Corn, Kitsch, Corn, Laura Ingalls, and Corn

Trip Start Sep 07, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Wanna-Bee Campground
What I did
Corn Palace, Wall Drug, Laura Ingalls Site, Pipestone National Monument

Flag of United States  , Wisconsin
Saturday, September 22, 2012

DISCLAIMER: If you are allergic to corn, you might not want to read this entry.

Driving out of the Black Hills, it becomes painfully obvious that you are leaving the mountains, and the West in general, and entering the Great Plains. From here until you cross the Mississippi, you will see mostly corn, some corn, and even more corn. But, we did find a few spots of interest along the way.

The first thing that breaks up the monotony of the drive across South Dakota is Wall Drug. You start seeing some really creative signs for it about 100 miles away, advertising free ice water, mini Mt Rushmore, giant dinosaurs, etc. I had gone to Wall Drug as a kid, and my biggest memory was that stepping out of the motorhome, I literally got blown over by the wind. It was equally windy this time, but somehow I stayed on my feet.

Wall Drug is an incredibly kitschy, fun place to take kids, and really for people of all ages. They have old fortune-telling machines, weird animatronic characters, a lifesize T-Rex, a cool little chapel, and lots of old gift shops and sweet shops. Something for everyone. It's basically the only thing of note in the town of Wall (and one of only a few things seemingly worth visiting in the Eastern half of South Dakota).

Along the drive through South Dakota, there isn't much to see, so when we saw on the map that there was a Minuteman Missile Site nearby that you could tour, we jumped at the chance to stop and check it out. Unfortunately, the tours had ended by the time we got there, but we got to see a little video explaining all about the Cold War and missile program, and got to see some pictures of the silos and control rooms (if you've seen the movie War Games, this all would look pretty familiar). The government chose Eastern South Dakota for placement of these silos because, well, there's no one around.

Did I mention that we saw a lot of CORN?

The next (and last) stop in South Dakota was the infamous Corn Palace, in the town of Mitchell. In case you haven't seen enough CORN by this time, they made a palace out of it. What it really turns out to be is a big auditorium with a bunch of murals outside and inside that they redo every year with a new design, and all created using dried corn cobs painted different colors (like a paint by numbers, but using corn cobs). They hold events here, like basketball games and, on the day we were there, pedal pulls. A pedal pull is a kiddie version of a tractor pull. They rig these kids up to little pedal tractors and have them perform time trials pulling them across the auditorium, towing various weights behind them. Trophies and hilarity ensue - although the locals take this stuff very seriously. I don't want to stereotype people, but if you wanted to wear a John Deere cap, chew tobacco, and go to classic car shows, you'd fit right into the town of Mitchell.

After seeing more CORN...

We made our way to Southern Minnesota. Kat and Wren wanted to detour off I-90 to check out the town of Walnut Grove, which is where Laura Ingalls and her family had their dugout home on the banks of Plum Creek, which she wrote about in the Little House on the Prairie book series. I didn't feel a great connection here, as I've never read the books or seen the show, but Kat and Wren seemed to enjoy the visit and walking around the land/creek.

On our way to the Ingalls site, we stopped by the Pipestone National Monument, which we knew nothing about, but we had been trying to stop by as many National Parks and Monuments as we could. This one comprises a series of quarzite rock cliffs surrounded by fields of red sumac, with some really soft, red soapy stone underneath the quarzite that they call pipestone, because the local natives carve this soft stone into smoking pipes (and now also into little animals figurines to sell to tourists -- I bought a little owl figurine). The land around the cliffs was beautiful and we had a great time checking out the cliffs, fields, and waterfalls.

It was a nice break from CORN.

Our last stop in Minnesota was at the Great River Bluffs State Park, where we got our first look at the Mississippi River, looking down from the Minnesota cliffs toward Wisconsin. The views were stunning (see pics), and we got a sneak peek at some landscape that didn't involve CORN.

Crossing the Mississippi into Wisconsin was like crossing the desert and finding an unexpected oasis. Everything on the Wisconsin side was lush and green. We drove for a couple of hours and stopped at a place called Wisconsin Dells. We knew nothing about this area, but it turned out to be Wisconsin's version of Disneyland. We didn't do a lot of the attractions, as most were closed for the season, but we did venture into the Ripley's museum to see some weird stuff, and into Wizard Quest, a live interactive adventure, where we fought to solve puzzles and free four "trapped wizards" in a 90-minute timeframe. Alas, we rescued only three of four wizards in the time allotted, but we were only one question shy of saving the fourth. We also tried a "4D" theater attraction, but I left after about one minute, after getting poked in the back by a stick and getting water sprayed into my face. No thank you.

On our last night in the Dells, the Seahawks were playing the Packers on Monday Night Football, and won on the last play of the game, in a very controversial call by NFL replacement referees. Needless to say, the Cheeseheads were very upset on that Tuesday, all of the local papers were crying foul, and we felt like covering up our Washington license plates on the drive out.

Following this  trip through the Great Plains, we started to reach actual civilization again. Stay tuned for our next blog, covering our wonderfully fun visit to Chicago!

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