My general enjoyment of the day was deeply harmed by the fact that early this morning I had a gout attack, and throughout the day my right foot has been in considerable pain, a pain that was probably not lessened by the fact that I managed to drive for about 500 miles between Bismarck, North Dakota and Rapid City, South Dakota through Miles City Montana and various other towns in order to complete a visit to all 50 states, which has now been accomplished. As might well be imagined, it has been a bit of a challenge to write. Nonetheless, the fate of my poor foot is not unconnected with the problem that I saw over and over again while driving today through western North Dakota, eastern Montana, a tiny sliver of Wyoming, and western South Dakota. These are thirsty lands, and their thirst is obvious in several ways.
Perhaps most poignant among these is the way that one crosses over bridges where one can see a great many rivers which are running nearly dry, or may even be completely so. Over and over again it was possible to see rivers and lakes show sandbars and even allow cows to cross the rivers easily and drink up what little water remains in them. The fields themselves were frequently dry, and evidence of this has been evident with corn and wheat that barely rises from the ground because it hasn’t had enough water. Only the hay is growing well, and round and square bales of hay can be found all over, being harvested early because of the dry weather.
Indeed, the only time one can see very green grass in these parts is when something has been irrigated. The stark difference between irrigation and non-irrigated yellow and brown grass is certainly stark and dramatic. One wonders just how much longer the irrigation can go on for. Perhaps people hope that the rains will return again soon, but with aquifers and rivers and reservoirs drying up, one wonders how much water is left.
Besides the look at the water, the trip itself proved interesting in showing some rough trading towns in southern Montana and western South Dakota. The case of Belle Fourche is instructive. Outside of the town there are a lot of dingy mobile homes and junkyards, but once one enters into the city one finds a beautiful town that lives up to its name of “beautiful fork.” We were in the city because we had been routed there, but before coming I found that there was a monument to the town being the geographic center of the United States. This monument had a lot to offer, and though I was not well enough to do much walking around there was still plenty to see.