Earthbound Artist

When 'Corny' is a Good Thing

08 June, 2011 0 comments Leave a comment

Heading west along Interstate 90 through South Dakota, still in nice mild weather, we decided to take in a few tourist attractions along the way. John had heard about the Corn Palace in Mitchell so that was our first stop.

The Only Corn Palace in the World.

The folks of Mitchell have been redecorating this building inside and out every year for the last 125 years, believe it or not, and it was most interesting to see.

Side Wall of the Corn Palace.

Redecorating the Corn Palace costs about $100,000 annually, using 600,000 pieces of corn in nine different colours.

Over a ton of nails, staples and wire are used to fasten the corn and grasses to the building.

I was expecting a corny tourist attraction (pun intended) but it was actually a unique folk art sculpture.

Two Murals on the Corn Palace - Baseball and a Racecar.

The interior holds a recreation hall that hosts basketball games (and the obligatory gift shop in the summer months).

The mural designs change every year and include 3,000 bushels of grains and grasses (milo, rye and sour dock).

Just above the lift truck, note the green grass partially covering the black tarpaper pattern.

We continued our westward journey across the mighty Missouri River, shown below. While we were aware the river was in flood, this was not apparent at this bridge crossing (which, now that I think about it, is a very good thing...).

Interstate 90 crosses the Missouri River here.

The next tourist attraction John had heard about was a famous car museum in what turned out to be the struggling hamlet of Murdo. We wanted to camp there but could not find a soul in the campground/motel office so decided to see the museum and drive further west. We wanted to reserve a spot in the KOA down the road but there was no cell signal and no public phone in Murdo. Not even a wifi signal we could pirate. Sheesh!

The 'Pioneer Auto Show' car museum was a letdown for me after the remarkable Corn Palace, with 42 open sided buildings containing over 250 unrestored cars, tractors and antiques just rusting away. The collection did include an original 'General Lee' muscle car from the Dukes of Hazard TV show, Elvis Presley's Harley motorcycle and a 1954 baby blue Corvette convertible that John admired.

We reached the KOA in Belvidere a few hours later and enjoyed a delicious supper in their cafe. It rained that night but we were warm and dry.

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Falling for Sioux Falls

07 June, 2011 1 comment Leave a comment

Finally we reached South Dakota after a windy, hot (high 90's) day of driving and pulled into the Sioux Falls KOA for two nights. This excellent, shady campground was near the freeway on the edge of the city and we had a grand time exploring from there.

Since it was unbearably hot we drove downtown and saw the new movie THOR at the cinema (ok if you like action movies but definitely not an Oscar contender!) and then stopped at Wal-mart to pick up some groceries. They had a surprisingly good selection of fresh meat and produce. Who knew!

John Viewing Sioux Falls.

The next day temperatures were more comfortable (70's) so we drove down to Falls Park for a bicycle ride on the city bike trail. The Falls were very pretty as these photos show and they are in a large green space that has lots of walkways and benches for people to enjoy.

Sioux Falls Park.

The bedrock under the Falls is called Jasper or Sioux Falls Quartzite and is harder than granite and almost as hard as diamonds. Many office buildings and mansions in the city are built from this rock. We bicycled downtown and saw many well crafted old buildings, such as the one shown below. It is nice to see a city that appreciates its heritage and has been restoring many of its historic buildings for the last 40 years.

Vintage Building in Downtown Sioux Falls.

We returned to the cafe at Falls Park for lunch and the manager there told us the Missouri River is very high this spring (he called it a '500 year flood') and local people are concerned about the dams and levees holding. He said the big dam down in Yankton (south of Sioux Falls) is releasing 150,000 cubic feet of water per second, which is more than double the previous maximum volume, and area residents have been evacuated. We have not crossed the Missouri yet in our westward trek and are keen to see it (from a safe elevation of course!).

After lunch we took a free trolley ride from the park to downtown, explored on foot a while before walking back a mile or so to the park. Lots of exercise today! Sioux Falls is a prosperous city and hosts an annual sculpture competition called Sculpture Walk. Fifty sculptures are displayed outdoors on sidewalks and in parks in the old downtown area for a year starting each spring. The sculptures are created by artists from all over the world and are for sale, with prices ranging from $3,000 to $30,000. Visitors can vote for their favourite one and the most popular sculpture is purchased by the city for permanent display. Below is one of many amazing sculptures we saw.

'The Golfer' Sculpture in Downtown Sioux Falls ($12,400).

In late afternoon we went to Scheels Sporting Goods, which is a regional chain of stores similar to, but much better than, Bass Pro or Cabelo's. John and I got some great clothing bargains and then headed back to the campground for supper. At 9:30 we drove back down to Falls Park with our lawn chairs to view the nightly outdoor sound and light show that told the history of the town. Our camping neighbour Gwyn from Sedona, Arizona and her dog Rocky accompanied us. A great way to end a fabulous stay in a fabulous town! Hope you can make it there some day.

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Turkey Kayaking?

06 June, 2011 0 comments Leave a comment

I found out our iPad does something really cool. We don't have network coverage in the US so we just use the internet while in campgrounds. But it turns out we can load an electronic map of the local area where we will be travelling that day, and the iPad saves the map and tracks our location on the map as we travel along, using its own GPS positioning. The scale of the map can be changed as needed to see anywhere from a whole state to the streets of a village. It's so much easier to use than a paper road map and it's all free! John also found a free app called that shows all the private campgrounds on a map of whatever area you are in, all without an internet connection. We are so lucky to have such great technology to make travelling so much easier.

I searched the internet on said iPad and found an interesting sounding campground called Skip-A-Way Resort in the middle of nowhere, Iowa. When we pulled in we were pleased to discover it was beside a small river and had lots of attractive, shady sites and a restaurant. It was also the cheapest campground so far ($29 with tax for water, hydro, sewer, cable TV and WiFi). We decided to stay two days so we could do some kayaking. Here we are exploring the Turkey River, which is a tributary of the Mississippi.

Kayaking on the Turkey River (campground in background).

The weather was very hot (high 90's and humid) and the current was fairly strong so we only lasted a half hour or so. Then we retired to the bliss of our air conditioned trailer and I worked on my blog!

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Roadshow Goes to Iowa

04 June, 2011 0 comments Leave a comment

Here's a shot of our travelling roadshow - truck, trailer, kayaks and mountain bikes. Looks like fun, wouldn't you say?

Karen and John's Roadshow.

We headed west from Wisconsin into Iowa, crossing the Mississippi River which was in flood. Here's a photo of John at the wheel and one of the river.

John Driving Over the 'Mighty Mississip'.

Mississippi River.

We drove by this sign and wondered who in their right mind would shop there!

Cheapo Depot? - I Kid You Not!

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Tales of Taliesin

04 June, 2011 0 comments Leave a comment

Today we drove an hour from the campground for a two hour tour of Hillside and Taliesin, which are celebrating their 100th anniversary this year. They were the summer home and architectural school of Frank Lloyd Wright during his lifetime, and the school is still in operation today. The students were preparing for an evening celebration of Wright's 144th birthday the day we were there.

We were allowed to photograph only the exteriors, some of which are shown here. The first two are of Hillside and the last three are of Taliesin.

Front Entrance of Hillside School of Architecture - the building includes a theatre and a 5,000 sq. ft. drafting studio.

The tour guide was very knowledgable (as they always are at Wright buildings) and explained Wright's true genius - his students paid tuition and were the work crew who constructed the buildings, cooked, cleaned and ran the farm. Sweet deal for Wright, eh?

Cornerstone of Hillside which reads 'F.L.L.WRIGHT ARCHITECT 1903'.

The most interesting thing I learned was that these buildings were used as a continual experimental work in progress and they were only inhabited in the summer months. In winter the household and students stayed in Taliesin West in Scotsdale, Arizona. Wright lived and worked at Taliesin from 1911 until his death in 1959.

Garden Terraces at Taliesin.

Because the buildings were experimental, exterior terraces were often converted into interior rooms (sometimes in as little as two days, to fulfil a whim of Wright's to impress a visiting dignitary), so there were no proper foundation footings. This causes major problems for the preservation of the structures today.


As in all Wright construction, these buildings use natural and local materials wherever possible, so stone and wood make up the majority of the structure. This makes the buildings blend harmoniously with the land. We were so pleased to be able to tour this remarkable testament to Wright's artistic vision.

Karen and John say farewell to Taliesin.

After our tour we drove back to downtown Deforest (a few blocks from our campground) to attend the Dragon Art Fair. Several streets were blocked off for the day for a display of arts and crafts booths and a field of classic cars. The local fire hall was celebrating its centennial so we bought hamburgers (we wanted cheeseburgers but the fireman said they ran out of cheese and John told him we could not believe Wisconsin the Dairy State was out of cheese!) and enjoyed the displays for an hour or so. The weather was really hot so we headed back to the campground for a swim in the pool.

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Frank Does Not Disappoint

03 June, 2011 2 comments Leave a comment

Our good friend Roger is an ardent admirer of the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Roger's enthusiasm has rubbed off on us. So when we travel we try to take in some of Wright's buildings that are open to the public.

We stayed three days at an excellent KOA campground in Deforest, Wisconsin so we could tour two famous buildings that Wright designed; the first being the S. C. Johnson Administration Building, pictured below.

S. C. Johnson Administration Building and Tower, Racine, WI.

Since the 35 acre campus is still in use by the Johnson company, we were not allowed to take photos anywhere inside the gates, unfortunately. But we were privileged to take a free tour of the building on the left (built in 1936) and noticed all the curvy furniture that Wright designed is still in use by the employees today. It must be amazing to work in a national historic treasure!

The natural light inside was beautifully softened by a roof of narrow clear glass tubes cemented together horizontally, supported by concrete pillars shaped like giant golf tees. The carpet and upholstery on the furniture was Wright's signature colour, Cherokee Red, which is sort of half way between dusty rose and brick red. The tower, built in 1944, is no longer in use due to modern fire codes (stairways are too narrow and there is only one exit) but the president of the company insisted the building remain intact as a monument to Wright's genius. We felt so lucky to have visited there. Thanks for the tip Roger!

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High Water in Michigan

01 June, 2011 0 comments Leave a comment

Flooded Boardwalk in Lansing, Michigan.

We started our trip across the northern USA, from the Great Lakes to the West Coast, with a lovely weekend visit with our friends Murray and Marilyn in Elliot Lake. The weather was rainy so we cancelled plan A (going fishing in their pontoon boat) and enjoyed plan B (playing board games and eating well).

On Sunday we swung back down through London to our RV dealership as our new trailer needed some warranty work to fix a leak in the roof. That only took an hour, so we crossed the border into Michigan after lunch. (Without a search of our trailer by US Customs - we must have said all the right things!)

In phoning ahead to book a campsite for the night, we heard that Michigan was pretty soggy with all the spring rains and flooding so we pressed on to Lansing and found a gorgeous private campground on a private lake and stayed there two days.

The campground was just a block away from the start of the city biking trail (paved and wood boardwalk) so we managed a delightful but wearying 5 mile hike one hot afternoon through the city greenspace. Parts of the board walk were under water, so we could tell some flooding was happening in the area.

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