Papillion, Nebraska to Rapid City, South Dakota
I got up at 7 AM Monday morning, May 30, 2005
--Memorial Day. . I knew I'd be pushing it sleeping that late, but I figured
if we got right on the road we'd be fine. We didn't. Zack was very sleepy,
having stayed up all night watching anime, and it took several tries to
get him up. Every time I turned around, there was one more thing to hang
us up. I'd hoped to get started by 8 AM, but we didn't finally get out
on the road until 9:25. I knew we'd be cutting it close. We had miles to
go before that evening.
We had to get back on Interstate 29 headed north, but
I didn't want to go through Belleview again. From Papillion, we took Highway
75 north to Interstate 80 east, which took us to I-29. We crossed the Missouri
River again into Council Bluffs, Iowa, where we headed north towards Souix
City. From then on, I had Satori going as fast as she could go. It was
a chilly morning, with some light sprinkles. We passed LeMars, Iowa, "Ice
Cream Capital of the World." The road ran past miles and miles of farmland.
Interstate 29 is part of the Lewis & Clark Trail, commemorating the
expedition of discovery which traveled through the area in 1804. Sergeant
Charles Floyd was the only member of the expedition to die during the journey,
some think of a burst appendix. He was buried atop a bluff overlooking
the Missouri River. The highway runs right past his grave, which is marked
by a 100-foot oblisk just off Exit 113 near Souix City. The oblisk is recognized
by the U.S. Department of the Interior as the United States' first National
I-29 followed the bend of the Missouri before pointing
back north. At 11:10, we crossed a little bridge over a tiny creek, and
suddenly we were in South Dakota. North Souix City even calls itself "The
Gateway to South Dakota." We were 71 miles from Souix Falls. At exit 18,
on the west side of the highway, were four concrete monkeys, standing enigmatically
alongside the fence. I have no idea what they were about.
At 12:44, we left the civilization of Souix Falls and headed
west on Interstate 90, westward ho. It seemed like time was not on our
side. We should have started much earlier. The blue skies seemed to skitter
away, and only a grey haze faced us to the west. At Exit 374, we passed
a giant bull's head off to the side of the road. I figured it marked somebody's
ranch. Ranching, hunting, fishing and the fur trade are major parts of
South Dakota's economy, leaving animal activists a tough room to play in
the state. In fact, I saw billboards declaring specifically that animal
rights activists are not welcome in South Dakota.
Interstate 90, westbound near Souix Falls
Eastern South Dakota looks remarkably like western South
Dakota --at least until you get to the Badlands and the Black Hills. The
road literally looks like this for hundreds of miles. The drive isn't as
much boring as it is hypnotizing. The repetition of mile after mile
after mile of never-changing landscape can have a numbing effect on the
senses. Luckily, there always seemed to be a Wall Drug sign every few miles
or so to wake people up.
||We were barely 30 miles into South
Dakota when I saw my first Wall Drug sign. Every 10 miles or so, the whole
trip across South Dakota, we'd pass a Wall Drug sign. Some looked like
they'd been there for years, maybe decades.
The highway led us into some cheerful rolling hills. The
view to the west was speckled blue and grey, but it looked like some dark
clouds were moving in. At the Irene exit, I saw a sign that said it was
65 degrees out. Blue skies peeked through the clouds as we approached Souix
Falls, and we found a convenience store for a pit stop.
We passed another billboard for a truck service, offering
"24-Hour Toe Service." I think I've been to that website... At Exit 350,
we passed De Smet, South Dakota, county seat of Kingsbury County and the
home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the "Little House on the Prairie"
books. At 1:43, we pulled into Mitchell, where I was finally going to see
the Corn Palace. When we lived in Belle Fourche in 1968, I'd see tourist
pamphlets on the state. They'd list all the places to see in the Black
Hills... and the Corn Palace in Mitchell. We never got to Mitchell when
I was a kid, so I figured this might be my only chance to see it.
The Mitchell Corn Palace
Back on the interstate, Zack scanned for some music on the
radio, and found three Christian radio stations in a row. A billboard advertising
a museum teased "Discover Mt. Rushmore's Mormon Connection!" The landscape
stretched off in all directions, with few hills to break the monotony.
The exception was the rugged hills around Lake Francis Case, just off Exit
323. The interstate finally took us back to the western side of the Missouri
River. Velvety green hills surrounded the lake, and the road gracefully
twisted around the curves in the land before heading straight west again.
I saw some dark shapes on the northwest horizon and wondered if they might
be the Black Hills, but we were much too far away. At 3:47, some road construction
slowed us down near Exit 235.
|Highway signs leading up to Mitchell
set the mood: "It's a MAIZE-ing!" "You're almost EAR!" Getting off
the highway, more signs took us past the Middle Border Museum and into
The first Corn Palace was built in 1892 as a showcase
for all the crops grown in the area around Mitchell. It was also a slap
back at Lewis & Clark, who wrote in their famous journals that nobody
could ever make a living farming in that area. The idea took hold and grew,
and there has been a Corn Palace in Mitchell ever since. Every year, thousands
of bushels of corn and grain are used to decorate the Palace, which attracts
a half million visitors each year.
Inside, the Corn Palace is an autitorium. There's a stage
on one end, but with a flat area directly in front big enough for a basketball
court. When we were there, the court was taken over by a gigantic gift
shop, but dozens of basketball games are played there every years by area
schools. Zack and I got some souveniers and a crushed penny. The exterior
is decorated with clever murals made of corn husks-- some very elaborate.
The designs change every year.
There was a monument across the street to Oscar Howe,
the artist who made the exterior murals for decades. The main street has
many 19-century buildings and is full of little shops and restaurants.
One place was selling moon pie-type treats called "cow patties." Um,
no thanks. We took some more pictures and hit the road. Time was marching
on. It started to sprinkle again.
Detail of Mitchell Streetlamp
Zack with "the King," downtown Mitchell
At Exit 170, we passed 1880 Town, a recreation of a 19-century
pioneer town assembled with authentic period buildings. Several movies,
including part of "Dances With Wolves," have been filmed there. We laughed
at a sculpture near the exit: a life-sized dinosaur led on a leash by a
caveman, all made from used car parts. Ominous clouds loomed ahead. The
air turned very cool, signaling that it was raining somewhere. At Exit
150, we passed the turnoff for the Pine Ridge Reservation. We got off the
interstate at Exit 131 and headed south on Highway 240. It was just a short
jog to Badlands National Park. I was afraid the clouds and the rain would
spoil the stark beauty of the park. Instead, the rolling clouds only served
to enhance the unreal, unearthly feel of the place.
Zack and I stopped at the Big Badlands Overlook and walked
around, taking pictures. There were lots of people there, but it didn't
seem crowded at all. Down the park road, there were a couple of harrowing
curves before we got to the visitor's center. The center itself was closed
for remodeling, but the Cedar Pass Lodge next door was open. We got some
souvenirs. I couldn't believe it was still light out. From there, we traveled
down the Badlands Loop Road, stopping here and there to marvel at the bizzare
At the Pinnacles Entrance, we followed 240 back out of the
park. That was where Zack and I saw the deer, standing at the fence near
the road. He was so still, I thought he was a lawn decoration, but then
he bolted and ran back towards the cover of a creekbed.
||There was an impressive mountain vista
near Mile Marker 174, but even that couldn't cheer me up. The dark clouds
overhead reflected my mood. It was getting late in the day, sunset was
coming, and I didn't think we'd make it to the Badlands in time. Down the
road, however, we passed a sign: "Now Entering Mountain Time Zone." Zack
announced that made it an hour earlier. Instead of 4:42, it was only 3:42.
We'd be able to make it to the Badlands on time! I said, "Zack, you're
a genius!" "Yes, that's correct," he replied (imitating Bucky from the
comic strip Get Fuzzy). No matter how late we were, we were still an hour
Right about that time it really started to rain. At Exit
78 we saw a sign for Steve's, "The world's smallest biker bar." Sturgis,
where they have a huge motorcycle rally every year, was not far away. When
we topped a hill several miles west of there, that's when the Black Hills
came into view. At 7:20 Mountain time, we pulled into Rapid City. After
checking into our motel, we ate supper at the Burger King across the highway.
It was wet and cold out. The TV weather was predicting more rain for the
next day, with a high of only 56 degrees. Still, my mood was good. Rain
or shine, hot or cold, we were back in the Black Hills, and I felt at peace.
We crashed a little before 10. That day, Zack and I drove 561 miles from
Papillion to Rapid City.
|The road took us up to the town of
Wall, where I had the chance to take Zack to one of South Dakota's landmarks:
Wall Drug. Back when driving was a novelty, the drug store in Wall had
an idea: advertise with signs all over the country. There'd be signs saying
"100 miles to Wall Drug" followed by "90 miles to Wall Drug" and so on.
The big draw was "free ice water!" I remember stopping at Wall Drug when
I was a kid. There were statues of dinosaurs and a model of Mt. Rushmore
to have your picture taken next to. And the ice water was really cold,
served in a little paper cup.
When Zack and I pulled into Wall, we didn't have any trouble
finding it. The business had expanded so much that it's more like Wall
Mall. It's not just one store any more but a block of stores, selling
everything from clothing to jewelry to ammunition. Wall Drug has art galleries,
collectibles, sculptures, and even... prescription drugs. Wall Drug has
a little bit of everything. It even has a chapel. There's casinos across
the street, and a Lutheran church right next door. We got some souvenirs
and moved on.
Me, at Wall Drug
Lewis & Clark
The Corn Palace
Badlands National Park
The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial
All content copyright (c)2005 by Tim & Zack