Friday, September 04, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments

CANADA OR BUST, Chapter 24:  
Day 28:  Rapid City, SD to Sioux Falls, SD
As this trip is winding down, we seem to have finally chanced upon an old strategy.  Get up early and leave early.  Like yesterday, we left the hotel just before 7:00 this morning.  Today we got away that early even after packing up to move on.
Of course, the moment we tootled up the ramp and onto I-90 eastbound, that big bright star 93 million miles away glared in our eyes and reminded us of one disadvantage of early departures.  A border of swamp sunflowers lined the highway, their yellow faces happy for the warmth and light from their namesake.
With no additional major destinations on our agenda and following routes we've traveled before, our focus for the remainder of the trip will be moving east.  Of course, we'll stop for some letterboxes and a few roadside attractions along the way.  
One of the little sub-shops in the massive Wall Drug
First stop today was a place we've seen hundreds of advertisements for and ignored until today.  We finally had reason to stop after someone hid a letterbox at this quintessential "tourist trap"—Wall Drug.  Yes, that world-renowned emporium that began as a humble pharmacy in post-Depression Wall, South Dakota (pop. 873).

A 1929 pharmacy school graduate, native South Dakotan Ted Hosted and his wife Dorothy bought the struggling pharmacy in a remote, foundering town in 1931, vowing to give a five-year commitment to making the business a success before giving up on it.  As their experimental period neared its end, however, an increasing number of Rushmore-bound cars rolled past without stopping.
In the torpid heat of July in the dusty Dakota prairie (and remember, this was long before the day of air-conditioned vehicles), Dorothy suggested they try to lure customers in with the offer of free ice water.  Before Ted could finish posting the signs along the highway, Dorothy's brainstorm proved successful, as motorists began pouring into the store.
Still a self-promotional champion
The rest is advertising and marketing history.  Wall Drug signs today can be seen for hundreds of miles around.  Rumor has it that American GIs even posted some in Europe during World War II.  (Maybe it was Kilroy!)  From its humble beginnings, Wall Drug has grown into a 76,000-square-foot, block-long collection of stores that attract more than 20,000 people a day in summer.  
Nothing bad about this scenery
Named for a rocky nine-mile stretch of jagged ridges that form the northern rim of the Badlands, the town of Wall also serves as the gateway to Badlands National Park.  We entered the park just before 9 a.m. and drove the Badlands Loop Road east through the cones, ridges, gorges, buttes, gulches, and pinnacles that make the area so difficult to traverse.  The very features that led the Lakota Sioux to lebel thee area "makoshika"—the bad lands.
Eons of erosion have uncovered these striated formations in the midst of the prairie.  As photo exhibits in the visitor center attested, these monochromatic layers become very colorful when exposed to rain.  Happy to be driving through on good roads in an air-conditioned car on this day with the temp above 90°, we searched in vain for a place to hide a letterbox.  The one box that had been secreted at a scenic lookout seemed to be missing, and we weren't able to leave a substitute.
Wild sunflowers grow most anywhere in South Dakota.
Before returning to I-90, we popped in at the visitor center of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.  Just opened last year, the center appeared to be still very much under construction.  Exhibits were obviously temporary, and one had to drive 20 miles west to visit the site's features—a launch control facility and a missile silo complex.  We were mildly interested in seeing the silo since my grandfather worked with the U.S. Corps of Engineers on missile silo projects for many years.  But with many miles eastward yet to go, backtracking just didn't work for us today.
Finding a shady space to park and eat our picnic lunch proved to be quite a challenge as we drove across South Dakota's treeless plains.  Lacking sufficient rain to sustain trees but with too much to be desert, this long stretch of South Dakota is pure prairie, harboring a nice variety of short and a few tall prairie grasses.  Finally near Murdo, we found a compact little cemetery near the freeway.  A couple of its handful of trees were throwing some deep welcoming shadows across the lane.  So we made some salads and paused for a cool, quiet repast before continuing our eastward drive.
This palace may be corny, but it's pretty cool.
Our next stop was the town of Mitchell (pop. 15,539), the proud home of a unique architectural structure—a corn palace.  Back in the late 19th century, small South Dakota farming communities were competing to attract visitors and promote their products.  In this era, almost every town had theaters for traveling vaudeville and other performers.  Often these were designed with a Moorish architectural influence and called palaces, and in this part of the country, a trend emerged of decorating the buildings with the local crops.   Aberdeen had a grain palace; Rapid City, an alfalfa palace; and Mitchell, the corn palace.  
With an extensive 2014 facelift and renovation nearing completion, the maize marvel looks better than ever, say the locals.  Each spring local farmers plant special corn to achieve a variety of colors for the murals attached to the exterior walls.  In late August, crews of workers take over 300,000 colorful ears of corn, slice them in half, and nail them into place in a pattern prescribed by a local artist.  Small amounts of other grasses and grains are used for details and borders.  Throughout the winter, the corn palace serves as a giant bird feeder, and come spring, the entire process begins anew.  
After Mitchell, we drove the additional 75 miles to Sioux Falls, arriving just before 7 p.m.  Tomorrow, we'll head into the rising sun yet again.


Daily Stats
  • Miles driven:  378
  • Miles walked:  3.3
  • Letterboxes:  2 found
  • Weather:  72° to 92°, clear
  • Gas:  $3.00 in Box Elder, SD
  • Wall Drug signs:  54
  • Tourists at Wall:  268
  • Sunflowers:  125,892
  • Ears of corn on the Corn Palace:  382,099