Dakotas Labor Day Road Trip!

 

 

Out on the Road Travel Blog Inaugural Post!

Welcome to Out on the Road, a travel blog about the adventures of two queers as we travel the United States and beyond! My name is Josie, and my partner’s name is El. While both of us identify with various aspects of the LGBTQIA+ community, I want this blog to be about more than that. There isn’t enough media out there featuring queer people just existing without their queerness being the focus, and I hope that this blog can fill in at least one small hole in that space. I want to share the simple joys of our travels, and the beers we drink along the way. 

With that said, nice to meet you! We had a hell of a Labor Day weekend, as we decided to do a loop of the Dakotas as a road trip from our home in Milwaukee.

Day 1: Minneapolis

El and I have a Subaru Forester. The mileage could be better, but it’s durable and spacious, making it a great road trip car. Since the Subaru has ample open space in the back with the seats folded down, we decided to try out some car camping. We threw a foam mattress in the back, put some sheets on it, and tossed in pillows and a comforter. With our clothes and food loaded into the foot wells behind the front seats, we were all set to go!

I picked up El from work in the mid-afternoon, giving us an early start on the three-day weekend. I drove us out of the city, but El soon took over, as she prefers to be behind the wheel. She drove the rest of the way to Minneapolis, and would drive for the majority of our trip.

It was a 5hr drive, spent mostly in idle conversation and anticipation for the weekend ahead. we’d only just moved to Wisconsin, and though El grew up in Chicago going on road trips with her family, I’d never seen any of the Midwest. Wisconsin doesn’t look too different from my native New England so long as you’re in the forest, but there were moments that caught me by surprise. Sprawling open fields and surprising outcroppings of rock would give me an unexpected delight on the first leg of the journey.

Once we got to Minneapolis we went to Indeed Brewing. We passed the time trying beers, playing gin, and eating from the delicious food truck they had on site. We got the chance to try several beers, including:

      • Pinot Heartbreak Sour Red Ale: My original order, but I got the very last of the keg, which filled only about a third of my glass. I still got to enjoy the beer, though. Brewed with pinot noir grapes, it was a wonderful and delicious offering with a sour, winey taste that was surprisingly well-balanced
      • Cherry Dust Sour Red Ale: To make up for my lacking Pinot Heartbreak pour, they brought me a sample of their Cherry Dust beer, a cherry sour red ale that tasted exactly like a Manhattan Whiskey Sour (the kind with egg whites and port!)
      • Liliko’i Passion Fruit Wild Ale: El’s order, a beautiful beer that really brought out the passion fruit flavor, something that I’ve seen attempted before but never experienced so well executed.

The beer at Indeed was, as expected, wonderful, but the vibe was even better. We got to try some amazing beers while having fun conversation with some locals and enjoying our hands of gin. El drank most of the beer – as would become our default, I went easy so that I could balance out her driving all day by DD’ing in the evening. After we had finished, we made our way to our “campsite”: A Walmart parking lot.

We knew two things going into the trip: we had a car that was large enough to sleep in, and we wanted it to be as cheap a trip as possible. To that end, El suggested we could sleep in Walmart parking lots. I googled them ahead of time and found that Walmart allows for people to stay overnight, as they enjoy the business of road trippers, but not all Walmarts keep to this policy. For the sake of safety and my anxiety, I used this website to find the Walmarts on our route that we could sleep at. We drove to one just outside Minneapolis and snuggled up in the back of the Subaru. I was surprised at how well we slept there, but it had been quite a long day.

Day 2: Fargo and Bismarck

We were up with the sun for our drive to Fargo, ND. It was only ~4hrs from Minneapolis, making for an easy drive for the morning. On the way, we stopped at the Sheyenne National Grassland (mostly to kill time before the breweries opened!). This afforded me my first glimpse of what would dominate the rest of the trip: sprawling fields, dusty roads, and small towns at crossroads. While the grasslands themselves were mostly farmland and pasture, they were still beautiful, and we got to see a Prairie Chicken!

We’d originally planned to stop for lunch at a brewery that served food, but we found Drekker while searching, and it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. We were not disappointed: it had an old-school brewery warehouse decor, a family-friendly vibe, and their fermenters were right where you could see them nearby. Their mild Viking theme and cool label art helped to give them a unique identity. They even had a delightful patio, where we relaxed and read a bit while enjoying our beers:

      • Slang Du Jour – Sfogliatelle Sour: We were drawn to this beer by the candied lemons listed in its ingredients, and were not disappointed! It was a mellow, refreshingly sweet beer that really hit the spot for me.
      • Sticky Digits Porter: El’s beer, which is to be expected – she loves dark desert beers! It was an incredible beer, amazingly sweet but well balanced. It really did taste like a s’more. If they’d had cans of it on hand, we’d have bought some for back home. We’ll definitely keep an eye out for it in the future!

Once the beer was gone, we continued on our way with me behind the wheel, as El had finished both our beers and I was filling my road-trip role of Designated Driver. El fell asleep listening to my music, giving me some time alone with my thoughts. I found myself amazed by the beauty of North Dakota. Being from New England, I had never seen prairies, or really understood what the term meant. It was a sort of beauty that I’d never seen before – I hadn’t even imagined a place could look like North Dakota. It was truly stunning to see the big open sky, the rolling prairies, the endless fields unfold before me. I found the wheat and cornfields beautiful in their own ways, but nothing on that drive could beat the sunflowers. We drove past several fields of blooming sunflowers that were vibrant and yellow, and often stretched further than I could see.

Pictures can’t do places like this justice. The beauty is in the scale of it. I’d seen photos of the Great Plains, but had never understood how the size and breadth of the landscape added to its serene beauty. With the calming music and El dozing beside me, it was a moment of real contentment.

El woke up when we stopped for gas in Jamestown, and we saw a peculiar sign proclaiming a museum where we could see live buffalo. Since I’d never seen one, we decided to follow the signs to a roadside attraction we hadn’t been expecting to stop at. It was a recreation of a frontier town, with a treasure trove of local history, memorabilia, and artifacts. Not only did I get to see my first wild buffalo, but they also had largest buffalo statue in the world! It was a quick and kitschy detour, but it was a fun time.

El took over driving until we reached Bismarck. We had been planning to try some “stealth camping” off the side of a random country road, but were scared of doing it in the dark (since it would be hard to tell if we were on private property), and the overcast skies were bringing on the evening more quickly. We settled on a cheap campground, where we made a little fire and ate pizza, then slept happily in the back of the Subaru again.

Day 3: The Enchanted Highway and The Badlands

We had quite a day ahead of us. Our route took us on a loop to the west side of North Dakota to see something called “The Enchanted Highway”, and then south to Badlands National Park. However, Badlands explicitly prohibits overnight parking without paying, so we would have to drive all the way through South Dakota to Sioux Falls to find a place to sleep. This would add up to nearly 10hrs of driving in the day, so we got going after a quick breakfast.

El, as always, drove the entire way. The morning was foggy, lending an air of mystery to our drive. We were amazed at the way the fog made distant trees look foreboding, tumbledown structures along the highway ominous, and fields of blooming sunflowers quietly haunting.

Eventually, we came close to our destination: North Dakota’s Enchanted Highway, a stretch of road between Gladstone and Regent ornamented with massive scrap metal sculptures. The first of these sculptures gave us an unexpected greeting, emerging from the fog before we even knew to look for it. “Geese in Flight” looked to us like the eye of god against the overcast sky, giving us some serious Gatsby vibes.

From there we continued down the Enchanted Highway, seeing some of the other wonderful sculptures along the way. The giant grasshopper and leaping deer were our other favorites, but none had as profound an affect on us as the Geese in Flight did.

After the Enchanted highway, we booked it down to Badlands National Park. As we went south, the heat of the day burned away the overcast skies, and the greenery began to fade as we came into drier prairies. I was again struck by the stark beauty of the Dakotas. I had never seen a road stretch away from the horizon, and the clouds felt too close without trees, which led to a strange sense of claustrophobia in the wide open land. Perspective was completely warped in the flatness, making it hard for us to determine the size of things relative to their distance. Because of this, the upthrusts of stone were surprising and beautiful, and often looked more like distant lonely mountains than nearby hills.

The beauty of wild places has always been inspirational to me, and I was surprised at how differently I felt about these wild spaces than about those in New England. There, nature feels inevitable. Every town and city, even Boston, is carved out of a sprawling forest. I grew up in the woods, and the woods will push their way back into whatever space you cut them away from. Eventually, when there are no people to keep away the forests, and they will take back what we’ve borrowed. There’s a power in that energy, and it’s humbling and beautiful to see.

The Great Plains, on the other hand, feel persistent.The cornfields that spread across them can’t take away from the big-sky beauty, the stark contrast of a tree standing sentinel over a field, or a harsh upthrust of rock. A field of sunflowers gives a splash of intense color that never feels out of place. The prairies are what they are, and there is little that can be done about that. They may be slower to subsume the evidence of humans than the forests would be, but they don’t need to. They are always themselves, and that is just as humbling and beautiful as the forests.

Nothing better illustrates this than Badlands National Park. To my memory, this was my first National Park, and it was quite the introduction. If you’ve never been to the Badlands, take this simple advice: Go. I can tell you that it was humbling to stand at the edge of those cliffs and look out over the plains. I can talk about the shocking array of colors highlighted in the striations, and the way that seeing the history of our planet illustrated in such a way resonated with something deep inside of me. I can show you stunning pictures and explain how small I suddenly understood myself to be, and how fleeting. But that won’t show you what the Badlands were like, not really. You need to go to the Badlands. You need to see beauty like that, harsh and craggy and deep. It’s amazing, and I’m so happy I got to share the experience with El.

We also managed to grab a set of National Parks playing cards and a Badlands fridge magnet – hopefully the start of a collection, but at least a good piece of memorabilia from the trip. No matter how humbling the experience, souvenirs are always fun. 

When we were done at the National Park, we made our way from the Badlands to Sioux Falls. Along the way, I read to El. We were trying to find engaging ways to interact after so long in the car, and it worked wonderfully. I would recommend it to anyone thinking of a road trip. Do voices. It’s fun.

We also found a name for the Subaru: Dakota. It seemed only appropriate for the car’s inaugural (with us, at least) road trip. If you’re curious, Dakota is fine with any pronouns

We reached Sioux Falls around 9pm, and paid a visit to Remedy Brewing Company. It was a fun brewery with a comfortable atmosphere and interesting beers:

      • Queen Bee Imperial Honey Cream Ale: El’s order, a simple and sweet beer that was better cold than it was when it was warm, but still pleasant and unique to sip on after such a long day.
      • Hover Beans White Stout: My order, a sweet and well-balanced white stout that felt soothing, even if the flavor didn’t stand out as particularly special.

All in all, it was a nice place to unwind after a long day of driving, and break out our brand new playing cards! Their beer was good, but not phenomenal. If you’re passing through Sioux Falls, I would recommend checking them out, but not to go out of your way for it.

We slept in another Walmart parking lot that night, and this time we got a bit of a show. A drunken couple decided to have a massive screaming match over who was cheating on who at around 3am in the parking lot. It woke us up, and El and I had an interesting shared experience of first checking in with to make sure the other was okay, and then realizing that we both found the egregious and repetitive nature of the argument entertaining. Luckily, the police came and diffused the situation before it got worse and crossed out of the “entertaining” category. It felt like a true Walmart camping experience, and we were especially happy that the cops didn’t kick us out when they came through to get the couple to leave.

Day 4: Homeward Bound and Rochester

This was my first long road trip, and I’d always heard that the way home isn’t very fun. Our loop through both Dakotas was meant to alleviate this, and it helped quite a bit. On our way home, we stopped in Rochester, MN around noon for a brunch at Forager Brewery.

Neither of us had been to Forager, and we were surprised at how great it was. All of the beers we had were unique, well-balanced, and overall incredible. We tried three of them, and all of them were delicious:

      • Preserved Lemon Gose: My order, an echoing of the beer I had at Drekker but somehow better executed. Their website described it as tasting like yellow Gatorade, and that did not do it justice. It was tart yet sweet, drinkable, and expertly brought out the flavors it was looking to impart.
      • Daydreaming Blend #5: El’s first order, a light beer that did an amazing job of balancing its wild-yeast funk with a delicate tartness and smooth flavor.
      • Nap Time Pasty Stout: El’s second order, another dark desert beer to rival our excitement for Drekker’s Sticky Fingers. This one was based on rocky road ice cream, with three different types of nuts in its brew alongside the coffee and chocolate, lending a depth and nuttiness to the beer that was satisfyingly unique. 

The beer wasn’t the only amazing thing about Forager, though. The food was tasty and filling, and complemented their beer nicely. The aesthetic of the brewery was eclectic and wonderful – the sort of thing that a pair of lesbians might want their future home to look like, but with the space to actually pull it off and the advantage that no one has to actually live there. The decor worked extremely well for a brewery, even if in our hearts we knew we couldn’t replicate it for ourselves. It did give us some cool decorating ideas to look forward to, though! They also had an entire wall full of all their beer labels, which feature amazing and unique art that was both entertaining and interesting to look at. Overall, I would highly recommend Forager. If you’re passing through Rochester and don’t stop by, you’re missing a massive opportunity you simply should not pass up.

The rest of the trip was a drive back to Milwaukee, split between El and I, that had to contend with Labor Day traffic. We still got home in the early evening, giving us plenty of time to settle in and unwind from our massive trek. Overall, if Google Maps can be trusted, we traveled 2025 miles!

At the end of our trips, El and I discuss and rank our favorite breweries that we visited. I’ll provide those rankings for you here, so that you can prioritize your own road trips accordingly:

  1. Forager: Far and away the best new brewery we visited. I can’t recommend them enough.
  2. Drekker: Not quite unique enough to earn that #1 spot, but still a great brewery. You should check them out if you’re passing through Fargo.
  3. Remedy: It wasn’t very special, but their beers were good, their decor was comfortable, and their staff friendly. If you’re in Sioux Falls, pay them a visit!

Note: Indeed, you know you’re great. If you go to Minneapolis and don’t go to Indeed, did you really go to Minneapolis? It felt rude to even include them on the above list, so take that as a glowing recommendation all on its own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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