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.

From MA to IL: Then to South Dakota and Back Part 1

After a week of fairly constant activity, we three again packed into our rented SUV and journeyed even further west into the heart of the country. The goal was for me to meet Ali’s grandmother. Since you can never really tell how many trips one might make to South Dakota and Marion isn’t getting any younger, Ali really wanted me to meet the matriarch of her mother’s family and only living grandparent. So westward we went and we brought along a healthy dose of humor, as well.

The trip out there is not without interest, albeit it is a long ride. Most of the ride is through upper Midwest farm country, which is not terribly exciting, except for the fact that the land rolls quite a bit more than say Illinois or Indiana. However, we couldn’t miss some of the roadside attractions, such as the one in Blue Earth, Minnesota. While it is getting harder to see from the highway, the Jolly Green Giant proudly stands, surveying the wide open landscape. To the left is a view through the adjacent trees of the Dairy Queen we stopped at for refreshment; while the right photo gives you a bit more sense of the size. That is a little girl in the foreground. For a better sense of scale visit this newfound, glorious site. Below is a picture of the girls, flanking the pedestal.

Photo: Jolly Green Giant - Trees Photo: Jolly Green Giant - Long Shot

Photo: Ali and Keri at Jolly Green Giant Pedastal

From the ironically green sights of Blue Earth, we continued into South Dakota. Having never been in this particular locale, I made sure we stopped in Sioux Falls, to see what the place had to offer. Surprisingly, Sioux Falls was not without appeal, at least to me. I will admit the place seemed practically empty on a Saturday afternoon, but it was about 100 degrees outside. So who could blame the natives for staying in cooler climes. There were some beautiful buildings in the Old Courthouse & Warehouse District of the city, including the old theatre.

Photo: Sioux Falls Courthouse and Tower Photo: Sioux Falls Courthouse and Tower - Side Shot

Photo: Orpheum Theatre

Most impressive was the Cathedral Historic District, that sits on a high ridge looming, in Catholic austerity, upon the Downtown Historic District. It was an impressive site and even more impressive building. I have to confess a personal fascination with the power and beauty of the Catholic cathedral, with all their command and contradictions. It is also in what once was the prime residential neighborhood, with some magnificent old palaces. The photos don’t quite do this area justice.

Photo: St. Joseph Cathedral Photo: Sioux Falls Courthouse and Tower - Side Shot

Photo: Pettigrew Mansion

Perhaps more interesting than anything was the number of public sculptures on display in the city. This wild boar was a rather intimidating dedication to the once local game. However, it was the incongruous placement of a Michelangelo replica, in Fawick Park, that was perhaps the most strangely interesting. I have to say I am not entirely sure why it is there, looking askance of the banks of the Big Sioux River that cuts its way through the city. Nevertheless, it is pretty awesome and may be the closest many Americans ever get to seeing the real thing. Although, for some larks, get a load of what the Convention and Visitors Bureau has to say about it. For all its splendor, it sounds like David might be the city’s insufferable step-child.

Photo: Wild Boar Sculpture

Photo: David Replica - Long Shot Photo: David Replica - Medium Shot

Still more to come and we haven’t arrived at Grandma’s house yet.

Heading Home Once Again

Well, it is off to the Midwest again, as this week Ali and I, along with Keri and Zerbert, head back to Chicagoland for some summer family fun. Thus, all Live from New England posts henceforth will be piped in from the greater Chicago metro area.

I have to admit that I am looking forward to sinking my teeth into all those longed for local victuals. Considering I am back on the exercise wagon, so as to not die an early death and maintain some semblance of physical fitness, I will need to demonstrate moderation. Nevertheless, I will be resuming the gastronomic tour which I started early in the year. This time I will be able to hit all those places that tend to close the doors in the colder climes.

Of course, I will maintain a chronicle of the adventures, complete with pictures. In addition to Chicago, we will be heading out to South Dakota briefly to visit Ali’s grandma. Best of all, the trip will include a detour to the Spam Museum. Believe me there will be pictures! I can hardly wait to take in some of that Americana kitsch. Hopefully, there will be other incidental adventures along the way.

So, stay tuned.