Mitchell, SD to Albert Lea, MN – The KOA in Mitchell, SD, has the best showers. I camp, clean and happy, ready to take off in the morning for the next adventure: Little House on the Prairie sites. It’s a long drive to DeSmet and I make the decision to stop at the first Laura’s Living Prairie site which, sadly, only sports five cottonwood trees that Pa planted and many nice replicas of buildings that may have been on the original homestead. The woman running the gift shop admits that the quilt samplers were made in China but says the bonnets are homemade. At least they had a real calf in the livestock barn who happily sucked on my hand for awhile.
I head into DeSmet to see something a little more real and annoy the woman there when I decide not to buy tickets for the tour. She still gives me a map so I take photos in front of a home that Pa built and head out of town to see the graves of Ma, Pa, Mary and Carrie. Mary attended the Iowa Braille & Sightsaving School before returning home to live the rest of her life with Ma and Pa. In the Little House on the Prairie books, Laura writes that the last thing Mary saw was her little sister Grace looking up at her from the chair. I wonder if it was just the time that kept sweet Mary from getting married.
Miles down the road, I cross the state line and drive into Walnut Grove, MN to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. I’m done with seeing pioneer gear in a museum and ask how to get to the dugout site where Laura recalls living on the banks of Plum Creek. I buy a few postcards, crack a joke that the curator doesn’t get, and drive a mile-and-a-half north to a farm owned by the Gordon’s. The Gordon’s didn’t know they’d bought the site of Laura’s childhood and graciously only ask a $5 donation to drive down a well-manicured gravel road to the creek. I park and two girls dressed in pioneer dresses run out of the woods on a trail. I follow the signs down through Plum Creek and up on the other side is a large sign above an indentation about 10-feet in diameter. This is the site of the dugout where the Ingalls lived, backed by prairie land and plum thickets. A large grasshopper hops onto the sign I’m reading. I take a few pictures of me, on the banks of the lovely Plum Creek. This one’s for you, Laura.
Full of two days of history, I drive back to I-90. An old man in a gas station tells me to take as many cucumbers from the box that I want and my craving for fresh veggies is satiated for the moment. He’s Norwegian and just smiles at my enthusiasm – I’m sure this is the most expressive he gets and try to remember to be more subtle if I want to fit in. I stay in the Albert Lea KOA which has the cleanest pool ever in the middle of cornfields and realize I forgot to buy dinner. The KOA store sells me a can of pork and beans which I wash down with my last Busch beer from the going-away party. It’s a long way to Washington but somehow I feel close to home.