“Get Off My Trail Head”: St. Louis, MO to Deadwood, SD

On May 10th, we stayed at my cousin Gretchen’s house in St. Louis, but missed seeing them by one day, thanks to my eagerness in leaving a day early, which was a bummer. St. Louis was charming – walkable streets, little restaurants in old buildings, community gardens, it was a lovely break from being cooped up in the car. The next morning we knew we were headed into our longest drive yet (10 hours), so we decided to stretch our legs before heading out.

Community garden in St. Louis
Community garden in St. Louis

Seeing some of St. Louis’ historic buildings and gorgeous gardens, I felt nostalgic for living in a big city with hidden gems on short walks. The coffee shop we found provided some of the best coffee I’ve ever had, and thanks to the large latte with 4 shots of espresso, I was able to drive for 7 hours straight through the length of Missouri, and winding in and out of Nebraska and Iowa (Hasha swears I didn’t blink through two states thanks to that latte); Hasha took over once we hit South Dakota. We stayed at the AmericInn, which had a glorious hot tub in the room, and the nicest staff who made the tortuous drive seem not so bad. On top of the amazing hotel with pool and hot tub, we were directed to a restaurant within walking distance which made glorious amounts of vodka tonics, with the nicest waitress (Oh Taylor, if Hasha wasn’t already married…).

On May 11th, we met up with Hasha’s grandparents, Cindy and Dennis, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It was so amazing to see family, and in true grandparent fashion, we were presented with coveted beef jerky, delicious cookie bars, and a cozy jacket so I wouldn’t get cold. We met at Prairie Star Gallery – one of the biggest Native artists galleries in the Dakota’s. Every Peace Time, Cindy and Dennis give all the kids ornaments and sweet grass from Prairie Star, so being able to actually see the gallery was amazing. This is also the gallery where Hasha and I got our Ojibwe wedding present for each other. Last year we were married under the new moon of May in the traditional style, exchanging beaded moccasins and a star quilt.

Praire Star Gallery
Prairie Star Gallery

We were greeted with the peaceful scents of sage and sweet grass and met the owner Linda Boyd. The gallery and its history is truly amazing and inspiring. Housed in a 130-year old building in downtown Sioux Falls, the floor above the gallery was where the trial of Plenty Horses took place after Wounded Knee, and was one of the first instances in which a Native American was acquitted of a crime in the US.

Linda Boyd, the amazing owner of Prairie Star
Linda Boyd, the amazing owner of Prairie Star

In the 1990’s Linda and her husband, John, opened Prairie Star under a unique premise – to buy art outright from Native artists, ensuring they received payment for their work immediately. In most models of business in art, a shop owner will display the art work and give the artist a percentage of the price (after the commission), and only after the work has sold. Linda’s initiative allowed artists to receive the full price for their artwork immediately, and for so many who live in poverty, this allowed for the history and practice of Native art to thrive, as well as each artist. Linda went to reservations one at a time meeting artists and working with families to showcase their art. In the last eighteen years, Prairie Star has worked with over 1,000 families from more than a dozen tribes.

Sadly, Prairie Star will be closing at the end of August this year. After searching for a new curator to take over the business, and their vision, they have not found someone in time. Some did offer to take the business, but wanted to go back to a commission run strategy for the artists, something Linda is against, and would undoubtedly strip Prairie Star of its essence. It is bittersweet seeing all the incredible work the Boyd’s and their staff have accomplished, and knowing that the gallery will close their doors. If anyone reading this has any interest in helping keep their doors open, please check out their website or find them on Facebook.

Pelted with snow balls
Pelted with snow balls

Once we said good-bye to our amazing family, we hit the road to head west toward the Black Hills National Forest. We drove through the Badlands that had been under a blizzard warning the day before. Now we had planned for cold temperatures, but we sure hadn’t planned for a blizzard! Thankfully we missed driving through it, as someone who had only seen snow once before in my life (and only 6 months previous), I had no idea how to conduct myself, let alone drive my car, through snow. Looking out the windows at the landscape we saw what we thought was water shining on the Badlands, but soon realized it was snow! As we proceeded west, the snow cover became denser. We pulled over at a scenic look out to marvel at the small snow cover – remember we’re Floridians and had left 90-degree weather so this was a treat. As I was taking pictures, my lovely husband proceeded to pelt me with snowballs – thanks babe….

In such a desolate landscape as the Badlands, we saw signs for something called Wall Drug every few miles… for hundreds of miles. It became a running joke as we had no idea what the hell a Wall Drug was, or what would await us when the billboards ran out. In hindsight I now terribly regret skipping a stop at Wall Drug. Started in 1931 by a couple, the 76,000 sq. ft. store that includes a gift shop and water park, used the vast landscape to it’s advantage in erecting numerous billboards to lure in travellers. We had no idea what it was at the time, and no internet connection, to figure out just how spectacular this piece of Americana would be. If I ever go to SD again, Wall Drug will be on the top of my list of crazy shit to see.

Wall Drug! So close....
Wall Drug! So close….

We also saw bizarre sculptures along I-90 including a T-rex on a leash (thank you Wall Drug), people in covered wagons, and a huge bull head that was part of a sculpture park, amongst others that were indescribable. We moved through the Buffalo Gap National Grassland and the Badlands National Park on what seemed an impossibly straight road. Coupled with 80mph speed limits, and intense winds that pushed the car and dropped the mpg’s, road blindness and exhaustion definitely started to set in. But after a pit stop at a gas station with a cuddly dinosaur, we were back on the road.

Deadwood history
Deadwood history

We made our goal for the night Deadwood, SD, of HBO and Wild West  fame. It sat right in the Black Hills National Forest so would set us up for the next day of exploring. The Black Hills are also one of the most sacred sites for the Lakota people. We arrived in Deadwood around 8pm and quickly realized that nothing was open. I’m not sure what I pictured in my mind of what Deadwood would be like, maybe a quaint main street with western inspired old-timey décor? Well, that did exist, but behind every window, pokies (gambling machines) and black jack tables assaulted the senses. Looking straight down the main road, you could see and feel the old West vibe, but upon turning your head, glaring, flashing lights and lonely people by themselves pulling levers, invaded your sight. Maybe some people love this, but I’ve never gotten the appeal of gambling, at least not in the monetary sense with a machine. It was a little disappointing to say the least.

One pin among many
One pin among many

After a glorious nights sleep we headed out of Deadwood toward the Iron Mountain Road in the Black Hills. However, before we could leave town, we had to navigate our way through tons of construction. We learnt that before season starts (after Memorial Day), it is a free-for-all on ripping up and repaving roads. After sitting for an inordinately long time at a construction site, Hasha became fed up and decided to find another way out of town. After driving though a never-ending parking lot, he pulled us on to a paved little road… we were instantly yelled at by a rather large snowplow driver. “Get the Hell off my Trail Head!” – we had inadvertently driven onto a trail head for hiking! After yelling profuse apologies to the gentleman, we fishtailed our way through a torn up parking lot, still looking for a way out. After sliding on ice and almost hitting a parked truck (absolutely terrifying), we hightailed it out of Deadwood.

Cleaning out the flood in the backseat from elevation
Cleaning out the flood in the backseat from elevation

One last note is that Deadwood is where we began to realize the effects of altitude and elevation changes on our belongings and ourselves. Our ears had been popping with every increase and decrease in altitude, but what really made us realize it was coming out to our car that morning. We carried with us a gallon jug and a 2.5-gallon container of water. We pulled out the big one to fill up our water bottles and realized there was water all over the back floor of the car. The thin plastic of the large container had warped and sprung a leak in the night and deposited roughly a gallon and a half of water onto the floorboards. There was a mini lake in the backseat! Using dirty laundry and a hand towel, we sopped up as much as we could, and prayed no mold would develop. Numerous items that we carried have been impacted by elevation changes – basically any bottle with liquid in it – body wash, a bottle of nice perfume, the Goo Gone we thought would be needed – have all exited their original containers. So, beware when traveling with liquids in a car that will be going from sea level to 10,000 feet!

More photos of the trip can be found here.

St. Louis, MO to Deadwood, SD
St. Louis, MO to Deadwood, SD
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3 thoughts on ““Get Off My Trail Head”: St. Louis, MO to Deadwood, SD

  1. This is so fun to read up on your trip! Don and I will be doing a western road trip in September, so I’m taking notes. Might need to check out Wall Drug! I’m so glad you got to check out a little of St. Louis! There are so many hidden treasures… besides the brewery! I didn’t know Gretchen lived there now. Looking forward to catching up on your other write ups!
    Cuz Beth

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