With my roots dug into Iowa, I was always quick to correct those who said, “Iowa? Land of potatoes, right?”
“NO! Corn. Idaho is potatoes; Iowa is corn.”
Well, apparently, Iowa does not hold the corner on the market. Welcome to Western Minnesota and South Dakota. I learned Olivia, MN, about two hours west of Minneapolis, boasts itself to be the CORN CAPITAL. I was dubious, but when I went into the local coffee shop on highway 212W, the tall dark haired woman behind the counter (the one who asked me if I wanted coffee mate with that small coffee) sported a shirt blazoned with: KEEP CALM and COB ON!
When I complimented her on the neat shirt, she said it was from last year’s American Legion fund raiser. Dang, I wanted one of those.
As I carried on down the road toward Route 23 and the Split Rock State Park, my coffee gave off the smell of a scented candle, something along the lines of cinnamon apple without the appeal of a pie. I passed three huge trailers toting potatoes, the dark rich earth spilled onto the road. I imagined how good a potato straight from the dark Midwestern earth might taste. My mouth watered and then dried out a bit. The billboards in the neighboring town of Pipestone advertised themselves as the link to the future. A picture of a small lab-made pill, glistened with by the backlit sun and made me think this was not a GMO-Free zone. I admired the pride the place held and stopping at the local DQ…yep, it’s Dairy Queen land out here, I met a young lady who was a senior at Pipestone High. She was planning on going to the University of Minnesota next fall but she thought she’d return to Pipestone. “Good place, ya know?”
The evening at Split Rock State Park was quite enjoyable. Quiet with just me and two other RV’s. One was the host and when I came by his trailer he was leaning against the front support pole looking out at nothing and possibly everything. He was a character straight off the Garrison Keillor set.
“Nice spot here on the lake.”
“Must make for a lovely sunrise.”
“Okay, then, you have a good evening.”
Not even a yep, just a nod.
After keeping calm and cobbing on through Minnesota, I entered South Dakota. First time ever passing into this land of the wild. Even on the confines of super highway 90 where the speed limit is 75, I felt that sense of being unleashed. Signs that said next gas 92 miles made me realize I was definitely far from home. That said, the kitsch was on high alert.
A highway paved with billboards. Mitchell: the home of the World’s ONLY Corn Palace. Wall, South Dakota and home of the Famous Wall’s Drug. Oacoma advertised for Al’s Oasis! Mitchell’s allure of having the World’s ONLY corn palace seemed like an obvious statement—I did not think I had heard of one in Paris; however, it honestly factored into my stopping to walk around the edifice that gave off an aroma of a state fair that had the port-a-potties up a few days too long. Wall’s and Al’s Oasis signs litter the highway for no less than 300 miles. The billboards are akin to South of the Border in the Carolinas. While they are not as big as the Pedro brightly colored signs, they are more plentiful. Every few miles is another advertisement on why you cannot miss Wall’s and their best (fill in the blank) sodas, saddles, soapstones… Apparently, you also didn’t want to speed by Al’s Oasis just past Plankinton in Oacoma and the home of the 5cent coffee. (I did speed by. We all know that 5 cent coffee is code for Folger’s on the five hour hot plate.)
Indecision set in as I fought the urge to just get on to the Black Hills versus stop in the Badlands. Interstate 90 is flat with only billboards for entertainment. It is absolute prairie land out there. I was not convinced from my driver’s side door that stopping anytime before the Black Hills would be worth it. This is the way we traveled as kids, as the sign for an attraction fled by our eyes at double digit speed, my father would say: “Did you all really want to stop?”
I get that now, from the driver’s seat. But dang…stopping is what I am all about this trip. I pulled off and sidled up to the Badlands National Park entrance where I bought my year pass for National Parks entry. The fee for park entry is $10, but $80 for a year for all the parks. One park down, seven to go! A personal challenge is coming on.
As I pulled passed the Badlands National Park entrance, my eyes bugged out. Holy Moonscapes Batman! Prairie lands, be dammed! The crazy spires coming out of the ground definitely left the flatlands behind and set me somewhere much further than my imagination could create. The hiking was great—up and down this rock like substances that was more lava like than rock. A scramble up the ladder to the pinnacle of Notch Trail gave me a good work out in ninety degree weather as well as the reward of an incredible view. This should be one of those 1000 places to see before you croak.
Tent sites have been mostly in the woods up to this point. This night I was set up under a stubby little tree, choosing a low site in the thought that it would be less windy. Less by maybe a digit or two which I don’t think factored in as the wind gusted up to 30 mph. I used every stake, including the extras my friend Annie had loaned me and I was still not convinced that the tent would stay put. To help my peace of mind while I went off hiking, I placed my heavy bike rack attachment inside the tent.
The neighbors have not been plentiful—enough to feel safe but not bothered. The greater company are the stars. I don’t see too many before bed as I’m tucked in and reading by sundown but since nature always calls during the night, I use the need to spend more time under the stars. Their only rival is the sunrise.