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Driveabout America: Part Six

August 1, 2018

With Yellowstone in our rear view mirror, we headed out of the Big Horn Mountains towards South Dakota. On our bucket list of things to see in the Dakotas was Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Sturgis, The Badlands, Deadwood, Lead Gold Mine, Custer State Park and the Air Force museum. Oh yea, and a heard of buffalo. So far my finding a herd of buffalo had not been too successful.

As we were leaving Wyoming, we decided to stop at the visitor's center this side of the border. You can access the center going east or west. I wanted to gather some information on the area surrounding Rapid City and we figured the visitor center would have maps and information to help plan the next few days of our trip.

The center, like much of the surrounding country, was located in the middle of a wide grassland. Mary spent time with the lady behind the counter talking of where we lived and what local attractions she recommended in the area. Mary knew I had an interest in seeing the Geographic Center of the Nation Monument. We knew it was located in town named Belle Fourche, South Dakota (pronounced bel-FOOSH).

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Mary and I pose at the South Dakota state sign.

As Mary and the lady talked she recommended that we take the back roads to Belle Fourche. If we did, it would give us an opportunity to visit a general store in the town of Aladdin, Wyoming, population 15. On her recommendation, we set out in search of the general store. Once again traveling the back roads, we had the opportunity to see a western landscape far from the interstate. Looking at the land, we realized that it still appeared very much like it had since the first Native American saw it long ago. In the lower meadows, green with the spring's grasses, were large herds of cattle. Every now and then we could see a farmhouse far off the main road. Like other times on our back road travels, our phones did not work. Phone companies advertise their phones offer near perfect coverage. Our experience was far less perfect than advertised.

After traveling ten miles, we came to the town of Aladdin, Wyoming. The general store is a step back in time to the year 1897. The outside of the store looked old and tired as it sagged a bit. Figuring it had seen a lot of hard weather, it didn't look all that bad. As I entered the store, I noticed a bronze plaque on the door. On it were these words, "On this site in 1897 nothing happened." It appeared that even 121 years ago someone had a sense of humor.

Inside was a mixture of items from years long gone into history. There were also new tee shirts with a picture of the general store on the front. The store had three separate levels and each was filled with a blend of antiques and modern souvenirs. The inside structure of the old store showed that in the years since it has been in business, little has changed. With the passage of time, the store had become a place of national recognition and it had become part of the frontier experience for those who visit. When I returned home, I checked the Aladdin General Store online. I was surprised to find the store and the surrounding thirty acres including the town, recently sold for over a million dollars. I guess it really is a national treasure after all.

If you are ever in Aladdin Wyoming, population 15, stop by the general store and experience what it must have been like all those years ago. Sit by the old woodstove and ponder how many a local cowboy or farmer may have warmed themselves on a cold day. I'll bet there was a time when ranchers talked of cattle free grazing on their lands and those who wanted to bring barbed wire fencing to the new state. Wyoming had only been a state for seven years when the store was built and range wars were still going on. You never know, there may have been an outlaw who stopped by and purchased a poke of tobacco and papers as he headed towards the safety of the Big Horn Mountains to the west. I think you will enjoy the experience of a nearly forgotten piece of the old west. The visit inside is free, but they would sure like it if you purchased a bottle of pop.

After our stop in Aladdin, we headed toward Belle Fourche, South Dakota. About thirty miles to the east. Again, we traveled the back roads through the gentle rolling hills of the two states. As we crossed the border into South Dakota, in the middle of nowhere, we stopped to take a picture of our passing. Mary stood close to the road as I stood closer to the sign. Back down the road a quarter of a mile, we passed a rattlesnake in the road. Wyoming welcoming sign or not, she was not stepping into the tall grass where a snake might be hiding. It might be noticed at this point in my story, she did not try and stop me from standing in the tall grass twenty miles from civilization and no cell phone services. I guess she figured any snake that bit me would be too old to have much of a bite.

After another half hour, we entered the town of Belle Fourche. We drove around looking for the Geographic Center of America Monument. I must have looked lost because a local police officer pulled up beside me and ask if he could be of any help. I told him of our search, and he quickly gave us directions on how to find the monument.

Now, before I mislead you into thinking the marble monument in Belle Fourche is actually the real center of the nation, I will tell you the true location is in a field 20 miles north of the town. Its location was established after Hawaii was added to the list of states in 1959. The community is not trying to mislead anyone, they just figured that a nice park with a large granite monument depicting the center of the nation would be more interesting in the town, than in a farmers field 20 miles away. Mary and I took our picture with the monument and we didn't mind it was not exactly in the right location. After all, when you figure if you draw a line on a map from Hawaii to Maine and a line from Alaska to Florida and you only missed the exact spot by 20 miles... no one is really going to care.

On our travels through the west, Mary and I can now say we visited a real general store where real cowboys and western frontiersmen warmed themselves by the stove. We can also say we stood in the center of our Nation... well almost the center. And we can say I stood near the sign welcoming us to the state of South Dakota. I can also say Mary did not stand to close to me because of a rattlesnake back down the road. We both can say we enjoyed our time in Wyoming and look forward to seeing South Dakota Through the Lens.



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