Wednesday, September 28, 2011

To North Dakota - Yankton, SD to Jamestown ND

We finally found North Dakota!  It took us over 3 days, but we crossed the border today in a blaze of Ghost Town glory.  So let's catch you up on what we've experienced in Day's 3 and 4 of our journey, and how our jaunt into North Dakota almost wasn't.

Day 3 - Yankton to Pierre South Dakota

Yankton Mural
Yankton South Dakota has some pretty friendly folk.  We found a quaint little Mom and Pop, the Starlight Hotel, where despite the lack of some basics like a climate control and a coffee pot, the Gal on duty went above and beyond in friendliness, even letting us borrow the office coffee pot for our early morning routine. Thank goodness, because we had a lot of driving along the Missouri River to do, looking for things that in some cases weren't there anymore.

Yankton Museum
Yankton itself is pretty historic, known as the town where Jack McCall, who shot and killed Wild Bill Hickok, was tried and hanged, it sits right on the Missouri river.  It was the original Dakota Territorial Capital, and home of the first and oldest Dakota Daily Newspaper, published in 1861. It's also the home town of noted journalist and NBC anchor Tom Brokaw.  Lawrence Welk also launched his career here back in 1927 on WNAX Radio in Yankton. We enjoyed the picturesque view of the river just on the edge of downtown  before heading out on highway 52.

Scenic Drive no more
The idea was to stay as close to the river as possible, which wasn't possible all the time.  Recent flooding has closed some roads, including what was advertised as an 8 mile scenic drive along a dirt road west of Yankton Marina area.  Luckily for us, we didn't have to travel too far into it before running into water.  Plenty of scenic along this trip though, so back to the highway we go, making our way to Pickstown, which just across the Dam is next to historic Fort Randall.

Fort Randall Chapel
Fort Randall, established in 1856, was the last in a line of Forts that protected the Overland Route along the Platte River, and the first in a chain of forts along the upper Missouri River.  It was a strategic military post during the Indian Wars, after which it closed in 1892.  We found an old Church, still partially standing and now being protected from further destruction, along with the Fort Randall Cemetery on a hill overlooking the Fort and River.

Lake Andes has a new pair of shoes
Just up the road we stop at a convenience store in the town of Lake Andes. Kathy decides it's warm enough to change into shorts, so she promptly does so in the parking lot.  We wouldn't discover until much later down the road that she had left her only pair of tennis shoes "in" the parking lot, so note to Lake Andes residents.. No, no one was kidnapped, and yes, they are nice shoes, we hope someone is enjoying them.

Most of the rest of this day was spent simply driving along the river, enjoying the scenery, and hoping against hope to run into more fort ruins or Ghost Towns. Some roads were closed due to the recent flooding, but we did manage to hit a good stretch of Missouri River starting in Chamberlain, up Highway 50 to 34, then over to Fort Thompson.  We should have done a little more research for this stretch, as we looked and looked for Fort Hale, which was located across the river from Fort Thompson, only to learn later that it is completely gone, and the location now under water.

Lake Sharpe near Chamerlain
Oh well, like I said, scenic drive anyway and we head on toward the South Dakota Capital of Pierre along Highway 34.  After settling into our hotel for the evening, we decided we better go ahead and book hotels for the next couple of days in North Dakota.  We had been warned by one of Kathy's old high school friends that we better book ahead in North Dakota, but we had determined that the only area of concern would be Northwest ND due to the recent Oil Boom.

Pierre, South Dakota State Capital
Being the "fly by the seat of your pants" travelers we are sometimes, we had simply planned to stay in Bismark, ND for a couple of days and travel the entire region from there.  However there was "NO ROOM AT THE INN".   And I don't mean just Bismark.  The more we looked for hotels, the more we started to think that we actually may not make it to North Dakota this trip.  In addition to the Oil Boom, Bismark was also playing host to a huge conference and not one room was available anywhere in town, or in any surrounding towns for that matter.  On top of that, it's hunting season, which pretty much took the rest of the rooms across much of the state.  Bottom line, if you are a Hotel Owner, you should seriously consider building some in North Dakota.

Luckily for us, we found a room in Eastern North Dakota in Jamestown for Tuesday night, and another at a Mom and Pop in Bowman, way down in the Southwestern corner of the state for Wednesday night, and just prepared ourselves for some long travel days ahead.

Day 4 - Pierre, SD to Jamestown ND

Miles of nothing
Now this is what I'm talking about...Kathy and I love Ghost Towns, and we finally found what we were looking for on the way to Jamestown. Our trip started with a stop at the local Wal-Mart in Pierre to get Kathy some new Tennis Shoes, then up Highway 83.  This stretch was pretty much Corn and Sunflower crops and harvest elevators most of the rest of South Dakota. Small communities that could be Ghost Towns, but seemed to bustle with activity from area farming dotted our way.  Like Onida, which is Sunflower haven, with a county courthouse that sits on the site once occupied by Fort Sully, which was one of the main military forts in Dakota. Not to be confused with the Old Fort Sully which is Southeast of Pierre.

Venturia, ND Bar
It really wasn't until we crossed into North Dakota that we reached our true Ghost Town destinations. Venturia, in McIntosh county, was founded in 1901 and only has a handful of people left.  Still sports a local bar though, and we've since read that it also serves as the owners living room. Some of the older buildings include a Depot and old post office and was a good way to start our real ghost towning in North Dakota.

Ghost Farm near Danzig
On down a bit we travel some backroads to Danzig, which never had more than 100 residents and now appears to be privately owned with one residence and a couple of Grain Elevators. A nice bonus in this area was the Ghost Farm just outside of Danzig.  Cool stop to stretch our legs, careful not to go past the "no trespassing" signs while taking in the scenery.

Fredonia, ND
On down the road we go to Fredonia, which got it's start in 1904.  A mural on the side of an abandoned building promotes its Centennial saying "Fredonia will shine once more in 2004".  This town is still inhabited by about 46 people as of the 2010 census, but we only saw a couple of them while we were there.  The downtown had only a few buildings and sported a Flagless Pole in the middle of one intersection, seemingly lonely for times long ago.

Lehr, SD
Lehr North Dakota was much bigger, but still shows signs of being a Ghost Town. Sitting on the county lines of McIntosh and Logan, it's said to be the smallest city in the US situated in two counties. Founded in 1898, this town continues to lose population, down to about 80 in the 2010 census, compared to 114 just ten years ago.

Evidence of flooding in ND
Outside of Lehr we are seeing more evidence of the incredible effects this past years record snows have caused, with flooded ponds and farmland.  Got a cool shot of a barn and windmill under water. Not sure if it was due to the 90 inches of snow they received in ND last year, or has been this way for a while, but never the less, this landscape seems to have permanently changed.

Nortonville, ND
Nortonville on up the way off highway 281 has been long forgotten by the census since the 1960's but still sports a few residents.  The sign above the door on one of the abandoned buildings reads "Memories", which seem to be most of what Nortonville has left.

We love this quirky Boot
We only had a couple more Ghost Towns on the list for the day, including Millarton and Sydney, which were far enough off the highway that all business was gone, leaving a Grain Elevator and a couple of homes as reminders of a town that once was.  Maybe we will find some gems of history to write about from these places, but for now we are satisfied with driving through these once populated towns and getting back to more civilization in Jamestown for the night.  We have a long day ahead of us on Day 5, traveling across much of the state, including north of Bismark and back to Southwestern North Dakota where our next hotel awaits us in Bowman.

Follow our adventure from Yankton to Jamestown in pictures via our Facebook page here.

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