled for evidence of the bison that live here, but they were nowhere to be seen.

A Diverse Landscape Along the Missouri River

When we crossed the Missouri River, our plan was to stop at an Army Corps of Engineers campground.  We pulled into the campground and were so disappointed to find it closed for the season.  What a shame, since it really looked like a great campground.  OK, now let’s come up with a Plan B.  Luckily, we had internet reception and found a private campground in Chamberlain, just 18 miles away.

"Closed for Season"

We drove through the Crow Creek Indian Reservation, which occupies the east side of the Missouri River, on the way to Chamberlain and pulled into the American Creek Campground and a site directly on the Missouri River.  What a gorgeous location!  I’ll tell you more about it in the next post.

Not Bad for a Plan B


  1. That was a great Plan B! Enjoying the blog and pictures very much. LV

    1. Sometimes, Plan Bs are the best. Thanks for following along with us.


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