10.06.2011 - 11.06.2011
Friday's journey was north west out of Missouri, up the western edge of Iowa following the Missouri River and north into South Dakota, finishing for the night in Tea near Sioux Falls, SD. We seemed to hit a number of detours en route and after yet another in Iowa that took us many miles off the interstate, a gas station attendant informed us that there were floods of the Missouri river from snow melt from the Rockies. This was apparently a major news story that we had somehow managed to miss while being right in the middle of the action! As we continued our detour, better informed as to what the roads – and rivers – ahead held, we passed through the small town of Missouri Valley in which the townspeople were busy sandbagging shops and businesses along the main street. Three days later, the news says that three Missouri levees in this area have now burst.
Saturday we expected a direct and potentially dull drive west to reach the Black Hills, but South Dakota had a number of surprises. First was Mitchell, a small town an hour from Sioux Falls and home of... the Corn Palace. This was a Taj Mahal–esque building that every year is adorned with a fresh exterior of corn, a new design each time. Inside and outside is a veritable cornucopia (sorry) of corn-related attractions, sideshows, food stalls, and souvenir stands overseen by Cornelius – the Mascot of the Corn. Overall a weird, pointless but very diverting distraction from the I-90.
South Dakota was mainly green and gently rolling prairie lands. We then took a detour off the I-90 to a place we had never heard of before this trip, Badlands National Park, where the prairie seemed to have dropped off an abyss into dry and desolate pink canyons. Our Lonely Planet described the park as looking like it had been boiled dry and that is a perfect description. We stopped over and over for photos, with the ever-present fear of rattlesnakes keeping the excitement level high (I even invented a short rattlesnake ditty so that they'd hear me coming and slither away. I didn't see any so I guess the song works).
Back on the interstate we at last reached the destination for which the anticipation had been building for over 350 miles... Wall Drug. This is a famous business in the town of Wall that in the tough times of the 1930s, erected a sign on the highway advertising free ice water to entice customers off the main road. These signs have become an attraction in their own right and even stretch out of state. I spent most of the day's journey clutching my camera to snap any Wall Drug signs. I don't really know why except that it became a sort of sport, like munro bagging but with much less effort. After 350 miles of hype of course we had to stop and Wall Drug delivered everything it promised... 5 cent coffee, cowboy supplies, homemade donuts, animatronic dinosaurs and ice water which is still free 80 years after the first sign went up. Another magnificent roadside Temple of Tat and well worth stopping.
We reached the Black Hills and our site on the far side of Mount Rushmore. After a beautiful evening under the pines, we retreated into Harrison as a spectacular thunder and lightening storm lit up the sky. We switched off the lights and left the blinds open so we could fall asleep watching the storm rage and boil.