The fastest way to drive across the northern plains is to to hit one of the Interstate highways, set the cruise at 80, and zone out for a day. Much slower, but it far more interesting is to pick one of the even numbered US highways and drive through the small towns, past the farms, fields and ranches and try to get a sense for life in the great plains. In an RV or with a camping trailer, your speed on the Interstate is not much faster than on side roads, so the time penalty is not as significant and the backroads are more attractive.
I have a background in farming in an area and time when a family could live off of a hundred twenty acres dairy farm, so I especially appreciate seeing farmers work the land, the crops that line the roads, and the small towns that support the local farms.
From east to west, I also watch the land dry out, and the dominant crops change from the corn & soybeans of Minnesota and Iowa, to the hay and wheat of the central plains, and to the ranching, grazing and dry farming of the western plains.
If lucky enough to pass by unspoiled or restored prairie, you can see the tallgrass prairies of Minnesota and Iowa give way to the mixed prairies of the eastern plains and the dry, shortgrass prairies of the western plains.
Today we toured the area south and west of the Badlands, through Interior, Senic, Red Shirt, and eventually down through the grasslands along the Nebraska – South Dakota border. We’re particularly interested in the Buffalo Gap and Oglala Grasslands and the transition from the southern Badlands.
We were chased south by the cold and bypassed some places (Wounded Knee and the Toadstool formations) that we’ll have to hit another time.