Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sioux Falls, South Dakota - Cool and Corny at the Same Time

After briefly passing through Iowa, I entered South Dakota. 

My next destination would be Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The trip took me about 3 hours because I stopped along the way at the South Dakota tourism information office. I inquired about things to do and the woman behind the counter mentioned that I should visit the namesake of Sioux Falls... the Sioux Falls.
So... my first destination was the Sioux Falls. The falls was actually located in a public park located in the middle of the city.
The falls were created by the Big Sioux River about 14,000 years ago during the last ice age.
There appeared to be a series of falls sprawling and cascading through the park.
The lure of the falls has been a powerful influence. Ho-Chunk, Ioway, Otoe, Missouri, Omaha, Quapaw, Kansa, Osage, Arikira, Dakota, Nakota and Cheyenne people inhabited and settled the region previous to Europeans and European descendants. Numerous burial mounds still exist on the high bluffs near the river and are spread throughout the general vicinity. Indigenous people maintained an agricultural society with fortified villages, and the later arrivals rebuilt on many of the same sites that were previously settled. Lakota populate urban and reservation communities in the contemporary state and many Lakota, Dakota, Nakota, and numerous other Native Americans reside in Sioux Falls today.
There was an old mill on the site that was established back in 1881. Back in the day the mill consisted of a seven-story main structure built of Sioux quartzite quarried on site. Nearly $500,000 was spent on the construction of the state-of-the-art mill and its supporting structures. The mill could process 1,500 bushels each day. However, by 1883, the mill was closed — a victim of inadequate water power and a short supply of wheat.
After walking around the park, I got back in my car and drove around the downtown area. I passed by the St. Joseph Cathedral. The Cathedral traces its history to the establishment of St. Michael’s Church, Sioux Falls' first Catholic parish.
It was founded in 1881 and a wooden building was constructed for a church. Two years later a larger brick church was built. On November 12, 1889,  Pope Leo XIII established the Diocese of Sioux Falls and St. Michael’s became the cathedral for the new diocese. I didn't go inside the cathedral, I just wanted to check out the architecture.
Just down the street from the Cathedral there were a number of huge 19th century houses.
6th Street seemed to be the Main Street of Sioux Falls. Along the street there was the Old Courthouse. There appeared to be a museum inside, but I did not go inside.
Instead, I was given a tip to visit the Sioux Falls sculpture park. I wasn't given good directions to the sculpture park, I was just told that it was in the downtown area. I came across one sculpture.
Then I saw another.
So I parked my car and started to walk around.
The sculptures were not in one central area or park.
They were scattered about the city over three or four blocks.
I'm not even sure if I saw all the sculptures.
But I saw this one... and perhaps accumulated some points for Pokemon Go.
As I was driving around the downtown area I saw this guy driving his ATV on the streets. I thought that it was kind of cool that they allowed ATVs in the downtown area.
I also passed by this outdoor store called The Great Outdoor Store. Because I'm a gear junky, I had to check it out. If the owners were going to call their shop The Great Outdoor Store, I felt like it should be well... Great. The thing that first caught my eye was that they had a number of tents set up on the outside lawn. OK, great promotional display, it caught my attention. The store was inside an old building surrounded by a nice green lawn. A bit unusual for a store, but I thought fit in with the neighborhood and concept. I entered the store and walked around. I was greeted by some friendly staff. They were having some kind of raffle and gave me a ticket. The store actually had a pretty good selection of outdoor goods. They had many of the well known name brands, but also what appeared to be some local brands. I really did not need any additional gear, so after walking around a bit I exited. I didn't win the raffle, but I wasn't disappointed. In the world of massive online retail operations, it was good to see that it is still possible for a small business to survive and thrive. Overall I was impressed... the store lived up to it's namesake. If you're ever in the area, check out The Great Outdoor Store... it is Great!
I thought Sioux Falls was a pretty cool town. It was large enough to have a few attractions, small enough to walk around the central area, cultured enough to have some art and I really enjoyed the natural area around Falls Park. I only spent one day in the town, then charted my course toward Rapid City, South Dakota. My next destination would be a long drive of about 5 to 6 hours. As I was driving west I kept seeing road signs for The Corn Palace. It sounded kind of... corny... but I had to check it out.
The Corn Palace is a nice little museum dedicated to corn. 
Not really... it is a huge, massive, ostentatious palace built as a monument to celebrate all the wonderfulness of corn. God Bless America!!!
The Corn Palace, commonly advertised as The World's Only Corn Palace, is a multi-purpose arena located in Mitchell, South Dakota. The Moorish Revival building is decorated with crop art; the murals and designs covering the building are made from corn and other grains, and a new design is constructed each year.
The Corn Palace is a popular tourist destination, visited by between 200,000 to 500,000 people each year. The exterior corn murals are replaced and redesigned each year with a new theme. The designs are created by local artists.
The original Mitchell Corn Palace (known as "The Corn Belt Exposition") was built in 1892 to showcase the rich soil of South Dakota and encourage people to settle in the area. It was a wooden castle structure on Mitchell's Main Street, built on land donated by Louis Beckwith, a member of the First Corn Palace Committee. In 1904–1905, the city of Mitchell mounted a challenge to the city of Pierre in an unsuccessful attempt to replace it as the state capital of South Dakota. As part of this effort, the Corn Palace was rebuilt in 1905. In 1921, the Corn Palace was rebuilt once again, with a design by the architectural firm Rapp and Rapp of Chicago. Russian-style onion domes and Moorish minarets were added in 1937, giving the Palace the distinctive appearance that it has today. It costs $130,000 annually to decorate the Palace.
The Corn Palace serves the community as a venue for concerts, sports events, exhibits and other community events. Each year, the Corn Palace is celebrated with a citywide festival, the Corn Palace Festival. Historically it was held at harvest time in September, but recently it has been held at the end of August. Other popular annual events include the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo in July and the Corn Palace Polka Festival in September. It is also home to the Dakota Wesleyan University Tigers and the Mitchell High School Kernels basketball teams. 
Inside The Corn Palace there is a souvenir store that sells items like postcards.
Corn cob pipes
Corn holders
Corn shaped butter dispensers
Corn candy
And of course there is a corn main box to mail that official Corn Palace postcard.

I continued west.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Iowa - corn, corn and corn

I looked at the distance that I had already covered. And I looked at the distance that I needed to cover. It seemed as though I had just started my journey and yet I was already behind schedule. I wasn't really keeping a day-to-day schedule, but I did need to reach the San Francisco area by a certain date. And, the list of places that I wanted to visit would have to be shortened. Regretably, I did not have much time to spend in the state of Iowa. Iowa - Fields of Opportunities.
I plotted my course to Sioux Falls, South Dakota and hoped that I would get to experience some of Iowa along the way.
I drove along the western border of Iowa and Nebraska. There was lots of corn.
Lots and lots of corn.
Corn... corn... corn.

I spent such a short amount of time in Iowa and to say that all there was in the state was corn would be an unjust generalization. There was so much more to be seen.

Iowa's nickname is the Hawkeye State, named after a Native American chief called Black Hawk.

Iowa is the nation's largest producer of ethanol and corn and some years is the largest grower of soybeans as well. The 92,600 farms in Iowa produced 19% of the nation's corn, 17% of the soybeans, 30% of the hogs, and 14% of the eggs.

In colonial times, Iowa was a part of French Louisiana and Spanish Louisiana; its state flag is patterned after the flag of France. After the Louisiana Purchase, people laid the foundation for an agriculture-based economy in the heart of the Corn Belt.

Iowa is the 26th most extensive in land area and the 30th most populous of the 50 United States. Its capital and largest city by population is Des Moines.

Des Moines is the largest city in Iowa and the state's political and economic center. It is home to the Iowa State Capitol, Drake University, Des Moines Art Center, Principal Riverwalk and the Iowa State Fair.

The Herbert Hoover National Historic Site and Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum are located in West Branch, Iowa.

Some of the most dramatic scenery in Iowa is found in the unique Loess Hills.

The Driftless Area of northeast Iowa has many steep hills and deep valleys, checkered with forest and terraced fields.

Effigy Mounds National Monument in Allamakee and Clayton Counties has the largest assemblage of animal-shaped prehistoric mounds in the world.

Dyersville is home to the famed Field of Dreams baseball diamond.

Unfortunately, I did not have enough time to visit any of these attractions. I continued north.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Omaha, Nebraska - The Good Life

From Kansas City I continued north toward Nebraska. Omaha was my destination.
Nebraska... the good life.
On my way to Omaha, near the town of Nebraska City, I saw a road sign for this attraction - The Lewis and Clark Center

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were two explorers that helped to explore, chart and settle the western United States. I've always been a fan of Lewis and Clark since I learned about their explorations as a kid. I thought that it would be worthwhile to drop by the center.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition, was the first American expedition to cross what is now the western portion of the United States. It began near St. Louis, made its way westward, and passed through the continental divide to reach the Pacific coast.

President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the expedition shortly after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. It comprised a selected group of U.S. Army volunteers under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and his close friend, Second Lieutenant William Clark. Their perilous journey lasted from May 1804 to September 1806. The primary objective was to explore and to map the newly acquired territory, to find a practical route across the western half of the continent, and to establish an American presence in this territory before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it.

The campaign's secondary objectives were scientific and economic: to study the area's plants, animal life, and geography, and to establish trade with local Native American tribes. With maps, sketches, and journals in hand, the expedition returned to St. Louis to report its findings to Jefferson.
The center consisted of a very modern designed main building that housed some educational displays.
A pirogue boat and oars used to transport goods.
Outside on the grounds of the center, there was a wooden reproduction of the keelboat that Lewis and Clark used for their journey up the Missouri River. The boat was probably about 50 feet long and 8 feet wide.
 A small cabin built out of logs about 8 feet wide by 8 feet long by 5 feet tall.
An earth lodge constructed of wood and dirt.
Inside the earth lodge there were some artifacts, tools and a campfire. 
An animal hide being stretched and dried.
There were also a number of nature trails that stretched around the grounds and which offered a view of the Missouri River.

The great thing about overloading is that one has the opportunity to pass by and stop at road side attractions like the Lewis and Clark Center on a whim. It is not possible to experience something like this when flying in an airplane. Sometimes the attractions are good, sometimes they are really bad. But having the opportunity and freedom to stop and experience something like this is simply priceless.  
I continued north toward Omaha.
When I arrived in Omaha, I had arranged to meet up with my friend Jaime. We met at a warehouse that had been converted to an art center. She then took me on a little tour of the city. The first place we stopped was the Heartland of America Park. 
There was this modern water fall sculpture feature.
Also, a lake with a water fountain and walking trail.
After walking around the Heartland of America Park, Jaime and I drove to the Old Market. The Old Market is a historical warehouse district that has largely been renovated and now is occupied by mostly trendy stores, upscale restaurants, bars, coffee shops and art galleries. We passed through the Old Market Passageway which is quaint alleyway with shops and cafes.  
We dropped by a bar called Mr. Toad's Pub. The pub is styled as an old English pub - dark woodwork, brass adornments, high back booths. Along the wall there is a large assortment of books. Jaime pulled a book out and opened it up. I thought that maybe she was going to read some sonnets. But she explained that it is a tradition in Mr. Toad's to leave pieces of paper or napkins with comments inside the books. Some of the comments were poetry, some sayings, some nonsense. Clever.
On foot we walked around the old market area and ventured into a place called Hollywood Candy. It's primarily a candy store with thousands of varieties of classic as well as hand crafted candy.
I got the impression that the owner of the candy shop was really just a big kid at heart. He had on display a huge collection, probably numbering in the thousands, of Pez dispensers. There were collectable series of Pez dispensers from The Simpsons, Smurfs, Looney Tunes and more.
There was also a pretty sizable collection of ball point pens neatly arranged on a pegboard wall... thousands.
Toward the back of the store was a vintage soda shop where one could have an ice cream, sundae, milkshake, malt or burger and fries. Jaime cozied up to the counter. We debated whether we should get a milkshake, but we decided to continue exploring the city a little more and see if we could find a restaurant.
We dropped into a craft beer pub called Brickway Brewery. We had a taste of one of their ales and got a little look at their brewery operations...
... and this artwork by a local artist that graced a wall in the backroom.
Jaime introduced me to a friend of hers named Praveen that was generous to host me in Omaha. Praveen was pretty insistent that we should try one of his favorite India food restaurants called Curry Xpress. When I first heard the name, I was't too excited, but I tried to keep an open mind. We drove to the west part of Omaha where the restaurant was located in a small strip shopping center. The inside of the restaurant was nothing fancy with about 15 tables, but the food was excellent. Good choice Praveen. Always listen to a local.

Extensive traveling is not about always being on the go. There are some pretty mundane moments too.
I had been traveling for about a week by this time, so I needed to do some laundry. Luckily there was a laundromat nearby.
I put my dirty clothes in the washing machine and had about an hour to wait.
I spent this down time completing an edit of a video project that I'd been working on.
After 30 minutes of washing and 30 minutes of drying my clothes were fresh and clean. 
Since my clothes were now clean, I thought that my car deserved a good cleaning as well. I found a self-service car wash and got to work.
Soon, my car was look good as new.
I always like to try local cuisine when I travel. I'm not referring to just local cuisine that is the trendy new restaurant. I like to try local cuisine that has origins in the area or that is unique to the area. A Philly cheese steak, a Napoli pizza, Costa Rican gallo pinto, Saltenas in Bolivia. I asked Jaime if she new of a local cuisine unique to Omaha. She referenced Omaha steaks. I suppose that a nice steak would be appropriate. But then I did a search online and found out about something called a runza. I searched on Yelp for the best runza in Omaha and was directed to this restaurant.
It turns out that a runza is a type of sandwich made with a yeast dough bread pocket and a filling consisting of beef, pork, cabbage or sauerkraut, onions, and seasonings. They are baked in various shapes such as a half-moon, rectangle, round, square or triangle. In Nebraska, the runza is usually baked in a rectangular shape. The Runza sandwich originated in Russia during the 1800s and spread to Germany before appearing in the United States. The recipe was spread throughout the United States by the Volga Germans (Germans from Russia) and can be found in Nebraska and a few other midwestern states. I quickly discovered that it is not the healthiest of sandwiches.
With a full stomach I continued my exploration. I found out that the Joslyn Art Museum was in the vicinity. 
On the outside of the museum, there were a number of sculptures. This one paid tribute to the pioneer settlers of Nebraska.
Noodles and Doodles sculpture.
Untitled piece by Jun Kaneko.
Inside the museum I was transfixed on this large installation.
A blown glass installation by Dale Chihuly
Even the walls of the museum were sculpted.
As I was looking for things to do, I came across this installation that spans several blocks in downtown Omaha called Pioneer Courage and Spirit of Nebraska's Wilderness which depicts the city's rich pioneer history. It is one of the largest installations of bronze and stainless steel in the world.  Blair Buswell's Wagon Master, who guides pioneers westward while looking after the families and supplies, stands 11 feet tall and weighs approximately 2,000 pounds.
The artists set out to capture the pioneer spirit when they created Pioneer Courage - a tribute to four pioneer families departing westward from Omaha in covered wagons.
Ed Fraughton's Hunter Group portrays the pioneers' constant need for nourishment, particularly for meat to supplement their meals.
Installed in 2005 and 2009, Pioneer Courage and Spirit of Nebraska's Wilderness, are on non-adjacent sites, but are woven together through Omaha's urban cityscape. 
I had a good time in Nebraska. I felt that I learned quite a bit about the history of the state through the art of the state. I had the chance to visit with an old friend and make a new friend. I tried some international food and local cuisine. After spending quite a bit of time in nature in Arkansas and Missouri it was actually nice to be in a city.

One thing that did surprise me about the midwest was that the temperature was hot. I thought that perhaps the temperature would get cooler as I traveled north, but it was actually very hot. As I was walking around on the downtown sidewalks of Omaha I could feel the heat emanating from the concrete. It was so hot in the middle of the day that the rubber on my shoes started to melt and stick to the sidewalk. A little repair was in order before I continued on my journey.