December 19, 2008
A Tranquil Place: Kadoka, SD
I wrote this while on my trip across the country this summer. This is one of the many places I stopped and found interesting.
Friday the 13th (June 2008)
Kadoka, South Dakota is a lovely little town of about 500 people. About 1 mile off Interstate 90 and 20 miles east of Badlands National Park, Kadoka is a popular place for weary travels to spend the night. The main drag in the town is a unconventionally wide street. It was desolate at this hour in the morning but I could tell that is the hub of all social interaction for the residents. It has a grocery store, bank, post office, hardware store and a blue water tower which proudly displays the word “KADOKA” in flat black paint. Most other buildings are vacant or boarded up and resembled 1950’s construction. To be honest, it reminded me of the town in Back to the Future.
I stumble into the grocery store confused by the outdated advertisements and canned goods stocked on the shelf. There were hardly any fresh goods like fruit or meat. I had to check the date on my watch to see what time period I teleported to. In a brief conversation with the grocery store owner, I found that most people are employed by the state- meaning the school district or road construction- or ranchers. I went on to tell him that I was impressed by the laid back lifestyle that he led and was eager to see the Badlands.
“Badlands is about 20 miles down interstate 90, right?” I asked just to keep the conversation going.
“Yep. The weather is great for it… Come back and visit us sometime,” He said for lack of anything else to say.
I nodded and headed out the door.
As I was hopping into the truck, the shop owner came scurrying out, “About 14 miles south of town on 71, there is this cross made out of scrap iron and steel. Take a left when you see a sign for Swift Horse Ranch. It is pretty neat. Some old farmer built it. I know it is out of the way but take a look.”
“Thanks. I will check it out,” I eagerly announced. I always love when I get the inside scoop on a town and the “secret” things to do that tourists don’t know about. I left Kadoka happy that morning with a 45 minute run under my belt, hearty breakfast, stockpile of fresh rations, and some insider knowledge on the area.
Swift Horse Ranch Road is a hardly-maintained, windy dirt road peppered with cattle guards (rows of steel bars largely spaced on the ground so cattle cannot escape). On the grass next to the entrance to the road are two or three rusted metal sculptures about the size of a person (I cannot recall what they were, possibly some type of abstract art that I am to technical minded to discern). The discrete wooden sign simply states “Swift Horse Ranch Road” without any discussion of the cross. I guess you have to know what you are looking for. As miles two and three churned on the odometer and the road became riddled with larger roads and bigger holes, I grew skeptical of this so called cross. As soon as I started to look for a place to turn around I saw the cross on a grassy hill in the distance. I stopped to take a few pics and continued on.
The road, rocky and rough, winded around to the backside of the hill where it abruptly climbed. I had to switch into 4-wheel drive to climb it but it was worth it. I was able to park right next to the cross. The cross stood over 50 feet tall and was constructed out of scrap metal. It was not solid cross rather just rusted pieces of metal welded together leaving large gaps in between for the suns rays to shine through. Upon further inspection of the cross, I was able to determine the origin or each piece- engines, tractor frame, I-beams, steel rods, pipes, wheels and countless other things. The guest book indicated that only about 9 people have been there in the last month. I felt like I was in an elite group.