South Dakota Surprises

Friday, July 22, 2016

Before just heading off across South Dakota, I wanted to check out the Louis and Clark Interpretive Center, but had to bide my time with a short walk along the Missouri River and just wait until the doors opened at 9 a.m. I was the first visitor of the day. The center was very informative with backgrounds on how that expedition was planned and then executed back in 1804, a year after President Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory from France. Dioramas, artifacts and interpretive displays all helped me more fully appreciate the hardships, dangers and adventure the toupe of men experienced in nearly 2 years of investigating for a Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps you knew this, but the Mississippi River is NOT the longest river in the US. It is the Missouri. Of course, it does not extend to the Pacific, something this expedition confirmed. But the information they brought back and mostly peaceful interactions with the many Indian tribes helped this new country expand borders and conquer the West. Journals kept by the officers and some of the enlisted men give an accurate accounting of everything that those men endured. 

They all were very hardy and brave men.

Merriweather Lewis, William Clark and dog Seaman are shown in this sculpture.     

Sign of the Cross

                                                                                      Before departing Sioux City, Iowa, I boarded an old boat that was used on the Missouri River for keeping the river cleared of debris and maintenance and read more displays about the early paddle wheelers used on the river, the mishaps, types of cargo, artifacts, records etc. 

First surprise today was to learn Sioux City is a port city. I had not fully grasped that the Missouri River is a major river that handles river traffic and commerce just like the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. 

Second surprise (actually a reminder) the borders of Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska all converge at Sioux City.  

So, very shortly, driving north up I-29 to visit Sioux Falls,  I was already in South Dakota. Can that be right? To my surprise, I saw the speed limit sign and right there in black and white I read Speed Limit 80. Really? I thought. Why would anyone need to drive that fast? How much of a hurry can people be in? 

And yet - before the day was over, I too was nudging my speedometer alongside 80 mph…

Sioux Falls, South Dakota is about 80 miles north, and while I drove a tad faster than normal at about 75 +/-, I arrived and accidentally exited near the airport only to be surprised by an apparent air show in progress, as two WWII planes flew low near me with smoke trails that caught my attention. Not in my loosely constructed plan for the day, but what the heck, I’ll stop and see how this show compares to the awesome show at Luke Air Base outside Phoenix. I believe the Thunderbirds were also there as I stayed long enough to see several of their fly overs and landings. Those jets are FAST - and LOUD! 

In my humble opinion, for the short time I watched, this show was good - but not as spectacular as Luke’s.

My real intent for visiting Sioux Falls was to see…the Falls. Yep, near downtown on the Big Sioux River are a series of very nice waterfalls that were used for generating electricity and mill grinding in past years. The exposed hard bedrock, Sioux Quartzite, is teaming with visitors who enjoy the rushing waters and adjacent park.

 I learned the Sioux Quartzite is harder than granite or marble and nearly as hard as diamonds. Having had lunch at the cafe, I spent over two hours, enduring the extreme humidity and heat, as I tried to read the information boards, enjoy the views, take pictures, and relax. By the time I returned to my truck, I was perspiration soaked and dripping. I swear a person could have reached out, grabbed two fistfuls of that humid air and simply wrung out a good quart of water. 

Thank goodness the a/c quickly got up to speed and I began cooling down. 

Thirty miles west of Sioux Falls as I was not nearly so swimmingly soaked and starting to dry out, I saw an odd sight on the opposite side of the road. Is that a gigantic Long Horn Steers head? A metal sculpture? And, just as quickly a sigh shouts out to stop at the Porter Sculpture Park. 

So I did. 

Driving back down a long gravel road I found the sculptor sitting in a shed sweating it out as he came to greet me. We chatted for awhile and he showed me a current project which is practically a Trojan horse, it’s size is humogous, as in the size of one of the Mt. Rushmore heads. He is in his eighth year on this and photos of the progress are amazing with a metal frame work to start and then clad in railroad tie plates formed and welded together in a very realistic shape of a horse. But that will come some other time and perhaps, if I come that way again, I’ll be able to see it out in the field. 

Being up from the highway, a good breeze was blowing that helped make the humidity tolerable. Porter’s creations are fun and quirky, something that just made me laugh and want to be goofy too. I’m amazed at this man’s creativity. Included around the “park” are some of is poems and thoughts, also quirky, odd and yet inciteful. The huge steer head? It actually is based on an ancient Egyptian cow or steer. It too is made out of railroad tie plates (that the rails are naied to). Inside the head you will be greeted by some other scary little creatures… What he has created is such a fun diversion for travelers on the highway and worth the time to investigate and enjoy.

During this trip I was reminded of a car club friend who lives in and owns a motel in Murdo, SD and was encourgaed to contact him. On the drive west on I-90, I called Dan Iversen and found he would keep a room for me. However, at that point I was still over three hours from Murdo, and it was already going on 5 p.m. This meant if I were to stay at the Iversen Inn, I’d be driving for longer than I normally would. Dan told me about a few other sites I should visit, including The Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. Of course I have heard of the Corn Palace and wanted to include that in my trip.

Another hour and I exited to Mitchell, SD and went in search of this curiosity. Holy Smokes, as I round a corner there stood this hard to miss, crazy building that is like nothing I have ever seen. With little time to spare I did a quick tour and found that the facade actually is constructed of - yes indeed - CORN. (And you thought I was through with all the corn pictures, didn’t you?). I learned that every year the corn is replaced with new ears that are halfed and naied to a form that  then is reattached to the building. Inside, the building is actually an auditorium, arena where concerts, basketball games and other events are held. The auditorium has murals upon the walls, also made of corn. My surprise here was to learn about the actual use of corn on and in the building. 

Back on the highway, it was obvious that I had tarried a bit longer at two unscheduled places. So, that speed limit of 80 seemed to be more to my liking. I pushed that speedometer up near tickling the 80, but not past it - unless I needed to pass another vehicle. Maybe 80 mph isn’t such a bad thing after all.  

 These were little surprises about South Dakota, that I discovered today, but more surprising to me are the number of other attractions just along I-90 that I did not get to see or that are yet ahead of me. There is a tractor museum back in Chamberlain that I am sure my brothers Tom and Bob would really enjoy. Other curiosities and tourist traps abound, not all could be seen in the time span I allowed for myself.

Dan, here, wants me to visit the Pioneer Auto Show here in Murdo with hundreds of cars, antique tractors, farm machinery, motorcycles and much more. I’d not planned to stay here but overnight, but now it looks like I may need to alter my plans again to discover otherwise unknown tourist gems.

Dan has also given me maps of the Black Hills, Badlands, Mt. Rushmore and Devil’s Tower which will be very helpful as I continue on westward to explore those places.

Along I-90 I noticed several times there are gates that are lowered to block traffic from going further. All give pre-warning with flashing lights prior to an exit to allow vehicles to leave the interstate. I found that those crossing arm type gates are for winter use when the high winds, heavy and blowing snow are so treacherous that portions of the highway are closed down. If someone has entered the area that is closed, they are pretty much on their own if they get caught in a blizzard and trapped in the desolate winter landscape. That frigid image, on a day like today with the heat and HUMIDITY is hard to wrap my head around. But, I wonder… how many South Dakotans leave here in the winter for warmer climes. 

I would.

One last thing,  I am surprised that Sioux Falls (and other towns) is actually a fairly big city and that more people live here in South Dakota than I had thought. There are many more places to visit and explore than I could have imagined. For whatever reason, I thought this state would not have a large population, - kinda like how some think Arizona is nothing but sand and cactus and HOT.

As I was driving this afternoon, seeing the vast expanse ahead of and all around me, when crops gave way to limitless grassland, I could just imagine the immense herds of bison that once dominated these lands. Or perhaps an Indian brave roaming over the gently rolling hills in search of his place and purpose in life. Finding solitude and yet a peaceful connection with creation that unites him with his great spirit and his ties to nature.

u © Donald E. Kline 2012