Fields of corn, wheat, as far as the eye can see, split into plots by a grid of perfectly straight roads and trails. After some one hundred kilometers, we head west and cross the border into South Dakota. The afternoon comes to an end and we start looking for a place to spend the night. The map signals a small state park by a lake, halfway between De Smet and Lake Preston.
At the reception desk, the Park Ranger turns us around: “Do you have a reservation? I’m afraid we’re full.”
A few kilometers back, we remember having noticed a small sign pointing towards a sandy trail: Marten’s campground.
The campground sits on a narrow strip of land, trapped between Lake Thompson and Lake Henry. It’s flat, treeless, not welcoming at first sight. A single low building acts as a reception desk and washrooms.
“I don’t think there’s anybody there.”
As we approach the door marked “Office”, a tall guy walks towards us. He introduces himself: Mike. He explains that Clint, the boss, is running errands in town and that anyway, even when he’s around, he’s never in the office. “You should go and see Shirlee, she’ll be able to help.”
Shirlee, late fifties, cigarette in mouth, casually hangs out in front of a white caravan. “Yeah, I’ll call Margaret, gimme a minute,” she says.
One phone call later, everything’s in order. We’re being shown a patch of grass nearby. We can pitch the tent there, and we’ll just have to give Clint a twenty when he shows up. Deal.
Half an hour later, people start gathering around Shirlee’s caravan. Pickup trucks, golf carts, flushed faces, Buds in hand. Shirlee’s husband, Dan, is back from fishing. He lights the barbecue and waves his arm at us. We’re invited. Everybody is.
A few hours later, we’re all sitting around the campfire, drinking, laughing and telling stories just like old friends. Dan and Shirlee, their son Jamie, his son Alex, Wiggs and Karen, Mike and Snoop, Clint, Margaret and the others. It’s a big, open family where everybody’s welcome, a shelter for old and new friends where nobody’s a stranger, where everybody’s always happy to make some room around the fire.
Hitting the road two days later after warm hugs, watching the Marten’s Campground sign disappear in our rearview mirrors, we understand what they come to find in this little corner of South Dakota grassland. Once again, we say goodbye to some friends, and more than ever, we’re eager to find out what the future holds.
CEO & Founder Totem Moto Tours