I left Lake Elmo at 9 a.m. with new family member Willy in tow and headed down I-35 to Albert Lea. Once past the sprawl of the Twin Cities, you remember that this country is fed by the local farmer.
Black cows and red barns, newly turned black earth and enormous, green John Deere’s dot the landscape. Turning due west of I-90 the land is fertile and flat and nothing much changes until you get to about Sioux Falls, SD. Then the subtle differences that you have crossed an invisible line into another state start to show.
Not only does South Dakota maintain it’s portion of I-90 better than MN, it is somehow flatter, more windswept and desolate. Where MN is dotted along the way with small farming communities, SD has few towns and they are far between. The land is given over to horses that stand on small rises and gaze at a distant horizon, long fences enclosing acre upon acre of land, and the ever-present and overwhelming amount of road signs advertising everything from not-to-be-missed Reptile Gardens to the 1000’s of “See Wall Drug” signs!
Winne, Willy and I are speeding down the highway at the great pace of 60MPH when into view comes a large ribbon of river – the mighty Missouri is now to be crossed. With that crossing, the land begins to undulate, Winnie grinds down into a lower gear as we head up the first meaningful grade we have faced and behold we are at the very tip of the Badlands. As far as the eye can see is grass waving in the wind, small hills rolling across the prairie and to the left, jagged rocks as if a large claw had reached down and grabbed a piece of earth and ripped it away. It’s like you are alone in a deserted corner of the world – and many times I was. The roads had very little traffic – I would sometimes go several miles before a semi or car would come rushing past. Early May is certainly a good time to vacation in this area if you don’t want to be crushed by tourists.
My stop of the day was the world-famous Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD and then overnight at the Family n’ Fun Campground on the west side of town.
I was leery about pulling Winnie (with Willy attached) into town, any town, but without the tourists, Mitchell is a quite little town and directions to the Corn Palace are very well marked. They even have parking just for RV’s. It was after 4 p.m. when I arrived and walked around front to take in this very weird edifice. The building is totally decorated with corn cobs, corn stalks, corn tassels-well and grains which are grown locally. As you can see in the pictures, is quite a site. I don’t know what I thought it was going to be, but it wasn’t what I expected.
First, it’s free. It was originally built in 1892 as a way to draw migrants farmers and their families to the area to settle. Every year a new theme is chosen and the outside of the Corn Palace is stripped and redecorated with fresh corn and grains. My tour guide, a lovely lady of at least 85, informed me it was the largest ‘bird feeder’ in the entire world! Inside are pictures of every year’s decorations and in the middle a large gym/stage where local events are held. For more detailed info you can click on http://www.cornpalace.com.
I was up early and on the road by 7:30 a.m. ready to make my way into actual Badlands and from there into the Black Hills to see the sites! But before reaching Hill City, where I had reservations for 3 nights, I just had to stop and actually see Wall Drug. (Advertising does pay!) What a disappointment. It’s just a big, commercial building in downtown Wall that has grown from a tiny, little drug store into the purveyor of lots of tacky tourist junk. Not worth your time if traveling this way. I snapped a couple of pictures and was on my way!
Between Wall and Rapid City you again notice the change in the landscape and the grades on the road getting steeper. Tall mountains are now part of the horizon and I saw patches of snow still caught in the deep crevices along the side of the road. Though the temperature was almost hitting 70, winter hasn’t completely let go of this portion of the country.
I turned off I-90 and headed south on US 16 to the Rafter-J-Bar RV resort just outside of Hill city. I had chosen this place specifically because of it’s very close proximity to Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park, none of which are further than 8 miles. And they also offered rental cars, which I thought I would need, before I decided to purchase Willy.
Once you are off the interstate, the hills become higher, the grades steeper and driving becomes much harder when towing so much extra weight. I had to stop and get help and advice!
To Be Continued……