Center of the Nation, Part 6 (Inspirations)

On October 14, 2015 · 4 Comments

I made it to the final installment of the Center of the Nation articles at long last. I hope the Twelve Mile Circle audience enjoyed riding along vicariously. I included links to all of the previous articles at the bottom of the page for those who may have missed a few. I figured I’d wrap things up with a catch-all, with ideas that inspired some of the routes and topics that didn’t fit cleanly into any of the earlier narratives.

Rest Stop

Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Panoramic View from a Rest Stop in North Dakota

Six years ago I posted an article called "No More Rest." It focused on the impending demise of public rest stops along Interstate highways during the prevailing economic malaise of the time, the Great Recession. The article mentioned several examples of unusual or remote waysides including one constructed a few miles east of Medora, North Dakota (map).

I consulted the 12MC Complete Index as I always do before I start an adventure, and noticed that my intended path would intersect with the same remote rest stop. In person, it wasn’t nearly as forlorn as my original research led me to believe. Rather, it blended in nicely with Theodore Roosevelt National Park, an overlook with excellent views of the Painted Canyon. It also included a visitor center and hiking trails down into the canyon itself although we only stopped long enough to enjoy the view. None of those possibilities were known to me when I wrote the original article. It was a rest stop definitely deserving a stop.

With that, I’ve now visited all of the rest stops featured in that earlier article. The I-95 stop in Ladysmith, Virginia reopened once the economy improved. I purposely targeted the wayside on the Bonneville Salt Flats during my 2011 Utah trip. Later I stumbled upon the historic rest area outside of Mt. Sterling, Kentucky while exploring Appalachia and beyond in 2013, simply by chance.

This achievement — of all 12MC possibilities — would have seemed one of the more unlikely scenarios at its time of publication. It’s funny how things worked out.

Mammoth Site

Mammoth Site
Mammoth Bones at the Mammoth Site

The Mammoth Site (map) first appeared on these pages only recently in Hot Springs Everywhere. I’d planned much of the Center of the Nation trip by that point and the reference to the Mammoth Site was completely coincidental. I’d never heard of it before I wrote the article. Only then did I notice that it fell within the same general neighborhood as my upcoming adventure. At the time I wrote:

A more recent find actually fascinated me more, the Mammoth Site discovered in the 1970’s when a new housing development was being built on the edge of town (map). Excavators stumbled upon the remains of a karst sinkhole that had once been a spring during the Pleistocene era about 26,000 years ago. Megafauna, particularly Columbian and Woolly Mammoths, occasionally wandered too far into the spring and couldn’t escape. Their skeletons were beautifully preserved where they died. It remains an active archaeological site.

It didn’t disappoint. I’d recommend a detour to Hot Springs, South Dakota for anyone wandering through the Black Hills.

Pigtail Auto Loops

The Road to Mt. Rushmore
Notice how the road loops over itself

I featured loop roads several years ago. It sprang from a reader suggestion included in one of those "Odds and Ends" compilations that I pull together when I have a bunch of thoughts too brief for individual articles. That led to several more readers’ discoveries and eventually a guest post on Google Sightseeing. Those pigtail auto loops have fascinated me ever since. I had to visit one of the more noteworthy clusters, the one near Mount Rushmore. They were located just south of the park on Iron Mountain Road, U.S. Route 16A (map). I drove a different loop the next day when leaving Custer State Park.

Truth be told it wasn’t all that much different than driving loops in a multi-level parking garage. However, genuine auto loops were found outdoors on public roads and that made all the difference.

Spearfish Canyon

Spearfish Canyon
Spearfish Canyon; Spearfish, SD

Reader "Pat D" suggested Spearfish Canyon when I announced my 2015 travel intentions and put the call out for Center of the Nation ideas. I can cite dozens of times when generous 12MC readers influenced my journeys. I am always grateful for ideas that have been shared with me. Spearfish Canyon proved to be an excellent case in point. I likely would have taken the shortest route back to the Interstate highway without the advice. The longcut definitely shifted my path towards some amazing scenery.

Custer State Park
Custer State Park; Custer, SD

The same held true for Custer State Park (map), suggested by readers hipsterdoofus, Michael K, and Mike Lowe. Custer generated the animal jackpot covered in much more detail in Part 5. I received way more recommendations for the Black Hills than my schedule could possibly accommodate. My only regret was that I couldn’t spend a week-or-so in western South Dakota during my whirlwind journey through the Center of the Nation. It pained me to leave behind such an overwhelming concentration of attractions that so completely aligned with my interests.


Firehouse Brewing Company
Firehouse Brewing; Rapid City, SC

I know most of the 12MC audience doesn’t really care about this topic so feel free to jump further below. There weren’t a lot of breweries or brewpubs on our route with the exception of Denver. We flew in and out of Denver although we didn’t spend much time there, stopping just long enough to hit Avery Brewing in Boulder, Colorado on the way out of town. Much of the rest of the Northern Plains were devoid of breweries just as they were devoid of people. I didn’t sense it was cultural resistance because I found plenty of craft beers on tap at local restaurants. Rather I thought it might have been related to population. Breweries needed local audiences and those were rather scarce in these wide, empty space.

I found a nice brewery cluster in the Black Hills. The area benefited from seasonal tourist crowds and a fairly sizable city nearby. One might not consider Rapid City, population about 70,000, as all that large. However it was a megalopolis way out there in the empty spaces with nothing rivaling its size for literally hundreds of miles in any direction. We were able to visit Firehouse Brewing, a brewpub in downtown Rapid City (map), as well as three breweries; Miner Brewing and Sick-N-Twisted in Hill City, and Crow Peak in Spearfish.

Adding five new breweries to my visit list wasn’t so bad, all things considered.

Chinese Restaurant

Hibachi House; Bowman, ND

I guess I’ll mention one more oddity. Awhile ago I stated that Chinese restaurants seemed to open in the most unusual out-of-the-way places imaginable. My fascination never evolved past that point. I’d never actually dined at one of those seemingly misplaced establishments. Until now.

The Mainly Marathons group arranged a casual dinner each evening before its races. Participants were free to attend when feeling sociable or physically able, and I guess we made about half of them. One took place at Hibachi House in Bowman, North Dakota. I supposed by the name that it might be more Japanese than Chinese. However the menu skewed much closer to Chinese in the typical "Americanized" manner (think General Tso’s chicken, Beef & Broccoli and such). It certainly fit the bill after a long day of running and driving, so no complaints and I could now check the box on another activity on the long 12MC list.

Bowman County recorded 3,151 residents in the 2010 U.S. Census. Of those, 0.03% self-identified as Asian. That worked out to about ten people. I believed it was likely that the entire Asian population of Bowman County consisted of people affiliated with the restaurant.

Center of the Nation articles:

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

On October 14, 2015 · 4 Comments

4 Responses to “Center of the Nation, Part 6 (Inspirations)”

  1. David Kozina says:

    Your mention of loop roads reminded me of railroad loops, such as the one near Tehachapi, CA. If you turn on historical imagery on that loop in Google Earth and go back a few years, you can find a train making the loop. Nicely timed photo.

  2. wangi says:

    That’s the Northern Pacific passing through Bowman, yeah? High probability a legacy of Chinese railroad construction workers.

  3. Mike Lowe says:

    Thanks for the thanks. I enjoyed my time in South Dakota. I’d love to visit North Dakota some day. It’s a really long trip from Houston.

  4. Jacob says:

    Since you brought up the topic of seemingly misplaced Chinese restaurants, I recommend watching “The Search For General Tso”. It is a very nice documentary that has some excellent history about Chinese-Americans and the way they have assimilated into our culture. The film is also very interesting because it shows how the Chinese food we know is actually not Chinese at all. Great film, but be sure to get some Chinese takeout before watching because it will make you very very hungry.

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