Still More South Dakota

Our trip to the Plains has been enlightening, to say the least. I have been amazed by the dazzling beauty of the land itself out here, and by the history lessons that present themselves every day.

As we headed toward the Badlands, we detoured to visit Wounded Knee, site of the 1890 massacre where 150-300 men, women, and children of the Lakota nation were killed by the 7th Cavalry.20161022_003021.jpg

Although it has been designated a National Historic Site, it’s a pretty grim site. The cemetery is overgrown, panhandlers selling trinkets and asking for money gather around the few visitors, and the small tribal museum/information center there has fallen into disrepair.wp-1477114136758.jpg Apparently, there is a Wounded Knee Museum in Wall, but we didn’t get to that town.The cemetery there is still in use today, and we saw many graves with the same family names.20161022_003132.jpg I left with the resolve to read some of the books I’ve gathered about the plight of Native Americans, and the history of our relations with them. Seems like it would be impossible to feel good about any of this.

We really didn’t have any expectations about the Badlands, other than we knew it was a National Park with some pretty unusual scenery. Unfortunately, we found the campground closed – we had to camp in the Group Campgroound.wp-1477114104098.jpg It was ok, but lacking in ambiance. Turned out to be a good spot for John to fly his kite.wp-1477113829882.jpg wp-1477113829884.jpgThe setting sun also lit the rocky landscape with a beautiful glow.wp-1477114054127.jpg Although we couldn’t see it, there was a huge prairie grass fire nearby along I-90 – about 10 miles long. We could smell the smoke (actually, we thought it was our neighbors smoking outside!). A few days later, we were amazed to see the blackened prairie, running for miles along the roadside.

I’m not sure how to describe the scenery here. wp-1477119153343.jpgwp-1477114006401.jpgThe Scenic Drive runs along the north edge of the Badlands, and divides it from the National Grasslands which it borders. The difference is very stark – check out this video. I stood in one spot, and simply pivoted about 270 degrees.

Canyon to Grassland – it’s eerie. We hiked and stopped at every scenic turnout or viewpoint along the way. Each offers a unique perspective. The grasslands here were home to many homesteaders, lured by the prospect of 160 acres of free land, which turned out to be too dry for farming, and too small to support any ranching. It’s uniquely beautiful, and terrifyingly desolate at the same time.

wp-1477113953525.jpgNext, we headed to Pierre (pronounced Peer), in our quest to visit State Capitols. Our campground was a small downtown park, right on the Missouri River. While lacking in amenities, it was a terrific location – we were less than a mile from the City center, making it easy to stroll, and leave the truck and Fireball at camp.

For a state with a small population, the State House was surprisingly elaborate.wp-1477113830186.jpg wp-1477138388328.jpgwp-1477138410511.jpgThey sure didn’t skimp on the use of Vermont marble in this building. Although they didn’t photograph well, I loved the gigantic marble drinking fountains, with their shiny brass fittings. So far, we have loved visiting state capitols – they are architectural gems. My favorites have been Utah, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. We are resolved to visit our own capitol in Lansing – John has never been inside the building, and I haven’t been there for at least 30 years.

Who could visit South Dakota without seeing the Corn Palace in Mitchell?wp-1477139792058.jpgwp-1477138456834.jpg What a crazy idea – to build an arena, and decorate it with murals constructed of corn and native grasses. And, change the murals every year?This year’s theme is American music – many of the previous years had themes which centered around Native Americans and life on the Plains.wp-1477138456976.jpg Corn, in a dozen different hues, is cut vertically through the cob, then nailed or glues into the murals. It’s fun, creative, and a unique bit of American kitsch. I didn’t know that, at one time, there were more than 30 such buildings in US towns. Mitchell bills itself as the ‘only’ Corn Palace today.Apparently, the turnip-shaped structures on the roof were replaced this year with a metal structure that must have some kind of light show on it. Don’t know how anyone else feels, but I really don’t like the new look.  A bonus? Mitchell was also the home of George McGovern – one of my early political heroes. I remember proudly casting my first vote for US President for him.wp-1477139523307.jpgWe’re at the point where we’re on the road every day, heading home. It’s been a good trip, but we have house and yard stuff calling us home. Even Jezzy is starting to act a bit grumpy – she sure doesn’t care much for being cooped up in the truck so much.

We’ve got one more major sight to see, but should be home in three more days. I’m going to keep you in suspense as to what it might be….;-)

11 thoughts on “Still More South Dakota

  1. I hit some of the same places as you on my adventures this summer! I’m so far behind on blogging though, it will be a bit before I get to those posts. I didn’t make it to Wounded Knee – it was just a bit too far off my beaten path. Beautiful pictures!


  2. I am continually amazed by the beauty of our country, sometimes lush and colorful, sometimes dry and harsh. That stark contrast between grasslands and badlands is stupefying. When I first saw it, I imagined the first humans to find it being startled and afraid. What geological events created such a drastic and sudden cut in the land? The corn palace is a very fun place, revealing how creative and silly we can be. Wounded Knee left me in tears. The history which has left a noble people in such crippling poverty breaks my heart. My first exposure to the culture was in grade school, and I have an abiding awe and respect for our indigenous people and a deep regret and guilt about how they have been treated by Euro-Americans then and now. I have a dream catcher I bought there. Looking forward to your future posts. Springfield, Illinois? Lincoln’s home? Not to be missed. if you haven’t seen it.


    • The variety of scenery is outstanding, isn’t it? That’s why we plot a route to any National Parks first when we are trip planning…. there’s a reason why these spots we set aside for us to enjoy.

      We didn’t buy any trinkets, but gave one old guy $5. It’s a very sad situation there or at most of the Reservations we are acquainted Ted with. Seems it should be pretty obvious by now that casinos aren’t the answer, but they appear to be one of the only sources of jobs.

      You’ll have to guess again…;-)




  3. You mentioned “Bury my heart at Wounded Knee”, that was a life changing book for me when I read it, many, many years ago.

    I’ve been past the Corn Palace twice, never went inside.

    The photos were very good, but it’s hard to capture the feeling of emptiness that one gets when seeing either the Badlands or the almost equally empty grasslands. I do remember the sudden change though, and wondered how that happened.


    • The fun stuff on the Corn Palace is outside, EXCEPT that they have photos of every CP fully decorated since the early days. Man, there were some amazing years. That was actually the part I liked best. You can probably find those photos online somewhere. The older iterations were much more elaborate.

      The abrupt land transition is crazy, isn’t it? And, it’s hard to visualize what it must have looked like when the adjoining prairie was all split into its 160 acre sections….you can see such a long distance.

      It’s been a great learning experience out here….


  4. I read a really good book about Native Americans. It is called “Ishi.” Ishi was the last member of the Yahi, a group of the Yana in California. It’s rather graphic in terms of the horrific way we treated Native Americans, but it is a real eye opener. I still have my copy of the book if you would like to borrow it.


    • Looks like the GR Library has a copy, so I’ll check it out from them. I also own Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and The Killing of Crazy Horse for starters.

      Thanks. I’ll be busy with these for awhile.


      • pentru asde: foarte inrenesatta observatia. cei de la cinemagia, de la care am preluat capatul de articol, iti multumesc pentru ea si se vor stradui in continuare sa devina siteul de film nr 1 din romania.


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