Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Chamberlain, South Dakota

We headed north west toward Chamberlain following I-90 and enjoyed watching the landscape continue to change.
This is still farm country but trees are becoming fewer. The horizon seems to go on forever, like looking out into the ocean.

The prairie opened up in front of us all the way to the horizon.
Just before Oacoma we went under an overpass and crested a small hill.....the Missouri was right in front of us and beyond it nothing but prairie as far as the eye could see.
Oacoma is our home for the next 4 nights and we can't wait to explore.
The Lewis and Clark Visitor Center on I-90 just before Oacoma is a great place to learn about this region of the river. The center has a small but interesting Lewis and Clark exhibit. The center of the building has a replica of the Corps Keel boat built into it. The stairs to the second floor go right through the boat leading to an observation deck. The building is built on a bluff overlooking the river. The views out over the river valley are spectacular.

Keel Boat Staircase at the Oacoma Visitor Center
If you have ever driven I-90 through South Dakota this is the rest area where the giant Indian statue lives. The 50 foot tall  statue crafted from stainless steels is called Dignity. It was created by sculptor Dale Lamphere to honor the "courage, perserverance and wisdom of the Lakota and Dakota culture in South Dakota".

The 50 foot tall Dignity statue overlooks the Missouri River Valley.
Closeup of Dignity's shawl. The star pattern became a favorite of Lakota Sioux quilters.
Lewis and Clark reached this part of the Missouri on September 16-18th 1804.
Meriwether Lewis enjoyed this view over the river valley. He wrote:

"I do not think I exaggerate when I estimate the number of Buffalo which could be comprehended at one view to amount to 3000."
The Corps hunted bison, elk, deer and pelicans here. Records describe an all day hunt to capture a live prairie dog to send back to Washington. Journal entries talk about the entire group except one guard digging holes 6 feet deep without success then trying to flush the "barking squirrels" out by pouring water in their holes. It sounds more like a Lucy and Ethyl episode than a scientific experiment as they wrote of emptying barrels of water into the holes. Their efforts were eventually successful. By the end of that day a single prairie dog had been captured alive. William Clark wrote:

"The village of those little dogs is under the ground a conisiderable distance.   we dig under 6 feet thro rich hard clay without getting to their Lodges.   Some of their wholes we put in 5 barrels of water without driving them out, we caught one by the water forceing him out.   ther mouth resembles the rabit, head longer, legs short & toe nails long   ther tail like a g Squirel which they Shake and make chattering noise   ther eyes like a dog, their colour is Gray and Skin contains Soft fur"

He was kept as a pet through the Winter and sent back to Washington on the keel boat in the Spring of 1805 along with other specimens and records from the captains. He found a home at the Peale Museum in Philadelphia as part of the Lewis and Clark exhibit where he lived for several years.

White pelican at the Big bend Dam.

September 20-21, 1804
The expedition made camp on a sandbar at the side of a river. During the night the sand beneath them started to give away as the sandbar and riverbank disintegrated into the water. Alerted by the night guard Captain Clark quickly summoned all hands to push the boats out into the river saving the pirogues which would have been sunk. The ever shifting banks of the Missouri were a constant source of concern.
West of Oacoma is the Missouri Rivers "Big Bend". The bend is the largest of the horseshoes the explorers documented. They measured 2000 yards by land across the neck of the bend. The river route was 30 miles.
There is a dam now 7 miles upstream from the Big Bend. It is appropriately called Big Bend Dam and is the 3rd of 6 mainstem dams that we will see on the Upper Missouri River. We are glad to have been able to visit this modern marvel, especially since the white pelicans described by Meriwether Lewis still fish this part of the river. We drove through portions of the Crow Creek Reservation to get there, enjoying beautiful river views along the way.

View of the Missouri River from the Crow Creek Reservation

Big Bend Dam
River mile 947
33573 North Shore Rd
Chamberlain, South Dakota

Lewis and Clark Interpretive and Keelboat Center
I-90 between exits 263 and 265
Chamberlain, South Dakota


  1. That's one of my favorite parts of the country, Bonnie. It seems like you can see forever.

  2. We did enjoy the openness of it. The horizon draws your eyes.