Journey to the Center of the Nation

Thursday, I took a field trip to the center of the nation.

Don’t worry, it wasn’t far. Only about an hour from home. That stop was the beginning of a seven-hour day that would take me on a giant loop through the northern Black Hills, from Belle Fourche to Spearfish to Lead and Deadwood before finally returning home—all in the name of work.

Last summer, I came up with an idea for a photo series involving mystery spots around the region for one of our online publications. It kinda became my baby. Every Monday I posted a cryptic photo with a subtle clue; those were shared on social media and we encouraged people to guess the spot. Then on Friday, I’d post the answer, supplying a little background/history. Here’s a sample post and reveal.

The series was a lot of fun, but honestly, I was winging it. Scrambling for places to feature, unsure where to go next. Sometimes, I wouldn’t know on Sunday what I was going to post on Monday. I relied on phone camera photos a couple of times.

After encouragement from my coworkers, I decided to do a new series this summer. I’m renaming it Mystery Monday and planning it out in advance. Not only that, but I’m going to develop content clusters around each post. These are interlinked web pages built around a singular topic and connected to several related but more narrowly focused pages, all in an effort to position yourself as a subject authority and therefore improve your SEO rankings.

Yesterday’s venture involved prep work for this project. Armed with my Nikon, I hit the road at 9:00. My first stop was the aforementioned Geographic Center of the Nation monument in Belle Fourche, which—spoiler alert!—will be one of the mystery spots. I’ll build supporting content, such as the agricultural history of Belle Fourche, how former Deadwood lawman Seth Bullock convinced the railroad to build a depot in town, and so forth and so on.

I had never visited the monument before, and it totally exceeded expectations. How cool is it that the very center of the U.S. is practically in my backyard?! Plus, it was great to get out of the house for a day. I’ve been cooped up for four weeks now with little variety.

I’m really excited about the project, and I managed to visit and photograph five separate locations all over the northern Hills. I don’t want to give them all away, but another highlight was the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery in Spearfish.

Again, I’ve never been. Which is kind of amazing! It’s more than just a fish hatchery; it’s a collection of historic homes, museums, sculptures, a railroad car, and a boat, all spread over acres of immaculately landscaped grounds.

Tara was a little disappointed I got to see these sights without her, but I promised we would do a repeat of this exact adventure together next time. It was all work-related, I assured her.

(And yes, I do have the coolest job ever.)


I still had places to go and sights to see, so I didn’t linger anyway. Plus, all the buildings were closed and tours suspended during this pandemic.

Stupid pandemic.

I soon forgot about the virus as I made my way through Spearfish Canyon on the way to Lead and Deadwood. Had the moonroof open, rock ‘n roll blaring, and watched some impressive storm clouds building.



By the time I reached Lead, it was raining, hailing, and snowing. All at once. As much as I love snow, I’m always excited when thunderstorm season fires up around here. Driving home on the interstate, there was lightning flashing to the south. Right after I spotted it, Tara texted me to let me know she heard thunder.

“I know,” I told her. “I’m watching the storm move over you right now.”


Monday’s my birthday. I almost always take a PTO day but had resigned myself to just working this year. Well, I un-resigned myself once I saw the forecast (sunshine and 70s) and Tara mentioned spending the day in the backyard. I’m planning an early hike in the Black Hills, then we’ll spend the afternoon out back day drinking, playing corn hole, and grilling steaks.

It appears we might actually hit 80º next week, too. I’m thinking we might finally be done with snow for the season. Wouldn’t bet my life on it, though.

Or even $10…


29 thoughts on “Journey to the Center of the Nation

  1. Looks like an interesting place to visit, although I don’t get how it’s the geographic center of the nation. Is that calculation including HI and AL? Your birthday plans sound perfect. Enjoy your day.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Happy Pre-birthday, Mark!

    And trust me, I feel the same as you…I get cravings to get out of my apartment too! In fact, I get out at least every other day or even everyday for about an hour or so. But if I had a car (like you) I’d be getting out much more and taking drives, just for a change of scenery. With a car, you don’t have to worry about social distancing.

    What a great outing you had. Love that train and train station.

    And that last photo is stunning!

    Have a super weekend, my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Funny, because that one was taken through the windshield with my phone while driving, as opposed to all the other carefully constructed Nikon shots, lol! But I agree: it’s pretty dramatic. I’ve been tempted to start up an Instagram account with just clouds and storms.

      Hope you have a great weekend, too!


  3. Man, those storm cloud pics, that red dead plant (not redemption) in the foreground… Awesome. Fun game. Yes, best job ever. You woulda had me at driving around blaring rock ‘n roll. Seeing old historic stuff is gravy. Happy early birthday! Sounds like it will be a day well spent.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Huh. I’da gone with Nebraska…
    You have a very cool job, yep!
    I’d bet $100 on your weather turning cold again, but I have missed a lot of work so betting isn’t really fiscally responsible right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, maybe save your money for more of a sure thing. Snow in May certainly isn’t out of the question here!

      Nebraska, the phenomenal and stark Springsteen album? Or Nebraska, the cornhusker state?


  5. I don’t remember ever reading about the geographic center of the US, but we did consider going to the spot where you can stand in four states at once. Then figured it wasn’t worth driving out of our way! However, that ‘fish’ place looks totally worth a drive.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The Four Corners monument is a little off the beaten path and in and of itself is just ok, but if you are there, you are surrounded by some of this countries greatest scenery in some of its greatest states.


  6. I always take a PTO on my birthday, too! A couple years ago my b-day fell on a Thursday and I thought, “I’ll just work on my b-day and take Friday off so I can have a 3-day belated birthday weekend. Big mistake. It just didn’t feel as special. Also, working on my birthday stank. Anyway, happy birthday tomorrow and enjoy your day drinking. It always puts me to sleep!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Good plan. I find I’m one of the few teachers at school who regularly takes her birthday off. I find that surprising. There are many times during the school year when I’m having a particularly bad day and utter to whomever is in hearing distance, “Days like this are why I always take my birthday off.”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. When I managed an inside sales team, I asked my boss if we could give everybody their birthday off with pay. He shot the idea down, saying corporate would never approve. My response was, corporate never has to know. Alas, his answer was still no. I never could understand that.


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