South Dakota – 2012 Road Trip – Day 13 – From Badlands to Good Art

On Wednesday morning of the second week we started our eastbound route towards home, starting out across the vast prairie  and rolling hills across South Dakota.

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Our first stop in the tiny town of Wall, South Dakota. This town is the home of Wall Drug Store, a drug store, gift shop, restaurant and various other stores that draws some two million annual visitors to a remote town.

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Wall Drug earns much of its fame from its self-promotion. Billboards advertising the establishment can be seen for hundreds of miles throughout South Dakota and the neighboring states. In addition, many visitors of Wall Drug have erected signs throughout the world announcing the miles to Wall Drug from famous locations.

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Just outside of Wall is the famous South Dakota Badlands National Park.

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The badlands are sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires blended with the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the United States. The best of these savagely beautiful badlands comprise the 244,000 acres of Badlands National Park, a unique region so ruthlessly ravaged by wind and water that has become a scenic wonderland.

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We were able to take in much of this area by travelling the Badlands Scenic Loop, a 31 mile drive through the heart of the park.

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Lunchtime found us in Murdo, South Dakota, home of a diner and the Pioneer Auto Museum. They advertise 275 cars, and they were not exaggerating. It was however, a jumbled collection of uncared-for, hodgepodge antiques and shabby mannequins stuffed everywhere throughout multiple buildings in no logical order.

You feel like you’re walking through someone’s garage where they’ve been hoarding junk for a century. The cars were in no order whatsoever, and were shown in dimly lit pole barms with plastic strips hanging from the doors. While there were some beautiful cars, most appeared neglected (dirty, dusty, flat tires). A row of cars sits open-air under a tin roof. Most of the cars are in unrestored condition. Overall, it appears this place opened in 1954 and no one has cleaned or done anything to it since. A very surreal, sad sight.

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Our next stop was much more uplifting. In Mitchell, South Dakota is the Corn Palace. The Moorish Revival building is decorated with crop art; the murals and designs covering the building are made from corn and other grains.

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The exterior corn murals are replaced and redesigned each year with a new theme, done by local artists.

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The Palace, with its mad mix of onion domes and minarets, looks like it was drop-kicked out of czarist Russia. It was originally built in 1892 to show off the fertility of South Dakota soil and lure settlers. It was rebuilt in 1905 and then again in 1921 — and that version has remained on the job ever since, luring tourists now instead of farmers.

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With our drive nearly complete we spent the night in South Dakota’s largest city, Sioux Falls. Not much to say about Sioux Falls except it is large enough to have all the chain stores and restaurants, and having been off the grid for a few days, we chose to enjoy one by stopping at an Outback Steakhouse.