I followed the Missouri River south back into South Dakota to check out the eastern part of the state. My first stop was the site of the memorials and graves of Sacajawea and Sitting Bull in Mobridge. They’re only about 100 ft or so apart overlooking the river in a lovely, secluded spot. The only other think of note in town I saw was a statue of a cowboy riding a walleye, so… interesting mix.
Down the road a ways I made a stop in DeSmet, the town featured in the later Little House on the Prairie books (it is, in fact, the titular Little Town on the Prairie) and while I rolled into town after everything was closed for the day, I did a little self-tour of Laura’s childhood schoolhouse, a replica (or moved or something…, but not the original site) of the schoolhouse she taught at as a teen, the house in town the Wilders lived in and Pa built, and on the way in I drove past a plaque in some farmland that might have been where their homestead was… wasn’t a great place to pull over so I’ll just imagine that was it. It seemed like a nice little town, but really so did most of the town I drove through. They even have little covered wagons on the street signs so that just goes to show how they’ve built a name on this niche. Made me want to go back and reread all the books though I know I’ll be totally disillusioned knowing how they gloss over a lot of hardship and include more than mild racism of the day, but… a snapshot of the time I suppose. Maybe this is a kick in the pants to finally read The Wilder Life which has been on my to read list for a while.
Now, it is pretty apparent by now that I am far too driven by my fascination with silly roadside attractions, and the one I’d been strangely fixated on thanks to stories from my mother’s stories and random lists of oddball spots is the Corn Palace in Mitchell. The day was here! I was unprepared for how integrated into the downtown it was, as I was imagining a large outdoor corn extravaganza more akin to a corn maze farm with a building on it, but this is like a sports arena covered in color by number style corn art. The different shades of each image are made from varieties of corn cobs, stalks, whatever corn stuff works. Each year the exterior is revamped with a new theme, and this year’s was super meta featuring sights of South Dakota, and guess what was prominently featured? The corn palace. Depicted on its own front. Mind blown. I loved looking at all the designs, old photos from years past, the gift shop full of ‘corny’ stuff, and of course taking photos with the array of corn props. Now I need a new sight to look forward to!
Luckily I didn’t have to wait long, because also on the outskirts of town I found a large jackalope, and this one was not butt-burning hot like the Wall Drug one. Double score! Oh so sadly (insert sarcasm here) the Bible themed castle thingy across from the corn palace was closed. Shucks. Sorry, corny jokes just pop into my head. Womp womp.
The next day I visited Chamberlain, where there the giant and beautiful Dignity statue overlooks the Missouri (as well as the highway rest stop), and across the street is a bonus of a weird prairie chicken made of railroad ties and stuff. Also in town I visited the Alka Lakota Sioux museum and cultural center on the St. Joseph’s Indian School campus. I took forever reading every exhibit and sitting in the peaceful medicine wheel garden, and when I left the museum I found that the van was now surrounded by my state neighbors of a MD plate minivan and a PA plate truck. Aloud to the universe I said “where’s your buddy Delaware, huh?” and I must have had some great karma going because not 5 minutes later after getting gas, there it was. My current white whale for months: a pickup truck randomly parked on a residential street with black Delaware plates. I pulled over with a whoop, left the van running and raced back to snap a photo and in the process freaked out the dogs inside and super weirded out the couple in the front seats who seem to have pulled over to eat fast food. They seemed oddly less excited than I was even after I explained what I was doing. Let the games begin anew!!!
Next up was a visit to the Porter Sculpture Park upon suggestion from a college friend and on all the lists of best state whacky sights. Whacky it was. Located in the middle of corn fields and cow pastures, this walk through a path lined with metal sculptures and accompanying poems by the sculptor (the artist was there manning the admission shed- he added “well, I say it’s all by me and the dog. He’s the one with ideas and I’m the one with hands”). It was a mix of impressive and thoroughly disturbing. There were fish skeletons, grim reapers, a nightmare inducing jack in the box, a frog dissection, a thing that seems like how Tim Burton would imagine Calvin and Hobbes, and a weird orgy prelude with a goat maybe? Among many others. The sculptures were much better than the poems. Maybe that quote about the dog makes more sense now…
My last stop in South Dakota was Sioux Falls, which unsurprisingly features a lovely series of waterfalls. While it was closed, I did pop by the U.S.S. South Dakota battleship memorial by a park which features the outline of the ship which was somehow impressively large and smaller than I expected a battleship to look? I tried to track down a food truck that serves Native specialties (okay, I really just wanted some fry bread tacos) but alas it didn’t seem to be open and has no online presence recently updated, but I did walk through a park with a Japanese garden. Full disclosure of you’re ever in Sioux Falls, this is the least Japanese Japanese garden I’ve experienced in the many I’ve visited, but they did have some articles posted on a history board that made it sound like perhaps it was no longer in it’s glory plus the water wasn’t on in the fountains so maybe I caught it at the wrong time to judge.
I kind of love this town’s vibe. There is artwork along the streets downtown, lots of cute restaurants and shops, and I even went to a block party where there were food trucks, trivia, music, all kinds of fun. Plus, the Oscar Meyer wienermobile! Still don’t want to eat a hot dog but that was pretty cool. Good ending for my weeks in South Dakota. Final random thought before leaving here… the whole state really pushes the whole Mount Rushmore thing. Not only were there billboards for attractions there over 200 miles before arriving, it’s the state nickname and on the license plates… what were they known for before this thing was built?? It’s not that old in the grand scheme of things…. I could find out but prefer to wonder.