Standing Rock Indian Reservation: Fort Yates
Genuinely huge hills start to appear around the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, home to approximately 8,500 Sioux and spreading across the state line with a total of 2.3 million acres. For outsiders, the main draw to the reservation, besides the fantastic roadside views and the glitzy Prairie Knights casino (800/425-8277), is the original burial site of Sitting Bull in Fort Yates (pop. 184), the reservation headquarters. The unimpressive site, marked by a boulder on a dusty side road two miles west of Hwy-1806, is certainly not what one would expect for the great warrior. He is now more suitably interred near Mobridge, South Dakota.
Across from the agency headquarters is another site sacred to the Sioux, the Standing Rock from which the reservation takes its name. In the correct angle of sunlight, the stone resembles a seated woman wearing a shawl. Legend holds that the woman, jealous of her husband’s second wife, refused to move when the tribe decamped; a search party later found her, turned to stone.
South of Fort Yates, the scenery and the driving (or riding) are magnificent. Flawless blacktop winds through valleys and up ambitious, swooping hills of grazing land. You’ll be confronted by one gorgeous landscape after another, especially at dusk, when the intense Western sun illuminates the bands of sunflower fields, turns the dry and grassy hills a reddish shade of ochre, and casts angular shadows beneath the darting sandpipers, who whisk their brown-and-white forms along the roadway, buzzing the lone car on the road in an extended game of highway tag. You won’t even realize you’re in South Dakota until you notice the gold border on the highway signs.