Sometimes when I start a trip I just want to get there. I want to pack food, dehydrate the children for a day to avoid the bathroom breaks, and just roll. The more time I can preserve for the final destination, the better.
Other times, I prefer a lazy stroll.
Leaving Laura’s Homestead, we were only about 6 hours from our campsite in the Black Hills, but we would take a dozen to get there. We planned the required stops at the old standards…Corn Palace and Wall Drug…and we threw one new one into the mix.
The Corn Palace is a fine place to stretch your legs. I’ve spent as little as 10 minutes looking at the façade and up to three hours watching the history video and looking at the historic photos that document more than 100 years of corn art.
This year we parked the van, walked through the gauntlet of shops, and looked up expecting to see themes of patriotic splendor wrought from the bounty of these fertile plains, and we were greeted with plywood. They were remodeling and it was just like the tour de scaffold that Karen and I took through Europe in the fall of 1990. We saw all the major sites, but sheathed in steel for renovation.
Undeterred, we went inside. I’ve always wondered about the stadium seating, the stage and the big old pop-up gift shop in the center. This year we asked the woman at the welcome desk what the building was built for. She said, “Just this. It’s always been used for this.”
Phrase your questions carefully.
On out way out, a woman with a Corn Palace t-shirt apologized for the renovation and encouraged us to stop back when it was done next year. We tried the question a different way.
“Do they use this building for anything other than giant seed art?”
And we learned that the gift shop is only inside for the summer months to snag passers-by like us. The rest of the year, the building is used for concerts, plays, and basketball games.
Some big publication, she told us, once did a write-up calling the Corn Palace one of the best places in the country to play a basketball game. She went on to tell about a referee from Arizona who always dreamed of calling a game in the Corn Palace. He went through the training and certification to ref for the state of South Dakota and drove up to Mitchell to officiate the final game of his career.
She was proud of her Corn Palace, and she should be. No place like it on earth.
When the renovation is complete, they will put the historic photos back on the inner walls, showing the finished Corn Palace design from years past. I’ve always liked those old photos. The early years show the sidewalks crowded with people. Top hats and bell-bottomed dresses. The horse and buggies over the years turned into Model T’s and then Studebakers. The series of photos felt like a celebration and a time capsule all rolled into one.
But sometime in the 1970’s someone decided the photos should be more professional. They should be cleaner. And they blocked off the sidewalks for the annual photo shoot. From then on, the photos that document the Corn Palace are vacant of people and the building stands alone.
I understand the sentiment. Nothing ruins a scenic photo like a bright yellow Sponge Bob t-shirt. Maybe our classy days of civic life are behind us, and it’s best we don’t capture our casual comfort for posterity.
But, what seems mundane today will feel exotic or quaint in the future. We should embrace it so that future generations may look at us and say, “Ahhhh…look how they lived.” Or, “Eeewww…look how they lived.” And perhaps we should think a little more about those future reactions as we go through our days.
From the Corn Palace it was a 3 hour drive to the Minuteman Missile Silo just south of exit 116 on I-90. I’d show you a photo, but then I’d have to make you disappear.
I’d driven past the site dozens of times and never knew it was there. The site is run by the National Park Service but there are no brown signs announcing it on the interstate. Like it’s still classified information.
A thousand of the Minuteman silos were spread across our nation’s mid-section. They were aimed at the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union aimed theirs at us. We all puffed up our chests until one side went broke and that was the end of the Cold War.
I grew up in the Cold War. I looked down into the silo and saw a missile that once held a nuclear warhead that could have rained hellfire on thousands. I think they used to have nuclear bomb attack drills in elementary schools the way they practice lock downs now. I think they used to have the kids shelter under their desks during those drills. For nuclear bombs. I think maybe we humans play with toys we’re not old enough to use.
There are tickets available to tour the launch facility for the missile sites, but there aren’t many and they are given out on a first come first served basis. We were too late in the day so we will try again on our way home. Now that I know it’s there, I want to learn more.
Wall Drug was our final break of the day. Ted and Dorothy started the place in 1931. Mrs. Hustead was a marketing genius and offered free ice water to any westward travelers who might stop by. The trick worked, their business grew, and now you’ll find a menagerie of roadside kitsch so big it will take three ice cream cones to see it all.
Wall Drug signs line the highway and the tourists line the aisles. I still stop just because. I wander through quickly just to assure myself the place is still there. Yep, there’s the mechanical cowboy band…the giant fiberglass jackalope and the shootin’ gallery. The silver dollar bar is a little less impressive than I recalled as a youth, but the carved wooden hooker I had my photo taken with in 1976? She hasn’t aged a bit.