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Long Day's Journey Into Corn
updated: May 08, 2010, 8:40 AM
By John McCafferty (aka McSeas)
Southern North Dakota and northern South Dakota struck me as about as plain as states can get. There's variety down on the southwest SD corner, with the Black Hills scenery, Mt. Rushmore and nearby Badlands National Park -- and I mustn't forget Wall, SD, home of the oddly famous WALL DRUG (that's another story).
But overall, not many hills, towns, trees, people, houses or even rocks. Mostly grassy plains and farmland. Maybe I was missing something, but in any case, I felt lonely and was ready to go home. I could compact the Scenic Wonders by driving faster, and so I did. But, as it turned out, this southern Dakota Territory was not without interest.
I had country roads nearly to myself. I took a straight shot south where Rte. 12 intersects with Rte. 83, and was headed for the state capital of Pierre (famously and invariably pronounced Pier) when I stopped to take yet another picture of waving fields of grass and noticed that the left rear tire on my rental Dodge was nearly flat. The hamlet of Selby wasn't far, and I would have a pleasant recess. It was nearly lunchtime anyway.
Tom, at Tom's Tire Shop, had nothing to do this quiet and still rainy summer morning, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy talking about California, where he had been stationed in his Navy days. He even refused payment after his teen-aged helper quickly fixed the flat, but I insisted he take $5, which he then handed to the smiling youth. Nice folks up here on the Prairie! As was the girl who served me my lunch -- an excellent classic hamburger. I was cozy and happy, chowing down while the rain fell and the wind blew.
I gassed up the car and was somewhat unnerved by lightning bolts off to the southwest. I asked the girl tending the store if one could get struck by lightning while putting gas in a car. She looked surprised and said, "I honestly don't know!" And I guess she didn't care. Neither did her girlfriend keeping her company.
I zoomed on past Pierre, having been there before and having found it wanting. The nearby Fort Pierre National Grassland was . . . very grassy, on hills. Prairie grass, stemming back to the original, was indeed thick and tall. Great buffalo food. Onward! Dodge, don't fail me now … The rain stopped and I could MAKE TIME, as Dad would have said.
I zigzagged generally southeast and relaxed on what I call our 51st state, The Interstate Highway System. I cruised contentedly along I-90, but by mid-afternoon on a very warm day, I was in danger of becoming badly bored. There wasn't much to look at, and it was the same Not-Much as the last couple of days, and it was getting monotonous.
But then, near Mitchell, SD, some signs promised the greatest scenic wonder east of Mt. Rushmore: THE CORN PALACE! Oh good, some excitement!
I'll bite on this corn, I thought. Maybe they sold ice cream there to go with the corn products, or whatever the heck they offer in a palace of corn. The title alone drew me into the big, oddly decorated building, with turrets.
What they offered was not much of anything, but a little of everything, including ice cream, a coneful of which (strawberry) I bought from a big bashful country girl dressed in gingham. I guess it was gingham, but then I'm not from the Prairie. I'm from Oklahoma, originally, where Mom's family made dresses out of flour sacks (not joking).
Here you may read more about the Corn Palace, the outside of which is redecorated each year with imaginative uses of ears of corn, corn stalks … anything as long as it's corn.
"The Corn Palace has always been about more than just the big name entertainment. It's a building that brings thousands of visitors to the Mitchell community each year to view the unique folk art murals. It's a building that provides a gathering place for a wide variety of activities such as high school proms, dances, banquets, sporting events and many, many more. In fact, USA Today has named the Corn Palace as one of the Top 10 places to play High School basketball games and called it the Boston Gardens of the Midwest. It's a building that brings our community together. The Corn Palace has evolved into a one-of-a-kind, multi-use facility with a charm and heritage unlike any other."
The ice cream was soothing and fine, and I knew I could handle the next-to-last leg of my Prairie Schooner trip, passing covered wagons headed west while I headed east to Sioux Falls, SD. Great name, and a river runs through it.
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