Monthly Archives: November 2014

On a Golden Ribbon from Shore to Shore: Lake Andes Wildlife Refuge

The beauty of burnished fall fields in South Dakota.

They don’t have the impact of the Grand Canyon, but South Dakota fields have a subtle beauty–especially in the fall.

When I took off from Lincoln this time, I decided to go north through South Dakota and North Dakota. Part of my goal was to visit a place I’d never been before: North Dakota. However, I also wanted to see more prairie. I love the prairie. It’s a subtle beauty, and I had studied Great Plains geography, history, music, and literature in college. I wanted to see where Per Hansa and his wife played out their pioneering lives in Giants in the Earth. I felt as though I could understand and appreciate it, even if most of the people I told about my destination thought it would be boring.

Golden South Dakota flora along the highway to Pierre.

The golds and browns of South Dakota in the fall have a calm, coming-home quality.

I wasn’t disappointed. As I traveled up through South Dakota’s capitol, Pierre, and then to North Dakota’s capitol, Bismarck, I saw beautiful autumn-golden fields—both pasture and crops. The colors were muted, because it was late in the fall. Bright yellow leaves still clung to the branches on the sparse trees, but instead of presenting as a mass of gold, they looked like lace, almost like mist surrounding the dark branches. Many of the trees had more leaves on the bottom than the top, which made the misty “leaf ring” around the trunk look like a netted tutu, with multiple graceful branches rising up from the skirt into the sky.

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The Long Way to Washington: South Dakota and Its Capitol Building

I’m assuming not many people think of the Dakotas as destinations. You have to know someone in Sioux City or have a cousin in Fargo to go that far north (if you’re in the South or Midwest) or that deep into the continent (if you’re from either coast). However, as any destination does, even the Dakotas have points of interest to satisfy your urge to see new places and experience new things. I decided to travel through the Dakotas on my way to the Pacific Northwest from Nebraska.

It was enough out of the way that it could have been considered a detour, but there is a clear path north to Bismarck and a clear path from there through Montana to Washington state. In places with subtle beauty like the Dakotas, the back roads lead to more satisfyingly beautiful views. It’s just that they don’t get the publicity—or they are not AS spectacular or as large as famous destinations. I believe spectacularness is a matter of focus. If you are focusing on a small autumn leaf and you allow yourself to see it, you’ll find all the grandness of the Grand Canyon right there. Continue reading

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Light at the Lake: Glacier National Park

Everything has just closed for the season at Apgar Village. The windows are boarded up, summer signs have been swapped for ones with off-season instructions, and only one building has a light in the window–it’s above a gift shop. I find myself wondering who is up there. If I come back in the summer, I will probably see that person behind the counter, asking me how they can help me. But now the welcome talk is nonexistent. That person is cozying up with a good book and a cup of tea, while I wander through this seasonal ghost town.

Lake McDonald in the western half of Glacier Park satisfies every expectation.

I imagined myself a bird, flying low across the water from shore to mountains…

Its a little disconcerting to be the only one here. However, I shift and jostle my mind purposefully into a groove, and soon I am comfortable with it. Even happy. No one but me is here on this cool day, seeing this place as I am seeing it.

As I drive around the corner to the boat ramp. I see grey clouds hanging in layers above the long expanse of Lake McDonald. Then suddenly I notice, at the end of the lake, the mountains. How did I not see them the first second I was here? I think it was because I didn’t expect them. I thought I would have to go much further into the park to see such a spectacular sight. And the shore has a personality of its own, with multicolored rocks on the beach and in the shallow, crystal-clear water. Continue reading

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