From the East
From the East, either coming to Lead or on your way home, you need to spend some time traveling the less traveled roads. Interstate 90 is a fantastic pathway from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and other points east and with its 80 mile per hour speed limits, you can really make time.
Along I-90: At Mitchell: The Corn Palace in Mitchell pays tribute to the plains and the grains grown here which keep us all alive. The Corn Palace (http://www.cornpalace.org/) is a Moorish Revival building 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.
Don’t forget a quick stop at the Corn Palace.
If you are a ‘car nut’, then there are two places to stop: in Okoboji, IA there is Okoboji Classic Cars (http://www.okobojicc.com/) while farther down the hi-way is the town of Murdo. Just off the Interstate is the Pioneer Auto Museum (http://www.pioneerautoshow.com/) which has been featured on ‘American Pickers’. On the Hi-way, you will see a billboard with a l-o-n-g car advertising the museum. The museum features over 250 vehicles plus lots of other antiques. If you’re a car enthusiast, it’s worth the stop.
Exit 131: The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site (https://www.nps.gov/mimi/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm) has a great display of the Minuteman Missile program. This program helped protect our Nation from the 1960’s until the 2000’s. This site is almost new and features much information about the program and what it did for our Nation. Here you can make reservations for a tour of the actual Launch Facility a few miles towards the Black Hills. You will see where the Air Force personnel were housed and the actual Command Center. If you don’t have time for this, you can view a Missile Silo at Exit 116.
Exit 116: Just minutes off the Interstate is a Delta-09 Minuteman II Missile Silo. The Silo has the cement cover set to the side and it is replaced with a viewing cover so you can view a missile up close.
Wall Drugs: During the Depression, Ted and Dorothy Hustead purchased a drug store in the tiny town of Wall at the north end of the Bad Lands. After several years of struggling to make a go of the store, Dorothy had an epiphany – advertise ‘Free Ice Water’. The Burma Shave-style roadside type sign idea worked and today the little store has grown to a full city block (http://www.walldrug.com/). The free ice water still exists along with 5¢ coffee! The kids will get a kick out of getting ‘roared’ at by a huge dinosaur. There is shopping for many Western wear items and the original drug store still exists. There are reports that Wall Drug signs exist on Antarctica, Vietnam, and even on the Moon.
However, your trip should also include a few by-ways.
North of Interstate 90, Hi-way 14 will take you through Pierre, our State Capitol and across the Missouri River. This river divides the state into ‘East River’ folks and ‘West River’ residents – and each group believes that they are better off than the other group. Also, Pierre is one of the few State Capitols that does not have an Interstate running through it. Follow Hi-ways 14 and 34 west through flat farmlands. During the fall, many of these farms are covered with sunflowers and, depending upon the time of day, you are greeted by acres of beautiful bright yellow sunflowers welcoming you to visit the Black Hills. Hi-way 34 will take you into Sturgis and on up to Lead.
Just south of I-90 is the entrance to the Badlands National Park (https://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm). The Badlands is an amazing contrast from the miles of flat prairie land you have become accustomed to on your drive west. Here you will find 244,000 rugged acres of geological formations, prairie grass & wildlife like bison & bighorn sheep. An amazing drive takes you through areas that truly show why this area is called ‘the Bad Lands’. The Visitors Center has an extensive collection of fossils and the Badlands is a fossil-rich area that is known worldwide.
NOTE: Another option is to make the Badlands and Wall Drug (and even the missile complex) a full-day scenic trip from the Dakota Spur Hotel.
The Badlands – you will understand the name when you see them!