My main hobby right now involves finding and exploring all of the towns in South Dakota whenever I have some free time and the weather is agreeable. Initially it was a way to satisfy my curiosity about small towns that I had never visited but it has grown now into a quest to not only visit every town that is, but also visit almost every town that was as well.
This started out a few years ago as I was driving home to visit my family on the 4th of July. I’m originally from a small South Dakota town and live in a different small South Dakota town and the drives between the two gets kind of dull at times with the familiar plains as the only scenery. This one day I was taking my time and happened to notice a sign for a town off the beaten that I had seen countless times but this time I had the idea to actually go over there and take a look around. It was that visit that led to a few more and then eventually to my current quest.
There are a ton of small towns in this state that I had never heard of much less visited and many are so remote from everything else that I wonder how they survive. A few towns are right near bigger cities but are hidden by the suburban sprawl. And then there are the gems that are gone but not completely wiped off the map that have pushed me to find older maps and seek them out for future travels.
There are a number of small towns that used to exist solely because the railroad was there but if the tracks were removed, those towns have likely dissolved in more was than one. However, that scar from that railroad is usually still there and you can look at online maps to find places you could never find on the road. Many towns that no longer show their names still have streets and foundations to show you where they still mark the land.
Another resource I tap into is just your basic paper map but for this the typical gas station paper map won’t due. Instead, I have a map from the early 1900’s that shows towns, stagecoach stops, junctions, and trading posts that used to exist all across the state. I go over that in addition to the online maps to try and see what might still be there and also how to drive there in the car. The old map has no roads, only railroads, and the online map will show you roads, but not what surface they are made up of.
Someone once from a local podcast was tipped off by my sister and asked if I wanted to record a session about these travels but after I mentioned that it was my hobby and I wasn’t really going to to do anything with the information, they didn’t inquire any further on it.
I keep a log of the journey, take pictures of the places that interest me, and collect maps to help me figure out where I am going along the way. I share with my friends and family the pictures I take and the list of places I have gone but I don’t see myself writing a book about this, my mind has no ability to focus on such an endeavor. However, my log does have some notes about the places I go to and, when I can, I try to get the log stamped by the local Post Offices as a kind of “passport”. Although it would be great to get this done in every town, not all of them have Post Offices and now with the current federal rules, they are only open for a short time in the morning.
The driving around lets me see new areas and offers a kind of mediation and a time to think over what is going on. I hardly ever have the radio on and except for checking the time or a map, I don’t have my phone out either. It is my escape and my salvation all rolled into one big adventure.
There is a lot of land to cover so I expect this to take a few years to complete but when I get close to that goal, hopefully I will find another hobby just as exciting to explore as well.