When you have to drive across country, there area limited number of east-west options that get you over the plains, but Interstate 90 gets all kinds of quirky and interesting once you get into South Dakota.
About an hour into your South Dakota drive (and probably about a dozen Wall Drug signs past the Iowa state line), the fun starts in Mitchell. A short diversion north of I-90 brings you to the charming downtown area, where the Mitchell Corn Palace resides.
So what is a corn palace? It’s a community space with exhibit areas and event venues. On my most recent trip, I was fortunate enough to arrive in time to see a square dancing festival. Maybe “fortunate” isn’t the right word, but it certainly was something to see.
So the inside of the building isn’t all that exciting, unless you are headed there for to see a favorite act. (The 2014 lineup includes Pat Benatar and Crystal Gale.) The real excitement of the Mitchell Corn Palace is the corn facade.
The building is decorated with designs and panoramas designed entirely with corn. They use a number of corn varieties to introduce color and contrast. Each year, the building features new designs and themes – so you’ll be sure to want to make this an annual excursion. As you can tell by the date on the spires in my photo, I haven’t made such a commitment, myself.
In the fall, the panels are removed and replaced with new art with a new theme, and the art stays up until August of the following year for the Corn Palace Festival.
The current palace is the third building to be used for the tradition, and has been the Mecca for corn lovers since 1921, but the tradition started back in 1892 as a decorative showcase of South Dakota’s bountiful agriculture.
The attraction claims to host a half million visitors annually, and I’d believe it considering the crowds I’ve encountered both times I’ve been. This place has been a folk art and road-trip culture touchstone for a very long time, and it’s only corn palace in the whole freakin’ world.
Is that not enough to lure you off I-90 for a detour? Mitchell has more to offer. It also hosts the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village, the only architectural site in South Dakota that is open to the public. The site dates back to 950 A.D., which makes the “prehistoric” claim in its name inaccurate, but who cares about these details on a road trip?
Still not enough? Mitchell is also home to Valtiroty Shiloh’s Tabernacle, a architecturally interesting building designed to remind you of a medieval castle. It features a Bible Land, a Jungle Room, a Reader’s Corner and a General Convenience Store. Have fun, if that’s your thing.
If you’re headed east to West through South Dakota, the Mitchell Corn Palace is just the first stop on your adventure. Still ahead, you have much to look forward to including, Crazy Horse, Mt. Rushmore, the badlands, The Flintstones’ Bedrock City, more than 100 Wall Drug signs, and Wall Drug, itself.