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Belle Fourche - Belle Fourche, South Dakota

Dirt Road
Larry E. Heck | Writer
Posted December 1, 2009

The Center Of The Nation

If a map of the USA, including Alaska and Hawaii, was laid flat on a table, Belle Fourche, South Dakota, would be the "closest city to middle." The exact middle is north of Belle Fourche at what country folks like to call 20th and Plum. That means it's 20 miles from nothing and plum out in the sticks.

Lone Writer was using the map from the Belle Fourche visitor's center. Since the map did not say what the starting point should be, he left the visitor center headed north and drove the noted 13 miles. Old Highway 85 was not there but he found it branching off the paved road another mile farther. Calling that graded gravel road a highway does not fit the modern-day definition.

Lone Writer then went 7.8 miles north as noted on the visitor center map. Thattook him slightly past a barn that was mentioned as a landmark on the map. He had pastures on the right, pastures on the left, and nothing but gravel road ahead. Shouldn't there be a sign, he thought.

Thinking he missed something obvious, he turned around and went past the barn again. Still nothing. At that point, it became a mission. There was no way he was going back to town without finding the Center of the Nation. He took the laptop out of its bag, connected the GPS receiver and loaded Delorme TopoUSA mapping software. DeLorme showed a Center of the Nation Roadside Park directly outside his driver's side window. "Really," he said. He put the window down. That didn't help. "Ain't no park where I'm at." He got out of the car and stepped into the roadside park as designated by the GPS on the DeLorme Map. No park bench. No signs. Not even a wide spot in the road. "Must be in another dimension," he said.

He keyed in the Lat/Lon position for Center of the Nation and pressed enter. The flag showed it on the east side of the road directly in line with the car door. It was time to stop thinking like a tourist. "I am not looking for anything prominent," he said. "I am looking for an Easter Egg."

And, there it was ... a short distance out into a pasture; just a pole sticking up out of the ground. He crawled under a barbed-wire fence to get to it. There were no signs saying not to do that. Sure enough, the USGS marker was permanently sealed into a concrete base. Obviously, the Center of the Nation's exact location is not a tourist attraction. He snapped a couple photos and headed back to town.

Belle Fourche was established as an end-of-the tracks town during the 1800s. The name is a French word for "Beautiful Fork," which referred to a fork in the river. In 1890, the railroad laid a track from the east that ended at that fork in the river. It served as a cattle shipping point for ranches in a territory that eventually became South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. By 1895, Belle Fourche had attained the rank of largest shipping point in the world with 2,500 car loads a month going east.

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