OUTDOORS: Journey concludes at POI ... maybe
• EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last of two columns about Mike Leggett’s search for the North American Pole of Inaccessibility.
KYLE, S.D. — I’m accustomed to the looks now — indulgent, unfailingly polite but always fighting off a scoff and a laugh, as if I’ve arrived with a horn growing right out of my forehead.
“The what?” they ask.
“The North American Pole of Inaccessibility,” I say. “I’m looking for it. I found it by accident on the Internet, and I thought it would be a neat place to walk to. It’s supposed to be near here.”
I’m 1,700 miles from home, deep in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home of the Oglala Lakota. Kyle is, quite literally, a census-designated place of maybe 900 souls in the southwest corner of South Dakota.
I’m standing in the historical center at Oglala Lakota College, trying to explain why I’ve come so far to locate a place that is, technically speaking, the spot in North America that’s farthest from any coastline on the continent.
This is not unique in the world. There are similar poles on each continent. Even the oceans have them.
The term “inaccessible” was challenging to me. Instead of driving to Canada to fish, I hijacked my longtime friend Killis LaGrone, who packed some clothes and his GPS unit and piled into the truck. Killis is good for a challenge like this.
That was five days ago. We left East Texas and drove north along the Indian Nation Turnpike in Oklahoma, where they collect tolls in the name of the Cherokee and Chickasaw. We passed countless sunflower fields and miles of flooded creeks and rivers. We even stopped in Hebron, Neb., where I photographed Killis sitting in the world’s largest porch swing.
Now we’re clueless on the rolling prairie east of the Black Hills between the Badlands and Nebraska. Mind you, there are no highway signs saying, “Pole of Inaccessibility 5 miles.” I’m betting there’s no visitor center or gift shop either.
The nice lady in the historical center rushes off to grab a professor, while I visit with Louis Shaw, an Oglala Lakota craftsman who’s doing porcupine quill jewelry demonstrations today. “I think I remember something like that from when I was young,” says Shaw, who lives in Wanblee, S.D. “But I’ve never been there, and I don’t know where it is.”
Jeff Tinant, who teaches in the geology department at the college, arrives with maps, saying he’s never heard of it but that he’s intrigued. “Just going by the coordinates — 43.36N-101.97W — that should be out in Yellow Bear, Yellow Bear Canyon,” he says. “That’s just outside Kyle a few miles.”
Within hearing distance, a weathered Lakota man, long gray hair pulled back in a ponytail, grunts in agreement. “He says he’s been there,” Tinant says. I didn’t hear the man say anything, but when I turn and ask him directly, he nods. Then he disappears before I can talk with him.
Killis and I pile back into the truck. I’m driving. He’s reading the GPS. Out of Kyle, we follow signs toward Yellow Bear Canyon and Yellow Bear Dam. Then the infernal GPS leads us through the canyon and down a rutty gravel trail called No Flesh Road. I’d be a bit nervous, but I’m concentrating on the trail.
Finally we pop back out into the rolling hills portion of Bennett County.
“It’s just right over this way,” Killis keeps saying, pointing.
I keep driving. There’s no way of knowing what we’re looking for.
Onward along County Roads 292 and 294 and 232 and 254. We fall in behind tractors and semis rumbling through cornfields and sunflowers, fallow wheat and sandhills with scattered trees.
One road ends at a sign. According to the GPS, we’re about a mile away. Do we start walking here? There’s a fence and no gate.
Nah. We retrace our path to County Line Road, the boundary between Bennett and Todd counties. We turn on County Line Road, and the GPS unit starts heating up. We pass a small road, then make a U-turn and take it. We meander through a huge cornfield, turn a corner and come to an abrupt halt.
The GPS says the POI is just two-tenths of a mile ahead.
And two-tenths of a mile ahead — at 43.36N and 101.97W — is a farmhouse.
At the house a farm dog starts barking.
I briefly imagine knocking on the door and saying, “Hi, I’m from Texas, as is my friend here, and we were led to your house by our GPS unit. Did you know your house is sitting on the Continental Pole of Inaccessibility? May we take a picture in your living room?”
Killis and I look at each other. Nah. We take some pictures in the corn and turn back toward Texas.
We found what we came for. We think. We’re not positive.
One thing we’re sure of, though, is that we are a long, long, long way from the coast. Any coast.
Mike Leggett writes for the Austin American-Statesman.