The road to South Dakota began for us in Kansas City, at the Missouri River. Northernmost of Missouri and westernmost Iowa are wide flatlands of endless green and golden plains, drying corns stalks aging from gold to purple withering into autumn.
The I-90 West interstate heads north from Sioux Falls, Iowa and makes a 90º left turn at Sioux City, South Dakota to point us in the direction of the Black Hills.
The Corn Palace
Driving along the eternal flatlands, we were pointed toward our first destination — more of a photo opportunity, really — at the world’s only Corn Palace located in Mitchell, South Dakota. The exterior of the palace is corn—kernels, stalks, et al., the structural columns inside the ground floor are tiled in yellow and green.
Crossing into the Badlands
The two-lane journey continues a long, long way until suddenly, there appears to be a dip in the Earth. An unsuspecting downhill beyond the predictable grasslands awaited on the other side of the Missouri River and led us into an odyssey of the breathtaking, surreal landscape of the South Dakota Badlands.
Expansive cattle and buffalo farms cover hundreds of thousands of acres. The further westward we traveled, several miles would pass between the next silo, let alone the next gas station. And soon, there was no sign of man beyond the carefully stitched fence line keeping cattle off the great stretch of road.
Only, the steady flow of small billboards and adverts, some of which seemed as though they may not have been updated since the 1950s given their font and design, reminded us that this empty landscape was in fact, conquered.
The Badlands National Park looks like the offspring of Cappadocia’s pillars and Scotland’s highlands.
Horses and cattle freckle the great prairies, as do an innumerable number of ads for Wall Drug. What is Wall Drug, I can’t help but ask myself. Just 367 miles till Wall Drug. Just 210 miles till Wall Drug. Two exits till Wall Drug. By the time we have reached the sign to exit for Wall Drug—the only message in the great pink and purple skies written and presented to drivers over and over—we could do nothing but follow our curiosity and discover Wall Drug.
As night fell, we continued through the untouched landscape which appears to roll on forever like the ocean. The echo of the Dallas Cowboys playing the New York Giants on the local AM station gave the comfort of community, civilization, somewhere in this great expanse. As dusk turned to dark we can be sure of the exact shades of blue to make an indigo sky. In the distance, lights flickered from Rapid City, with the same sureness as coming in for a landing in Las Vegas and wondering how they ever have found this spot to settle in the desert. We finally reached our abode for the evening with an added hour in Mountain Time to wind down with a glass of wine.