South Dakota! This state had been at the top of my U.S. hit list for as long as I can remember. Aside from wanting to see all the sights in SD, I have fond memories of camping trips I took here with my dad when I was a kid, and I wanted to relive those memories and share them with Stephanie.
We spent our first night is Sioux Falls which meant we awoke recharged and ready to tackle over 200 miles of interstate. Our first stop (and my first fond childhood memory) was in Mitchell to see the world’s only Corn Palace.
The Corn Palace was originally built in 1892 to showcase the agriculture of the area and prove that the land was indeed workable. Each year, the outside of the building is redecorated by hand, and thousands of ears of corn of all colors along with other grains are nailed to the outside (and inside) to form patterns and murals. The crops are all natural and untreated, turning the Corn Palace into the world’s largest bird feeder. The building is not as grandiose as it once was, but it’s still pretty impressive, especially when you get up close and realize how many individual ears of corn go into the mosaic work.
We stopped inside where I (of course) got some popcorn, and we learned a little of the history, and saw photos of every incarnation of the Corn Palace since 1892. One particularly interesting year was 1907, where the front of the building featured the symbol that we now call the swastika. The display goes to great lengths to point out that it was an Indian good luck sign long before the Nazis ruined it for everyone.
After acquiring some caramel corn for Stephanie, it was back in the car. Although we were hundreds of miles away from the touristy attractions, billboards started appearing enticing us to stop at both Wall Drug (more on that in another post) and “1880 Town.”
Based on a recommendation from one of our couch surfing hosts, we had already decided to check out 1880 Town on our travels. This is a place where all the buildings and furnishings are authentic relics from the 1880s. (Well, almost all authentic. When they filmed “The Postman” with Kevin Costner, they built a few more authentically styled buildings.) One point of special interest to us is the fact that the jail and the train station were both brought to 1880 Town from their place of construction in Gettysburg, PA. The buildings are all laid out just as they might have been in the late 1800s, and you can freely wander into buildings like the jail, the saloon, hotels, livery stables, the bank, the railroad station and the church. You can also walk the ¼ mile to the “homestead” to see what a home and barn would have looked like. During tourist season, the saloon is open for actual business and there are shows, street performances and characters all over. When we were there, it had more of a ghost town feel since there were only maybe eight other people there with us. Still, it had the desired effect as the theme to “Little House on the Prairie” played over and over in our heads.
After spending three hours checking out everything there was to see, we drove towards a beautiful Old West-style sunset on our way to Badlands National Park.