Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Roaming the Dakotas

We've left the Winnebago Rally, putting away our tie-died shirts and headbands, and shelving the Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin CDs. Leaving Forest City, we headed west to visit our full-timer's home town, Sioux Falls, SD. We stayed just long enough to pick up our mail and do some shopping, then headed to Mitchell, the home of the fabled Corn Palace. While it may sound, ah, corny (sorry), it's actually a pretty neat place. The first "palace" was built in 1892 to showcase the corn grown in South Dakota, and the current palace was built in 1921. Each year, a committee decides what the theme will be, and the exterior walls are stripped and the work begins. The corn, which is specially grown in seven colors, is cut lengthwise so that a flat surface can be placed against the walls. The murals are drawn, and like a "color by numbers" painting, the corn is nailed to the walls forming the mural. It sounds simple, until you learn that over 275,000 ears of corn and two tons of nails are used. From a distance, it's difficult to see the individual ears of corn that form the mural, and it's amazing to see how detailed each mural is when viewed closely. Inside, the palace has a large gym which serves as the local high school's basketball arena, a stage, and of course a "corncession" area (I'm not making this up). An interesting mural (see picture below) decorates the wall, looking at it and starting at each end, you see a picture of a pioneer (left side) and Indian (right side). Working inward, there's a cabin and tepee, cow and bison, bible/nature depiction, and finally hands of the pioneer and Indian clasped to represent how both came together in this area. If you think all of this is a bit cornball (hah! I love this!), then consider that the Mitchell high school team name is the "Kernels" and their team mascot is named "Cornelius". Seriously. I couldn't make this up. Those of you with high-school aged children might want to threaten them with moving to Mitchell if they don't straighten up.
Leaving Michell, we headed west again before turning north through Pierre, the state capital. Pronounced "peer", it's a small town of less than 14,000 located in the center of the state, well off the major highways, making you wonder why it became the capital. We didn't stop here, but continued north until reaching Bismarck, North Dakota where we stopped to visit historic Fort Abraham Lincoln, the home of the 7th Calvary and George Armstrong Custer. I've always been interested in the Custer story and thought it would be interested in visiting the fort from which he and the 7th left to meet Sitting Bull and most of the Indians in the world at the Little Big Horn. Unfortunately, the fort, while interesting, contains only recreations of the original buildings. Since this is a country of rolling plains and few trees, once the fort closed in 1891 the locals stripped the fort of everything usable, and nothing above ground remained. Custer's house is the main attraction, and the state park system has done an admirable job in recreating where he and his wife, Libby, lived. Built using original blue prints and furnished in period furniture, many of the rooms were recreated using photographs of the time, and a few of the actual Custer possessions still remain. We were surprised by the size of the house; with servant's bedrooms, guest bedroom, study, and other rooms, it was as large many new homes and must have quite the showplace in it's day. Other than touring the house and enjoying the view of the river from high on the bluff, we didn't find too much else of interest at the fort or in Bismarck. We again headed north, this time to Minot, ND, to meet with our friends Kirk and Sue, who had traveled from Dayton, OH to visit with their son and his family who are stationed at the Air Force Base. I've always been interested in seeing Minot; while I was in the Air Force, Minot was always assumed to be some sort of penal colony for bad airmen, and it was like the TV commercial for the "Roach Motel"........people went in the gate and never came out. With winter temperatures that can reach 50 below zero, endless expanses of fields of grain unbroken by trees, and a location far, far away from any major metropolitan area, it's not exactly a place that comes to mind when planning a vacation. We had a good time visiting though, and toured the local cultural attraction, the Scandinavian Heritage Park. Minot's population is over 40% Scandinavian, and the park is an area of historical buildings, some recreated and some actually brought from Norway, and it has an interesting visitor center, where Brenda shared a seat with a local character. While all of the buildings were interesting, we were struck by the beauty of the church, which almost looked oriental from the outside. The inside was almost all natural wood, intricately carved and beautiful. It was an interesting visit, but aside from this there was not much to see or do, and so after stocking up on groceries, we headed west again. We'll be turning southwest once we enter Montana to travel to the Little Big Horn Battlefield. Stop back and see us!

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