Road trip produces windfall of quiet, nothing to mitigate but the distance – third in a series

Road trip produces windfall of quiet, nothing to mitigate but the distance – third in a series
With this new set of wings called vacation, I am traveling west on Highway 12, not quite halfway to Valentine, NE. My destination: Chadron. The only sense of drama here is the vast terrain. Views stretch to hazy vanishing points some 10 or 20 miles out.

Small towns pop up now and then, like the city of Verdel, population 59. I slow down for the two blocks Verdel encompasses.

A sign on the other side of town says Nanowi is seven miles down the road; another announces, "Entering Boyd County." Exactly seven miles later, I'm at Nanowi, population two. How does a town stay small?

By now, it's been nearly three hours on the road. Yawning, I try to tune in a local radio station but only receive variations of static.

I perk up a bit when I see a sign for Sunshine Bottom. Sunshine Bottom! I love this oxymoron. There is only one sign pointing to Sunshine Bottom on Highway 12; it's at the end of a lane leading north down a gravel road. Sunshine Bottom conjures up a would-be dismal setting, if it were not for the unexpected bright silver lining it has,or so the name implies.Shouldn''t more be made over a place with such a promising ring to it as Sunshine Bottom?

I make a mental note to visit Sunshine Bottom the next time I'm out this way. Sunshine Bottom. Must see. On Highway 12, west of Niobrara, east of Valentine.

Crossing Ponca Creek again? Prairie flowers begin to decorate the landscape: wild roses and roots of soap weed, which produce lather when you crush and rub the flower with water. Thick sprays of deep yellow daisy-like flowers called plains coreopsis add a rich hue to the otherwise tedium of green sealing the gray-blue sky.

Slowing down at Lynch, population 269, I'm struck by the dark sound of this place name, especially juxtaposed to Sunshine Bottom. I doubt I ever could live anywhere with "Lynch" as part of my address. Leaving it behind, I cross Ponca Creek. Again?

Near the junction of Highways 12 and 28, Bristow is due north; up ahead: Spencer, seven miles; and Butte, 19. I pass over Crooked Creek and enter Spencer, population 536.

Toying with the radio dial, finally, one station comes in loud and clear: KWIR 1260 AM out of Winner, about 35 miles north.

A country music song with the lyrics "Daddy's come around to Mama's way of thinking" is playing. After that, a cowboy-sounding DJ promotes a Saturday morning show called "Talk Rodeo." Now, I know I'm getting closer to the place I call "out-west."

The farther west I drive on Highway 12, the fewer people and the more pastures, prairies and plains there are, producing a rare sweet honesty.

I'm on vacation with a windfall of quiet and nothing to mitigate but the distance between here to there. To be continued …

A resident of Southeast South Dakota for more than 30 years, Paula Damon is a popular columnist, keynote speaker, and freelance writer. Her columns have won first-place national and state awards in The Federation of Press Women competitions. Most recently, Damon's writing took second place statewide in the South Dakota Press Women 2007 Competition. For more information, e-mail

� 2007 Paula Damon

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