THE cowboys roamed the wide open spaces across South Dakota and so will you on a road trip through this wide open state. Here’s one way to break up the drive to the Badlands and beyond and lessen the pain.
Take Highway 75 south to the U.S. border then follow Interstate 29 for about five hours. Just past the South Dakota border, take the Watertown exit.
Right off the highway is the Redlin Art Centre which houses more than 150 paintings by Terry Redlin. Voted America's most popular artist in gallery surveys by U.S. Art magazine from 1991 to 1998, Redlin's work is a cross between Robert Bateman and Trish Romance.
Admission is free and the gorgeous grounds -- a 12-hectare wildlife refuge with walking trails -- make a perfect picnic spot. (Larger groups can call ahead and arrange box lunches served in a Redlin keepsake tin for $15.)
Don't miss the enormous display of ice cream paraphernalia in the centre's basement. It's a nod to Redlin's wife Helene Langenfeld whose family owned the famed Langenfeld Ice Cream company. The display is overwhelming with its massive collection of ice cream-making equipment, scoops, advertisements, antique toys and original handwritten recipes.
Head west on Highway 212, to Pierre where you're going to spend the night, and keep your eyes peeled. Along the way there's field art -- sort of ruralized public art. A row of identical red cars arranged in a field on the right just outside of town was our favourite. But there are also sculptures made from bicycle wheels and farm equipment.
Take Highway 25 south for about 55 kilometres to the town of De Smet, and visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead. One of several Ingalls homesteads, Ingalls Wilder wrote about this one in her book Little Town on the Prairie. The trees her father planted still stand. This is where she married her husband.
Head west on Highway 14, and along the way, watch out for hundreds of Chinese ring-necked pheasants, the state bird. They're tall and colourful, and they flit in and out of the grass along the shoulder, especially at dusk.
Remember to wave at the farmers. They'll all wave back.
Stop in Pierre, pronounced "Peer" by the locals who are too polite to point out your funny Canadian accent. The Best Western Ramkota is a reliable hotel, with a pool, well located on Sioux Avenue, the main drag, right next to the Missouri River.
For a real American family-owned diner where they always ask for ID -- quite charmingly, even from women of a certain age -- pop next door to the Ramkota to Marlin's. Finish the three-pound burger plus sides in the $22.99 Marlin Challenge and get it free -- and your name on the wall of fame.
The next morning, before you hit the road, grab breakfast at Pier 347 on South Pierre Street. Flavours is their middle name, offering such exotics as toasted marshmallow and tiramisu latte flavouring and cream cheese in caramel pecan and nutty mocha cream flavours.
Check out the nice little row of shops on the block including The Hollywood Shop which specializes in unique accessories and fun clerks and Prairie Pages, a lovely little book shop.
Be sure to see the Capital Complex of South Dakota, 16 buildings on 20 hectares of grounds including gardens, forests and a lake. Park behind the building and be sure to see the lakeside Second World War memorial.
It's worth taking the time to tour the State Capital building. Note the terrazzo tile floor laid by 66 Italian artists. Quite a sport is made of spotting the small blue stones in the floor, each an artisan's signature.
Also be sure to see the display of First Lady dolls in the basement, wearing miniature replicas of the gowns worn by each First Lady to the state inaugural ball.
Now you're ready to hit the trail again. Leave town heading south on Highway 83 toward the Badlands.