Day 76 Thursday July 5, 2007 – South Dakota
The next couple of days are to involve a lot of the great outdoors and even more driving. Both of which are a bit different than the city experiences that we left behind in the midwest and on the east coast. South Dakota sits at the north end of the great plains and the scenery reflects it’s location. In addition to the grassy plains are a plethora of corn fields. With the popularity of ethanol, I understand that corn crops are becoming more and more popular for farmers in this region.
Speaking of corn, we stopped in the little town of Mitchell, South Dakota, just 30 miles outside of Sioux Falls. Mitchell has long been famous for it’s Corn Palace. What is the Corn Palace you say? The Corn Palace is basically a gym, who’s exterior is covered and decorated with corn. The current building is the third incarnation of the Corn Palace in Mitchell. The previous two, were used for different purposes and were torn down for various reasons. All three Corn Palaces have been owned by the city of Mitchell and have served the public in different ways. I had seen the Corn Palace on TV some years ago, so I felt that we should stop to see what the fuss was about. I found the exterior designs very interesting, but they were in the middle of reconstructing the mural (they do it yearly) for the festival in September, so the decorations were incomplete.
After leaving the Corn Palace, we had some lunch and met a nice local couple who gave us a little advice about where to visit in the region. I think they took offense to the fact that we only had a day to see western South Dakota, but what can we do. After lunch, we got on the road and headed for Mt. Rushmore, which sits on the western edge of the state.
It is about a four hour drive from Sioux Falls to Mt. Rushmore. We went to Mt. Rushmore with the decision already made to see the end of day show, where the mountain is lit, so we had a little extra time on our hands. Given this fact, in the middle of our drive across South Dakota, we were excited to pull off the road at Badlands National Park to drive the scenic road through the park..
Badlands National Park is a very interesting place. Some people may not consider it beautiful, but I think the random, steep mountain formations, make it a special place. In addition to the mountains, Badlands is an active archaeological site. We took a short hike that highlighted the fossils they find here on a daily basis, including many extinct species. After that, we decided to see if we could spot some of the North American Buffalo (AKA Bisen) known to roam through the park.
After driving down a dirt road that was recommended to us by the park ranger, we finally found a buffalo out in the distance. He was pretty far away, but I got out of the car in order to get a closer look. The view was alright, but he was still rather far away. The one thing I did notice was the amount of prairie dogs all over the area. When I got out of the car to take a picture, they all stood up and seemed to be warning each other about me. It was a very interesting spectacle.
Finally, we had seen enough and got back on the road. After having dinner in Cedar Rapids, we finally arrived at Mt. Rushmore around 8pm. Mt. Rushmore is probably one of the best known sites in America. Not only is it a place like no other, but it has been referenced so much in popular culture, that even the most sheltered American has probably seen the infamous monument numerous times.
As we walked up to the visitor’s center and finally saw the mountain rising above us, I couldn’t help but think about how much more impressive Mt. Rushmore is in person. I really don’t know why it is so profound, but I can tell you that the faces are rather striking. When I contemplate all that is going on in this country right now and all I have seen of this country in the past 2 ½ months, this place reminds me of how proud I am to be an American.
At the monument, they have a visitor’s center which proudly displays the history of how Mt. Rushmore National Monument came to be. The displays also helped me learn more about the architect along with the processes he used to blast those infamous faces into the side of the mountain. They also had a fifteen minute video that elaborated on a lot of what the displays touched on. After walking through the visitor’s center and watching the video, it was 9pm, so we claimed our seats in the amphitheater in preparation of the show at 9:30pm.
When the show started, I wasn’t sure what to expect or exactly what it would entail. The show started with a park ranger talking about the history of the men depicted on Mt. Rushmore, but more impressive and moving was her talk about the history of America and the ideals that make this a great country. I have to mention that this ranger was not your typical stock . She was maybe 25 years old and in her speech, brought such a youthful, interesting passion. Her talk really turned out to be a theatrical performance and after her 20 minute show, a video was shown, followed by the lighting of the mountain. By 9:45pm when we left, I was so full of patriotism and love for this country that it felt really good. Despite all of our problems, with people like this ranger reminding thousands of people every night about what makes our country great, I think we will endure!
Since this thought crossed my mind at several different points of the show, I want to say one thing here. I believe as Americans we need to accept into our culture, more love, acceptance and unity. For way to long, many have lived with and even taken power by spewing out hatred and intolerance towards others. In the past few years these sad ideals have returned to the main stream, since these beliefs have been reflected in our government, more specifically by our president. I believe kindness, honesty, tolerance and unity are things that every American can agree on, no matter what our political beliefs.
After the show, we left Mt. Rushmore, without a hotel booked for the night. The plan was to head over to Wind Cave National Park, where I had read that the campground rarely fills up. Since July 1st, it has been increasingly hard to get hotels at a reasonable price, given that this is the time of year that most Americans travel. We arrived at the campground and found that there was plenty of spaces available, so we were in luck. Since it was so late, Jasmine and I just figured that we would sleep in the car. Tomorrow I will fill you in on how the whole “sleeping in the car thing” worked out!
The Coomer Family