From our house to Sheridan, Wyoming is about 1,151 miles, just over 16 hours. Once I get there, I have to drive out of town and up into the mountains another 45 minutes or so. But my destination for Day 1 is Mitchell, South Dakota, home of the world’s only Corn Palace.  Are you ready to ride?

I realized this year that I’ve been going to this place in Wyoming for over 40 summers. When we drove from Cleveland, it was an additional 6 1/2 hours, so this drive seems fairly short in addition to familiar. I love seeing the country change, from the farmlands and cities of Illinois, to the more forested Wisconsin, where I make my first stop in Mauston to stock up on cheese from Carr Valley Cheese.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention our other tradition, listening to the BBC radio production of “Lord of the Rings”, 12 hours or so of living in a different, magical place.  Not long after we got married, I found a set of cassette tapes at Half Price Books for $25, quite a lot to us in those days.  I agonized over whether or not to get it for my husband as a Christmas gift.  You know what I decided.  We’ve listened to it every year since, going to and from the cabin.  One year, our younger daughter and I listened to it once on the way out and once on the way back.  We’re now on the CD version and it’s still wonderful.

© janet m. webb

For years we drove by Mauston, Wisconsin on Interstate 90, completely unaware that all this wonderful cheese was only a few minutes away. Then I read about Carr Valley and each trip improved immeasurably.  Of course, I buy a bag of cheese curds and then additional delights, both on the way up and back.  You can buy cheese made from cow’s, sheep’s, or goat’s milk, or a combination of two or three.

Once I have cheese and gas, I’m on my way, headed to La Crosse, crossing point for the wide Mississippi.  This shot is no beauty, but considering I took it with my phone while driving and not looking at the river, I think it turned out rather well, much better than the ones I had to delete.   But there’s nowhere to stop on the bridge!

© janet m. webb

Once across the river, the road climbs steeply to the lush, open fields of Minnesota.  Besides lush farms, there are farms of other types.

© janet m.. webb

Finally I get to South Dakota. My stop for the night, Mitchell, is only about an hour into the state.  Mitchell is known for a unique phenomenon: the Corn Palace, created in 1892, when Mitchell was only 12 years old.  (To see photos of previous Corn Palace designs, click here.)

The Palace is redecorated each year with naturally colored corn and other grains and native grasses to make it “the agricultural show-place of the world”. We currently use 13 different colors or shades of corn to decorate the Corn Palace: red, brown, black, blue, white, orange, calico, yellow and now we have green corn! A different theme is chosen each year, and murals are designed to reflect that theme. Ear by ear the corn is nailed to the Corn Palace to create a scene. The decorating process usually starts in late May with the removal of the rye and dock. The corn murals are stripped at the end of August and the new ones are completed by the first of October.  (From the website)

It may sound, well, corny, but it’s quite amazing.  This year, however, I was disappointed to find that for the first time,  the design was the same as last year.  The owner of the Coachlight Inn where I stayed said that’s not been a popular move, so that probably won’t happen again.  But it’s still quite a show.  The onion domes are metal this year, too.  Word is that approval is about 50-50.

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The owner also turned me on to a great grocery store about a block from the motel, County Fair Food Store.  I got some great fried chicken and fruit for a super meal at an excellent price.  Day 1 was over and it had been a good one.

 

Comments
  1. Madhu says:

    Glad you had a wonderful break re-visiting family traditions. The ‘corny’ decoration on that palace is is pretty impressive!

  2. Dan Antion says:

    I love road trips. It’s way more than just drinking. Thanks for bringing us along, Janet. Of course, I’m hungry for fried chicken now 😏

  3. It’s always a great adventure to see our country by car.

  4. restlessjo says:

    Amazing murals, Janet! Made out of corn- that’s a first for me. 🙂 I’d have to stop by that cheese place too!

    • The murals are really a-maize-ing, Jo. 🙂 Did you take a look at any of the older designs? The very early ones are much like Russian buildings. Inside the Corn Palace is an auditorium where they have basketball games, art/craft shows, etc.

      As for Carr Valley, it’s a great place. You’d definitely love the products.

  5. JT Twissel says:

    Some people are so clever. Who would have thought of building a corn palace? Have a great trip!

  6. I love road trips! We didn’t find the Cheese place or the Corn Palace on our “Great Road” trip in 83. We found some amazing places, but these would have been really neat to see too.

    The Corn Palace looks amazing! Loved those murals.

    • I was very disappointed that it was the same as last year (since I stopped there last year), but it really is amazing every year. There’s so much to see that you could stop at different places every year and have fun.

      I’m a big, big fan or road trips, having growing up with them. I’m so glad my husband and then our daughters loved them, too.

      janet

  7. marianallen says:

    Oh, we LOVED visiting The Corn Palace! Charlie, #4 Daughter, and I drove out to South Dakota one year to see the Crazy Horse Monument, Mount Rushmore, the prairie, and the Badlands. The Corn Palace was a happy surprise. 😀

    • That’s part of the fun. The other places are places lots of people know about, while the Corn Palace is much less well-known. South Dakota is full of great things to see.

      janet

  8. belocchio says:

    Janet, I can’t believe we lived in Regina, Saskatchewan (before we moved to the West Coast) all those years and NEVER went to see the Corn Palace. Thank you for the journey today. Cheers Virginia

  9. joey says:

    I love a good road trip 🙂

  10. de Wets Wild says:

    We’re on board for the trip! Where’s the snacks? Can we eat in your car? 😀

    • Good! There’s plenty room. Snacks are in the large, canvas bag and in the two small coolers. Plenty water bottles and tea (unsweetened) as well. Just minimize the crumbs and don’t make a mess!! Oh, yes, there are cheese curds, too.

      janet

      • de Wets Wild says:

        We have an Afrikaans term “padkos” – literally “road food” – which makes any South African’s mouth water just on hearing the word. Hard-boiled eggs, meat balls, chicken, sandwiches, sausages, and some very specifically South African delicacies, like “vetkoek” and “biltong”, all produced from foil and lunchboxes by mom and grandma as soon as the wheels start rolling and without which no roadtrip is complete. We’ll bring some padkos!

      • Great. My mouth is watering already!!

  11. I’m a bread and cheese lover. The Carr Valley cheese shop would be a must.
    Lovely drive you’ve taken us on. I look forward to your further advenutres.
    Issy 😎

  12. thirdeyemom says:

    What a drive! I hate long car rides since I can’t read (I get carsick) but once we discovered books on tape it make it much more tolerable. I have also never stopped at the Cheese place but we’ve been by many times. Must try it out on our next road trip!

    • Do stop! You won’t be disappointed. I’m fortunate in that I can read in a car or, ala Dr. Seuss, I can read books anywhere. 🙂 But of course when I’m driving, that doesn’t work.

      janet

  13. Su Leslie says:

    Janet, I love the way you so casually travel this huge distance (which is actually greater than the length of NZ), and that you have created these beautiful rituals to accompany the trip. I consider the six hour journey to my Dad’s to be mammoth and often stop overnight on the way. Though OK, I admit, it’s a great excuse to stay in a cool little town with hot pools. 🙂

    • Driving is just something I can do and that I love. But hey, those hot pools sound like a good excuse to stop for me. 🙂

      janet

      • Su Leslie says:

        I love driving too, but do find a lot of our minor roads a bit tiring. They are often narrow, steep and windy — hardly surprising when they’re carved out of such rugged landscapes.

      • Going up and down the Red Grade is very tiring because you have to watch for rocks and rocky places on the road and for vehicles coming the opposite direction. It’s quite steep and that 2 miles or so seems like an eternity!

      • Su Leslie says:

        🙂 Take that thought and add another 140 or so miles, and you have part of the journey to my Dad’s place. Last time the boy child and I went, we had to take a two hour detour because ALL the other roads out of town were closed by snow and landslides. But I so love the countryside of NZ.

      • I can just imagine!! As I’ve said before, we do hope to see NZ one day and appreciate its magnificence in person.

      • Su Leslie says:

        🙂 Hope you do make it down here sometime.

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