Tag Archives: South Dakota

Migration South Day 3-5 Pierre South Dakota


The next morning we were up at 6:00am and ready to go so we left for Pierre, South Dakota. This time we had perfect traveling weather so it was easy to pack in the miles. It was still, sunny and the temperature climbed steadily until it hit 10C (52F). We saw a herd of antelope, many pheasants, deer and a coyote. There were many flocks of Canada Geese on the still open water. Traffic was light. The roads were clear. We soon left snow behind.


However as we traveled we listened to the weather forecast and it was going to get messy. There was a big winter blast crossing Nebraska and northern Kansas. At a stop with internet, we checked the weather and discussed our options. One would be to continue on past Pierre, South Dakota and keep driving as long as possible and then get up as early as we could and drive like crazy. If we could do it, and if the weather did what was forecast, we could run ahead of the storm and let it go by to the north. Our next option would be to stick to schedule and just wing it and risk finding ourselves in a blizzard. The third option was the best option. Since we would be just north of the main weather system we could sit tight there and let the whole mess go past us to the south, give it a day for the roads to be cleared and then carry on. We talked it over and decided we are not traveling to get somewhere by the quickest route. We are migrating south and enjoying ourselves on the way. A three night stop would suit us best.

We arrived at our campground in Pierre, South Dakota by 3:00pm. There is a new and spreading fad in state parks which requires you make your reservation in advance or you have to telephone the registration system. There is no one on duty to take you money or show you around. I got someone on the telephone who was nice enough but so slow it made me grit my teeth in frustration. We eventually got registered. One of the nasty things about the system is the telephone person can’t tell you things like the washrooms are closed or where do you find potable water. Once we were registered we drove around the campground and discovered the washrooms were closed. Lesson learned. No matter what the sign says, from now on we drive in and check everything out before we call. It turned out to be all right though because the dump station was open and had potable water. Since it was well above freezing it was probably okay to dewinterize now. We just had to drain the antifreeze, flush the system, and then fill up. Since there were only four campers at the campground and no one waiting to use the dump, we did the whole procedure at the dump site. It was sunny and pleasant it was actually  fun and easy  in the bright sunshine.

We got our rig settled into a nice site. We were delighted to discover the park had internet. It was really slow but it worked. Misty refused to settle down. This place was too wonderful, exciting, with too many wonderful things to smell. We ended up taking her for a nice long walk in the warmth and sunshine. It was a welcome pleasure after the cold of Manitoba in November. As often happens after a long drive, I was tired out and I ended up crawling into bed at 7:30pm. It was such a relief to be stopped in safe place without worrying about driving the next day in a snowstorm. I fell asleep and slept right through the night until 7:00am, nearly twelve hours. Wow what a glorious dawn we had! It was so lovely it was breathtaking. Red sky at dawning, definitely foul weather coming.


We had two very pleasant quiet days while we watched the storm system to the south go from winter weather advisory to blizzard warning to a state of emergency in Kansas. I was so glad we did not try to rush through or wing it. Each day, we took Misty for nice long walks several times and enjoyed the peace and quiet. The lake was still open and there were geese on the lake. Each day more of the lake froze in the cold until on the last day there was just a small open area where the geese were.

Hunters were nearby and the geese were really skittish. We could hear the shots. The park itself was closed to hunters so the geese were fleeing here. One of the hunters would drive by to where the geese were resting and wave his arms and honk and the geese, not understanding the idea of a no hunting zone, took off flying right back unto the hunters range. There is definitely some bird dog in our pup from her golden retriever mom because every time a shot went off Misty got all excited and headed for the water. Fortunately, we had her on the long leash because the ice was thin and she could have gotten into big trouble out there if she broke through.

We had one interesting find. We came across a small frozen turtle. Following the rule we learned from Gulf Specimen Marine Lab about torpid turtles, it isn’t dead unless you warm it up and it starts to smell bad. We brought the turtle into our camper for the night. By morning it was obvious the turtle was indeed dead and not torpid. The shell is lovely so at some point when we are near a live ant hill, we’ll let the ants clean the flesh and keep the shell as a souvenir.

After our three night break the blizzard had moved away and we packed up and headed for Nebraska. At the dump we made an alarming discovery. Our sewer outlet had from up. ARRGG!! We forgot about that and hadn’t protected the outlet to prevent freezing. We should have remembered it since we do enough cold weather camping but we forget. Fortunately, our trailer is underweight so we could continue traveling with the grey and black water tanks partly full. Nebraska was our next stop.

Migration Home Twelfth Stop Sisseton South Dakota and then home.


We left Sioux City north and drove up I29. This has to be the most boring stretch of highway in North America. Miles and miles and miles of nothing. We had some luck in the city of Sioux Falls. We got a recommendation from a store clerk in Staples for a grocery store big on ethnic food. We arrived to find enough kosher-for-passover items that we were able to stock up for the whole eight days. On arrival in Sisseton the folks at Camp Dakota were welcoming as they had been last year and we set up. Our host for tomorrow’s visit, Sister Patrice Colette met us and we had dinner at the nearby Casino. Profits from the Casino go right back into the tribe including the school we were going to be presenting at. We had an excellent meal and turned in early. Sister was going to be picking us up at 6:30am. We fell asleep to the sound of enormous flocks of starlings and black birds feasting on the remnants of last year’s corn crop in the adjacent field.

Camp Dakota

The school we were going to visit is the Tiospa Zina Tribal School of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Reservation. Last year we presented to the class and then got a tour of the band offices. This year we spent the entire school day participating and visiting. This was our second stop as visiting scientists and much as I enjoyed the first visit last year, this one went even better. Our day started out with breakfast at the school. All students get a nutritious start to their day. Breakfast was scrambled egg omelet with cheese filling, bacon (which we skipped), vegetables and fruit. Cereal was available, as was milk, but not as the main item and not many kids picked those for breakfast.

After breakfast we attended a ceremony to start the academic day. This included a drum circle and songs in Dakota. I saw a lot of older students watching out for and caring for younger students. Our conference was interrupted by a break for school awards for excellent work, for personal improvement, for good attendance an to announce successes students had outside the school. Students not only got nice little printed certificates. They got something I never got in school, which was nice crisp new bills as cash awards. There was strong emphasis on personal responsibility, duty to the tribe and community as a whole and respect for elders and each other in the ceremony. Everyone helped clear up when the award ceremony was finished.

Officially we were there as keynote speakers for a science conference. The student prepared in advance and then I presented on sea turtles, their embryology, evolution, the dangers they face and how people can help them. Hubby dearest presented his latest research on the original of life in our universe and slipped in a talk about the age of the universe and powers of ten. We closed off our presentations by giving the students chunks of marine fossils in soft sandstone. Their objective was to break out a fossil and use Google and some books to identify what the fossil was. And they succeeded. We have done many of these classroom visits to schools over the years. In this school we were delighted to find curious minds, intense interest, and well thought out questions. We were not just questioned about the science itself. We were questioned about important practical things like how do you balance work and family and why did we become scientists. We were not once subjected to snarky misbehaviour or nasty background tomfoolery that has happened to us in other schools.

We learned a lot too, getting a glimpse into the life of students at the tribal school. Manitoba already has powerful connections to this reserve because they are related to the Dakota people on the reserve south of Portage LaPrairie and many of the students have family in Canada that come and visit them or they come and visit in South Dakota. The Manitoba connections made us feel right at home.

We left Sisseton feeling very positive and began the last leg of our journey. We made a brief stop in Fargo to buy lefse. Lefse is a traditional food of my father’s Scandinavian ancestors, far better than lutefisk and it is not readily available in stores. Additionally, making it from scratch produces a lot of smoke so I had to give up doing it myself due to my asthma.  At Freddy’s we picked up enough fresh frozen to last us and our family members to the next trip to North Dakota.

Our original plan was to stop at a state park on the border with Canada. I had checked the webpage and it said the campground was open. I called the park and I got an answering machine message that cheerfully declared the campground was open and if we needed fresh water we could get it at the ranger station. When we arrived it was different story. As it turned out, the only camping available was walk in winter camping and the roads and campsites were under too much snow to even think of driving in with a truck and trailer. We were subjected to a particularly stupid bureaucrat/ranger who seemed to think we were the stupid ones for not knowing all that in spite of what their message said. I politely suggested the message be changed to better reflect reality. Each time I said that, I was told why I was so stupid for thinking I could get the camper into the park in March. Eventually we gave up and left, muttering imprecations about how government seems to attract a larger proportion of particularly stupid people as employees than other organizations.


We were about three and a half hours from home and it was 3:00pm. We got waved through at the border by the cheerful guard. We stopped to stock up on groceries in the Winkler just over the border. We then just kept driving. We pulled into our driveway at our little house on the northern prairie. To our relief the driveway had been thoughtfully cleared of ice and snowdrifts by a neighbour for our return. It was SO good to be home. We found our house exactly as we had left it except for some extra cobwebs. Our migration was complete.

According to Google we traveled over 2300 miles. If we had driven nonstop, the trip would have taken a mere 37 hours. We took 35 days, most days did not drive more than three hours and stayed for at least two days at each stop. It was easily our best trip yet! The birds were even slower than us. It was two more weeks before the birds we left in South Dakota showed up. They were the smart ones. There was a blizzard between our arrival home and their return to the north.



Migration Home: Eleventh Stop Sioux City North KOA South Dakota


Our next drive was a longer one. We were now far enough north that it made sense to put in a longer drive and make some progress. There were no more government associated campground to go to. We were limited to a very few private ones that are opened year around. We decided we were going to check out a state park in South Dakota that was supposedly open. We have done that before and arrived to find that while the campground is technically open in March, there is no running water or dump site and the campsites are under several feet of snow. Our original plan was to drive to this state park and if it was unsuitable continue on to the Sioux City North KOA. There just one small problem. I misread the map and mixed up Sioux City North and Sioux Falls and the KOA came up first. We were both tired. We decided that since this KOA is a familiar and comfortable place, one that we stop at practically every trip, we would just turn in. We would try out the state park the next night. When we checked in, we discovered we had a $25 credit with KOA for our first night. We had also stopped at this particular KOA enough times to have earned a second free night on their own private promotional special. It worked out to $12 for two nights in a full service campsite and it just too tempting to turn down. We decided to skip the state park altogether.

We had a quiet two days. I spent most of my time preparing my talk for our next stop. We had both been invited to speak at Tiospa Zina Tribal School in Sisseton South Dakota. We had emails going back and forth with our host about content and preparations for our visit. We took one long walk on the walk past the campground because the weather was lovely. We had some friends call to announce they would come to visit us for Passover in Alonsa. It was a delightful treat to hear from them and we were happy about having company for Passover. I began planning putting on a full seder. This did leave us with the question of where to get enough Passover supplies to put on decent seder on the trip between here and home. There are not exactly a lot of Jews in North and South Dakota and rural Manitoba. Too bad we hadn’t known one day before as we drove right past Omaha, Nebraska, which is something of a kosher food grand central station. Much of the kosher beef used in New York comes out of a facility in Omaha.

We pulled out after two days. I had my presentation prepared and we set out for Sisseton SD, still wondering where we might find Kosher food for our Passover meal.

Here is my review of the Sioux City North KOA:

One of the few campground open year round in the north this is a standard KOA with a better than usual store. We seem to always end up back here going north or south from Canada. WIFI is excellent. staff are wonderful. They have specials to encourage people to return. You can buy propane and the laundry is clean and big. Some permanent residents but it’s neat and clean. A better than average KOA. Office closes at 6:00pm promptly. This KOA is in town at the edge of north Sioux City and right off the interstate so traffic and city noise is a problem.


Band offices of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation

On our trip back to Manitoba we stayed for a couple of nights at “Camp Dakota” in Sisseton, South Dakota. Our visit was to see our friend Sister Patrice who is a teacher at the Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation School. We were invited to speak at her class about our experiences as scientists and our visit to Gulf Specimen Marine Lab. The kids were great and after the class we got a tour of the reserve. I am not a big person for architecture but this place really just “blew me away” as they say. The offices are in a huge circular building with four entrances. Each entrance is marked by one of the four animals they revere, the bald eagle, the buffalo, the kit fox and the horse.  The central area is a huge open hall that can accommodate large meetings, pow wows and community events. I was really impressed with the sheer beauty of the place  and I was very grateful for the complete tour we got compliments of the head of maintenance.


Front Entrance with Bald Eagle



Walls were covered with lovely Star Quilts. Since my SIL is of the Cree Turtle Clan I was especially drawn to this one. As it turns out, the quilts were picked to dampen noise in an attractive way rather than for any particular spiritual significance.

The central large area was designed to be reminiscent of a teepee and being in the great plains sky, but indoors for the brutal winters. Since the prairies are also places with strong summer storms the inner windowless rooms double as tornado shelters. The open space is supported by a Russian design normally used for train bridges.

We were even allowed to see into the court room and the tribal council area. These are all decorated with various religious and spiritual objects as well as a bunch of stuff that just plain looks nice. Plus there is wood, wood, wood everywhere.

The wood was all spruce and pine and gave one the feeling of being outside in a forest even though we were indoors. It was a really nice feeling!

The offices had overhead beams that were natural wood, with lights behind. The whole building is also “green” well insulated, geothermal heating, and solar supplement and including other various ways to be kind to the Earth. Every wall had pictures of life and culture of the Dakota. The one of the Sun Dance in particular caught my eye. There is a Sundance gathering place not far from our home in Alonsa.


I wanted to show one other eye catching building. This is the nearby Community College where people are taking courses in things like diesel engine repair and other skills useful and employable within the rural farm community that the reserve is located in. This is a drum circle motif and it is very eye pleasing.

This is a reserve coming out of a long dark time. There is money and jobs from the Casinos and they have been reinvesting that money back into their own people. They are taking back their language and culture. They are also diversifying the local economy and have one factory and more planned. They also have a buffalo herd they plan to make larger. This year they will be opening a Dakota language immersion kindergarten. The military has been a way up for many of them and they have a disproportionate number of vets especially Marines. The people I met are fiercely proud of and protective of the USA even as they aware of her weaknesses and failures. I hope the Dakota are growing some of their own lawyers, too, because they have had to live with some major treaty violation issues that they need to fix and that will take some warriors in suits with law degrees.

I won’t say all is 100% well here. The youth suicide rate is awful. The week we were there, there was also a major meth bust and a human trafficking ring was broken up. I do think this reserve is moving the right way and, if they keep on their current path, in a short time they will end up like the reserves we visited in Osoyoos, British Columbia and Laughlin, Nevada. If they keep on their current path they too will have 100% employment and white people will travel to the reserve for work each day. And they will have done it for themselves without losing who and what they are. The visit was a very positive experience for me and I appreciated the opportunity to see their wonderful new buildings and feeling the life and hope for the future in the place. It will be interesting to come back in ten years and see how far they have gotten.