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American Road Trip Adventure: Day 4 (Part Two)

September 4th, 2013 (10:00 pm)

I've just returned from a long road trip. I was traveling to a conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, and we made it a family vacation, to show our son more of this big, amazing country. I blogged from the road, but I didn't want to advertise to every burglar on the internet that our house was empty, so I've waited until now to start posting the entries.

De Smet to Rapid City, South Dakota
362 miles

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We left Laura Ingalls Wilder country, but more fun awaited us that evening on the road.

The drive through South Dakota was interesting, partly because so much of the state has been left largely undeveloped, and looks much like it did in Laura's time. This was especially apparent as we drove on minor roads (some of them unpaved) through miles of prairie. We did notice as we drove south that at some point the family farms we'd seen in Laura Country gave way to the same Big Food Industry farms that stretch across so much of the Midwest these days, each one with signs planted along the edge of its fields to proclaim the name of the company that genetically engineered this particular crop.

But our faith in small-town South Dakota won out as we reached Interstate 90 at the town of Mitchell, population a little less than 15,000. Incidentally, that makes it the state's sixth largest city, a little bigger than the capital, Pierre.

But Mitchell has something Pierre doesn't. Mitchell, South Dakota, is the home of the Corn Palace. Yes, it's a palace made of corn, or at least decorated with corn, as well as other local crops. This large, onion-domed facility is used as a basketball arena, theater, agricultural showcase, and annual Corn Festival venue. It is redecorated each year, with great fanfare. And it's the epitome of farm-belt kitsch.
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We thought we'd give Mitchell a quick drive-by, but the Corn Palace was just too good to pass up. We had to stop and see what it looked like on the inside. I bought some wonderfully tacky postcards there, and we all learned a lot about corn from the corn education exhibits inside. Jon Morgan even got to sit on a tractor. It was all great, corny fun.
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The extra stop meant we'd arrive much later at our hotel in Rapid City, but it was worth getting to bed a little late, Besides, when else will we ever have the chance to tour a palace made of corn?

Eventually we continued on I-90 across southern South Dakota, driving into the sunset, like all great heroes of Wild West lore. (See below.)

Speaking of heroes, tomorrow's itinerary includes some American hero worship at Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument. We're spending two nights at the Rapid City hotel, for the first time since we left home, we'll have a day without a long drive.

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