Cross-Country Trip Day 7: Murdo to La Crosse

After free breakfast at the hotel (where a local man complained to us about the campaign to rename South Dakota’s highest mountain from Harney Peak, named for a general who led massacres of the Sioux, to the original Lakota name - Hinhan Kaga), we started out early for a 7-hour drive to get across the rest of SD and all of Minnesota.

In South Dakota and Minnesota, you are truly in the Great Plains. The land is largely flat or has gentle hills, and is mostly used for cattle, or increasingly for agriculture as you get further east. It continued to be hot, so we went windows up and AC blasting, driving fast to get through the region. I have to say, I took very few photos on this day as the landscape is both monotonous and difficult to capture in a shot.

Two points of interest along the way - antelope here and there, and yellow flowers everywhere.

yellow sweetclover

This sustainable agriculture website tells me that the flowers were yellow sweetclover, a plant that is quite good for the soil and is used as a cover crop.

The antelope took us by surprise - “What was that? Like a deer with straight antlers and a white belly. Wait, are there still antelope living in the US?” We didn’t manage to capture any photos as them since they tended to be grazing at least a couple hundred feet from the highway, but they were very cool to see.

We stopped for lunch in Sioux Falls, SD - the largest city in SD, and apparently home to some actual cultural diversity! We ate at an Indian restaurant that had a lunch buffet, which, despite its less-than-promising location in a strip mall, was decent and seemed to be doing well for itself. Ditto to a local coffee shop where we found some strong coffee and both soy and almond milk on offer.

Coffea coffee shop in Sioux Falls

We chose to drive through Sioux Falls to get more of a feel for the place on our way back to the highway and found that it does, in fact, have several Vietnamese restaurants (pho!), as Google Maps had told us, but that the city itself feels less like a city and more like a large Attleboro, Massachusetts. Still, much better than Rapid City.

We got some nice views of the big sky as we drove through southern Minnesota, including some dramatic rain clouds:

puffy clouds in Minnesota

storm clouds in Minnesota

storm clouds in Minnesota

Toward the end of the day, as we approached the Wisconsin border, the landscape suddenly began to change. There were trees! And hills! And cliffs! And then, the Mississippi River!

Mississippi River at La Crosse, WI

The river is broken up by several large islands by La Crosse, so the crossing is like going across several large rivers rather than one huge river. Everything around it was very green and lush, a feeling enhanced by the humid air that evening.

The highway actually runs to the north of La Crosse so the roadside hotels are actually in the town of Onalaska, WI. We stayed in the Microtel there, which is a chain owned by Wyndham and aimed at business travelers. Small room, but clean and modern with good internet, and you’re not paying for the extra frills like a pool.

We perused Yelp and found a number of good-looking restaurants in La Crosse, only to discover that they were almost all closed because it was Sunday. Several restaurants were closed all day Sunday, and others closed early on Sundays. Not the sort of city we’re used to.

In the end we found a local bar/restaurant - Nutbush City Limits, inexplicably named after a Tina Turner song - and had some good old bar food for dinner and a recommended beer from La Crosse’s own Pearl St Brewery.

Nutbush City Limits bar Photo credit: Nutbush City Limits' Facebook page

The beer was quite good, food was decent, and one more nice thing - beer in the middle of the country, in a small town or city, is CHEAP compared to the coastal cities we’re used to.

We were starting to get tired of being on the road and were feeling a bit worn out, but the prospect of arriving in Chicago the next night was exciting, especially knowing we would be staying in a nice-looking Airbnb with our own living room, kitchen, etc., and that we’d be there for two nights. Almost like settling down!