<< Day 49: St. Paul, Minnesota | Day 51: Mitchell to Badlands National Park >>
St. Paul to Mitchell, South Dakota
Genevieve and Sebastian continued their sand digging and building at the playground this morning, transforming their “mountain” into a “volcano.”
Our destination today was Mitchell, South Dakota--home of the "World's Only Corn Palace."
Leaving St. Paul, we took the highway that skirted the southern edge of the Twin Cities. We must have passed by every big box store, business chain, and fast food restaurant that exists.
The Best Buy corporate headquarters were right next to the freeway.
The road ahead:
This blue building matched the sky.
We connected with another highway heading south. In the middle of the freeway exit loop, this mama and her baby ducks were swimming in a pond.
We noticed that the walls along the freeway were made of wood, instead of the cinder block and stucco that we are accustomed to seeing in California.
As in many other states, we passed several highway construction projects in Minnesota, along with a sign stating that the road work is part of the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.”
When the construction closed one lane of traffic ahead, everyone merged politely far in advance. We marveled, once again, at the empty lane next to us.
Oops! I spoke too soon! A white Lexis passed us in the right lane to get to the front of the line. In a seamless dance, the driver of a tan car further up in our lane gently moved over in the right lane to block, the white car slowed behind the tan car, and they both merged smoothly over to the left lane together. Such grace. No horn honking or flipping of fingers out the window here!
The landscape was fairly flat, with gentle ups and downs. Larger hills lined the valley in the distance.
We could see water towers speckled across the land, broadcasting the presence of small towns. Our road connected the dots through some of the towns.
We zig-zagged our way around the road construction in the small town of St. Peter. Main street was completely blocked, but we enjoyed seeing all of the houses on our detour.
This CHS oil seed processing facility was on the outskirts of the city of Mankato.
We were excited to see a small motocross track in front of one farm.
The track had some nice jumps—woo hoo!
There appeared to be two main crops growing along the side of the road. Fields of corn and soybeans stretched out on both sides as far as we could see.
Corn and soybeans:
Before the town of Butterfield, we saw a hand-painted sign advertising sweet corn for sale in front of one farm.
We couldn’t resist. The stand was operated by a woman named Michelle, and her two children, Bailey and Branson. Here is Genevieve with the kids in front of some sweet corn plants:
Michelle’s father was a farmer, and her family has been growing corn for over 25 years. She said that her dad used to take their family on RV trips for a month in the winter, after the crops were all harvested.
Each town that we passed had its own set of grain elevators or processing plant, right next to the railroad tracks.
As we looked in the distance, the road appeared to go right down the middle of the New Vision Co-op’s grain elevator. Ben and I were trying to figure out the reason for such a peculiar design. As we drove closer, however, we could see that the road actually curved to the left.
Another pretty farm:
Our narrow country road:
The wind was very brisk and powerful today. Wind turbines were turning all around us.
The Bergen store sat by itself at a remote intersection of small roads.
We loved the bright red color of this newer facility.
We were back on the freeway now, heading straight west across southern Minnesota. Several overpasses were being repaired or replaced along the way, requiring us to exit and then immediately re-enter.
Periodic bursts of yellow appeared from roadside wildflowers.
This picturesque farm was surrounded by wind turbines.
As we got closer to the South Dakota border, a few of the fields we passed had cows grazing instead of corn or soybeans.
We crossed the border into South Dakota, whose state slogan is “Great Faces, Great Places.” My blurry photo (sigh) is below:
This play structure was next to a pond, with no houses or buildings nearby.
We were seeing less corn and more cows along the roadside.
In the distance we saw what looked like a giant cow head sculpture:
That’s just what it was!
I later discovered that the 60-foot high metal cow head was part of the Porter Sculpture Garden created by artist Wayne Porter. The Egyptian cow head is seen by every motorist traveling along I-90 and has become quite famous. Over twenty years ago, Wayne started making sculpture from old car parts, farm equipment and other items. The cow head sculpture took three years to create and is the same size as a head on Mt. Rushmore. It weighs 25 tons.
The prairieland around us had gentle undulations—I had expected complete flatness.
Entering the town of Mitchell, South Dakota:
The sole reason for our visit to Mitchell was to visit the folk art icon known as the Corn Palace.
The outside of the building is decorated with corn cobs and grasses. The murals are created with 12 shades of corn. You can see the different colors in these up-close views:
Each color of corn is planted in a separate field to ensure color purity. The corn grows on 180 acres of land nearby, and 275,000 ears of corn are used. Each cob is split in half and nailed to building. Milo, rye, and sour dock grasses are used in the borders.
Here is another detail:
Each summer, the previous year’s murals are stripped from the building’s façade, and new designs are put up. This year’s theme was “America’s Destinations” by artist Cherie Ramsdell.
Here is the design for an earlier Corn Palace.
Admission to the Corn Palace was free. The interior had some displays about the Corn Palace, and a large gift shop with an excellent book selection. Genevieve and Sebastian each bought a new book, and I found a terrific children’s book on the creation of Mt. Rushmore (which we are visiting in two days).
We gained a tremendous understanding of the background and history behind the Corn Palace by watching the 15-minute film, new this summer. The origins of the Corn Palace can be traced to the 1862 Homestead Act, under which the United States government promised to give 160 acres to anyone who could live on the land for 5 years. Thousands of people from the eastern U.S. and Europe arrived to try their luck. By 1892, the town of Mitchell had 3000 people; however, the population started declining. Two entrepreneurs, Louis Beckwith and E.G. Gale, thought of building a Corn Palace in order to compete with other towns in attracting new settlers. The displays of corn were intended to prove to potential farmers that corn could indeed be grown on the surrounding lands. The first Corn Palace was built in 1892, and the locals held a 10-day festival with music, farm exhibits, and (of course) corn. It was a huge success, and an annual event has taken place every year since then. The present Corn Palace was built in 1921. In addition to being the focal point of the annual festival, the Corn Palace is the site of high school basketball games, proms, graduations and other community gatherings.
Across the street was a sculptural tribute to the Yanktonai Sioux artist Oscar Howe, who designed the Corn Palace murals from 1948 to 1971.
The sculpture was created by Marilyn Wounded Head, a Native American from the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The imagery depicts a bird on top of a person, and embodies the spirit of man’s reconciliation with nature.
This clock was near the parking lot.
Around the base of the clock were some thoughtful words of advice entitled “THE FOUR WAY TEST of the things we think, say or do.” The 4 “tests” were:
The clock base also had a panel with the photo of a man named Carl Sprunger, who had devotedly served the Rotary for 40 years. If Carl was the person who lived by the 4-way test, he was indeed a great man.
After leaving the Corn Palace, we drove through downtown Mitchell, searching for a grocery store to replenish our severely depleted food supplies.
We then headed to the Mitchell KOA campground. On the way, we passed this line of small silos for sale.
For dinner, I steamed some of the fresh sweet corn that we had bought this morning at the roadside stand—delicious!
Genevieve entertained herself by creating a set of hurdles:
We then played in the pool.
Before bed, I read to the children from our new Mt. Rushmore book (“Who Carved the Mountain?” by Jean L. S. Patrick). It was beautifully illustrated by Renée Graef, and we all learned something new about the famous memorial.
<< Day 49: St. Paul, Minnesota | Day 51: Mitchell to Badlands National Park >>
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