From MA to IL: Then to South Dakota and Back Part 2

From Sioux Falls, we continued westward to Mitchell, just east of our final destination. While some of you may know Mitchell is famous for one thing. It is the Mecca for Prairie Gold, otherwise known as the Corn Palace, a must see for any travelers in the area. You just don’t get higher on the Americana kitsch scale than this World’s Largest Bird Feeder.

The palace is the anchor to an entire tourist industry in Mitchell that radiates down the main thoroughfare of Mitchell. Arriving in town, we left the cool cabin of our SUV to be greeted by the chest-kicking 100-plus heat of a sunny evening on the Great Plains. Unfortunately the monument of maize was in the process of being revamped, as the exterior design is revisited annually. However, that did not really affect the quality of the photos. So get a load of these.

Photo: Corn Palace Marquee

Photo: Corn Palace Mural v.1

Photo: Corn Palace Mural v.2

Photo: Corn Palace Mural v.3

Photo: Corn Palace Mural v.4

Photo: Corn Palace Corner

To think that the entire building is covered with intricately selected and cut corn. It really is a quite an extraordinary site. It also should give hope to all the macaroni artists still left in all of us.

Along the hard streets of Mitchell, as we searched for grub, Keri found herself a real wiener with which she could spend some quality time. In fact, once this charming frank got hold of her, it was rather hard to pry the two apart. Once we informed him of our collective hunger, however, he quickly acquiesced. It was at that point that our expedition brought us to possibly the worst Mexican restaurant in which I have ever had the misfortune to dine. We should have taken our cue from the roadside statuary, which was a gringo (John Wayne adorned in blasphemous attire) masquerading as a bandito. As it was Los Sombreros was a hat filled room masquerading as a restaurant. If you are ever in the area, avoid it. The staff is a little kooky to boot.

Photo: Keri and the Wiener

Photo: Me and the Mexican Duke

From Mitchell we were only about an hour or so away from the place Grandma calls home, so back into the truck we piled to drive off the meal that was both terrible and tasteless. Before we knew it, we were at the old school house. You see, Grandma lives in an old country school, in the middle of nowhere, class long having been dismissed. It is actually quite cool, really. Ali’s late grandfather did quite a number on the place, giving it a whole lot of style and character on the inside. As anyone can imagine, Grandma was delighted to have company.

Photo: The Old Schoolhouse

So between trips to Chamberlain and games of Scrabble, we managed to enjoy ourselves despite any difficulties. Although I have to say, there isn’t a whole lot going on in Grandma’s neighborhood. Nevertheless, you can literally see for miles and watching a storm roll in across the Great Plains is a breathtaking sight no matter what else is happening. There is a kind of desolate beauty to that hard, hard land, and even a loveliness even in that desolation. The remnants of long gone neighbors amidst the vast openness can attest. Although, I have to say that I was far more partial to the terrain of the Missouri River Valley, a little further west, out Chamberlain way.

Photo: Abondoned House

Chamberlain is the home of Al’s Oasis, a rather decent restaurant and roadside attraction of sorts in its own right. Serving up buffalo burgers and all manner of beef, we took Grandma out that way for quality meal and even better desserts. Speaking of buffalo, Al’s hosts some of the largest in the area. Below, Keri poses with the enormous bison for the amusement of all.

Photo: Al's Oasis Sign

Photo: Al's Oasis Storefront

Photo: Keri with Buffalo

In addition, Chamberlain also is home to the Akta Lakota Museum at St. Joseph’s Indian School. Lakota essentially means Sioux, for the uninitiated. Considering my fascination with things Native American, this was the coolest place we visited on the short jaunt. I wish I had pictures, but due to copyright restrictions I wasn’t allowed to shoot much. However, it was a really great museum, full of all kinds of absorbing information; although I wish all museums would get rid of the life-like mannequins and just use faceless ones. Better still it is right on the banks of the Big Muddy River, as the Lakota refer to the Missouri, which was land I found far more stunning.

Photo: Akta Lakota Museum Sign

Photo: Lakota Sculpture Photo: Missouri River

Photo: Missouri River Valley

Before we knew it we were up at the crack of dawn and preparing to head back to Chicago. Prior to our departure we were treated to a magnificent sunrise, clearly visible from the back of the old school house. Then the girls gave Grandma a squeeze, we thanked her for her hospitality, and we were off.

Photo: Sunrise on the Great Plains

Photo: Ali, Marion, and Keri

On the return, the trail of Americana kitsch would lead us to a magnificent monument dedicated to a cultural icon. It was so amusing it simply demanded its own dedicated posting. Check back soon.