South of Pierre, US-83 crosses the Missouri River, then takes you into Fort Pierre (pop. 2,078). It’s not much now, but it has a rich history. As far back as 1832, it was known as Fort Pierre Chouteau, an American Fur Company trading post, and before that it was Ree and Arikara indigenous lands. Located at the mouth of the Bad (Teton) River, Fort Pierre once was a thriving port, but it is better known as the site where Joseph La Framboise, a fur trader, stopped and erected a driftwood shelter out of necessity, establishing the area’s first nonnative settlement.
Immediately south of Fort Pierre, typical South Dakota topography resumes: rolling black and green hills and twisting creek beds beneath sharp vertical drops of million-year-old geology. Spreading along both sides of US-83, the 116,000 acres of the Fort Pierre National Grassland are home to deer, rattlesnakes, antelope, and the most extensive prairie dog towns in the region.
One of the duller stretches of US-83 is this 20-mile leg west along the mind-numbing I-90 artery between the Fort Pierre grasslands and Murdo (pop. 488). Once a stop on the legendary Texas Cattle Trail and also used by stagecoaches, the town was named for cattle baron Murdo McKenzie, who managed ranches that pushed through some 20,000 head of cattle a year. Today, the town of Murdo still lives on the cattle industry.
The one place that’s definitely worth a stop is smack-dab at the diesel-blue polluted confluence of US-83 and I-90, where nostalgists will find the Pioneer Auto Show (605/669-2691, daily, $11.50 adults), a 10-acre, 42-building collection of over 275 antique cars, with tons of other great items. There’s a rare 1903 Ford Model A, a nifty White Motorhome from 1921, one of the earliest RVs, and the General Lee muscle car from TV’s Dukes of Hazzard. Star of the show: Elvis Presley’s 1976 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide 1200 motorcycle. This is pure Americana.
The Pioneer Auto Show also has a good 1950s-style ersatz diner. The public swimming pool up the hill from the Pioneer will round off your perfectly Middle American Murdo experience.