South Dakota – all I can say is that this place must be pretty depressing in the winter. We actually have a Teach For America corps here. There are about fifty teachers teaching on a Native American reservation just southeast of Badlands National Park, far, far away from any substantial town. What a commitment!
We left Rob’s pretty early so we’d have time to explore a bit once we reached Wall, SD. Most of the drive through northwestern Iowa was more of the same: lots and lots of corn. In South Dakota the landscape changed a bit. The cornfields were interspersed with hayfields and pasture lands. We saw one herd of buffalo and tons of cows.
At lunchtime we stopped in Mitchell, SD, home of the world famous Corn Palace. Supposedly the façade of this basketball gymnasium is made entirely from corn. It was a bit anticlimactic, but one of those necessary places of lore that one must visit when driving through South Dakota. Corn Palace was in downtown Mitchell, away from the fast food restaurants closer to the interstate, so we moseyed on in to Betty’s Café. It was bustling with locals of all ages who’d come right over from church. Our order was brusquely taken by the waitress, and about 10 minutes later a pile of slop was thrown down in front of me.
My experience with cafes and plate lunches has mostly been positive. In Louisiana, a run-down café in a long-forgotten downtown will usually serve up some mean red beans and rice (think Lea’s in Lecompte or Bourbon Street Café at Shop-Rite in Jennings). But that scenario plays out much differently in South Dakota. My turkey slices were accompanied by some peas and carrots straight out of the can and instant mashed potatoes smothered in white gravy.
We made it through the meal unscathed, though, then stopped by Cabela’s for some man-time. Massive sporting goods stores are so much fun! (C just couldn’t figure out why I enjoyed being there).
The drive from Mitchell to Badlands National Park was brutally long and desolate, but the sites awaiting us were spectacular. The Badlands (so named by fur traders in the olden days) are a vast area of sharply eroded buttes and pinnacles. The National Park includes the largest protected mixed-grass prairie in the U.S. One theory is that this area was once a huge watering hole that eventually dried up. That might account for the large numbers of prehistoric fossils found in the area.
We hiked some up the rock and through a meadow before making our way to the Days Inn, Wall, SD – our home away from home.