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Dakota Fawning

July 25, 2011

Picture a sheet of legal paper turned horizontally so that it’s in landscape orientation. That’s roughly the shape of South Dakota. Now draw a horizontal line going completely across this sheet of paper, about a third of the way up from the bottom. That’s more or less our route through South Dakota. It’s a little more than 400 miles. We drove most of that on Friday. And yet this is one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been.

With calamity behind us and Calamity Jane ahead of us, the goals for Friday were relatively simple. In order of descending importance: get to our Rapid City (most of the way across the state) before sundown, visit Badlands National Park, and break up the 7.5 hour drive to Rapid City a couple of times by finding things to stop and see along the way.

Our first two stops fulfilled the later goal. First came Sioux Falls–South Dakota’s most populous city and home to a three-tiered waterfall. I figured it would be a good stop because it was about an hour into our drive and because Sam and I are both endlessly fascinated by waterfalls. This one didn’t disappoint. the town itself is pretty ugly–it’s very industrial and we had to drive through the stockyard district to get to the falls–but the falls and the park surrounding them are beautiful.

Next up was a concert venue about an hour and a half further down I90. On the way there is about when the billboard started. Thousands of billboards, lined up one after another for hundreds of miles along I90. Some made political statements …

 … but most advertised tourist traps; we’d see dozens and dozens of billboard for some cheesy tourist destination, then we’d finally pass that destination, and the billboards would begin advertising some new cheesy destination. It was so abundant, so overdone, so ridiculous, that even the billboards for legitimate places kinda made me feel dirty.

Anyway, back to the Corn Palace. It’s like the Madison Square Garden of South Dakota–if Madison Square Garden were a lot smaller, located in a small town, and decorated inside and out with large murals made entirely of naturally colored corn cobs and husks. The murals follow a central theme and stay up for a year, at which point the murals are all changed for a new theme. (This year’s theme is “American Pride.”)

It’s actually quite impressive despite the gaudiness of the Taj Majal-like pointy domes atop the roof. Oh, had I not mentioned the pointy roof domes? Sorry, I assumed you knew.

Best yet, admission is free, guided tours are free, and we even got to meet the Palace’s anthropomorphic corn mascot, Cornelius.

Back on I90, we had a couple hundred miles to go before reaching Badlands National Park. Lucky for us we were entertained not merely by 8 bajillion more tacky billboards but by several odd sights that seemed to be placed along the highway for no real reason at all. Our favorites were a primary-color sculpture garden anchored by a large bull’s head …

… and a dinosaur skeleton being walked on a leash by a human skeleton.

South Dakota’s I90 is apparently the nation’s kitch capital.

Perhaps the best part of the drive, though, was when we passed a sign alerting us to the fact that we had crossed into the Moutain time zone, thus adding a full hour to our day. In seconds we went from slightly behind schedule to well ahead of schedule. I only wished that every day could include such a gift.

Eventually we reached the Badlands, which absolutely blew us both away. The landscape was like nothing either of us had ever seen, with freaky, moonscape rock structures surrounded by endless prairie.

This was my first National Park, and I was awed by the vastness of it, which I presume is common to National Parks but amazed me nonetheless. Aside from looking around at the park’s vast, unusual beauty, (which we did quite a bit of) there’s not much to do in the park. Hiking and camping are big there, but signs like these kept Sam and I on the paved pathways:

Hamsters and rattlesnakes are not good friends.

We ended the day with an hour’s drive to Rapid City, where we checked into a surprisingly perfect hotel called GrandStay. In-room kitchenette, indoor pool, outdoor basketball court, and, best of all, guest laundry room with automatic detergent injection. We spent Saturday making use of all these amenities, getting some much-needed time out of the car, discovering that the takeout food at the kosher counter of Minneapolis’s Byerly’s supermarket is not nearly as tasty as the takeout food we got back in Cleveland, and trying to figure out the best plan of attack to squeeze two or three days worth of interesting stuff in the Black Hills (the southwest corner of South Dakota) into one Sunday. That extra hour came in pretty handy Friday but I wish I could have saved it for Sunday.

For your sanity and mine, I’ll discuss Sunday in a separate post.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Yehuda and Esther permalink
    July 25, 2011 10:20 am

    Looking forward to the next post. Could you throw a few more pics of the Badlands?. Yaacov is going to get a real kick out of the dinosaur skeleton.

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