Pure Mid-America Corn

Thursday, June 19, 2008 -- Mitchell, SD

Here we are in Mitchell, SD. I had originally routed us closer to the Missouri by taking either 281 or 81 south from the I-90, going through Yankton, across the Missouri, and staying at a Corps of Engineers park on the south side of the river in Nebraska.

That was not to be however. A couple days ago we heard from another camper that the bridge in Yankton was being replaced and they had restrictions on travel over the old bridge. Through the magic of the internet I was able to find that the bridge wasn't only restricted, it was closed! They'd found significant deterioration in the structure of the old thing and weren't allowing any use until they figured out what to do -- if anything.

My next thought was to travel west a bit from Yankton and take the road over the dam to the south side. The other Corps dams we've been to during the past few weeks all have a substantial road right on top the dam that could easily handle our little camper. But, for whatever reason, this dam -- Gavins Point Dam -- is restricted to vehicles under 10 tons gross weight. We're something like 16 tons excluding the weight of the toad.

Yes, we could have stayed someplace on the north side of the river, but another thought entered the discussion. If we stayed on I-90 we could overnight in Mitchell and visit the only Corn Palace that exists anywhere in the world! I know, it sounds corny. But this "a-maize-ing" place is something you won't find at Disney or Southern California or along the voguish East Coast. This is purely Mid-America.

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There's been a Corn Palace in Mitchell since the late 1800's. Originally built to hype South Dakota as the new farming mecca and to encourage migration into the State, the building known as the Corn Palace today is actually the third iteration. The first and second were built entirely of wood and were really just corn-shells -- dirt floors, no electricity -- just big decorated barns. The current building is more permanent. Built in the early 1920's out of concrete and steel, it serves as the Mitchell Civic Center where basketball games, conventions, large meetings, plays, and graduations are held. For almost 85 years old it's holding up well.

Every summer a small army of young people are hired to redecorate the entire outside of the building. Large murals are the focus and each year's theme is different. The only materials used are corn and other grains and grasses that grow in South Dakota. Almost all the materials used are grown on one nearby farm. The project could be compared to putting together a huge float for the Pasadena Rose Parade -- except this float doesn't move and corn is used instead of roses. About a dozen varieties of corn are used for their different colors and shades, and each of about 275,000 ears of corn are cut in half length-wise and nailed to the side of the building, following the pattern and instructions from the artist. It's a work in progress this time of the year and you don't get the full impact of the place until later in the summer.

If you're "corn-fused" as to why we'd want to see this place, let me explain. First, my Grandfather, who lived from 1885 until 1969, always talked about seeing the Corn Palace as a young man. It was something special for him and that fact alone made it worth the stop. But Dar and I also stopped here in the early 1970's -- about 35 years ago -- on our way to Yellowstone. And, like that spot with the big rocks along the Gallatin River in Montana, we had to check out how our memories corresponded with reality.

The Corn Palace changed a lot less than that spot along the Gallatin.

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What else do you have for lunch when visiting the world's only Corn Palace?

Today, Thursday, we're off again. We're hoping a small county park just south of Sioux City Iowa will work for us. If it does we'll stay through the weekend.
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