When we launched this trip, sometime prior to the last ice age (right, right, it only seems like we’ve been on the road that long) we committed to driving the back roads whenever possible, and ignoring chain restaurants and hotels wherever we could. Sometimes that pays off, sometimes, things can get a little weird. More on that in a minute, though.
We had to do a little backtracking yesterday. It was important to me to get to Fargo, North Dakota, so I could finally cross that state off my list. However, I had promised Dawn we would visit Walnut Grove, Minnesota, where the Little House on the Prairie television show was set. Dawn was a big fan. So, we left Minnesota, hit Fargo, I got my certificate and t-shirt, then we drove south and east again, until we were just a few miles short of Walnut Grove.
All the other author’s homes and museums we’ve visited – Hemingway, Twain, Poe, Stephen King – were for me. It was only fair that we balance the scales a little and visit one of Dawn’s favorites as well.
So many times on this trip, we’ve planned something and had it turn out so much better, so much cooler than what we had intended. The turtle rescue in the Florida Keys, and visiting Boot Hill in that little town in Nevada spring to mind.
This… was not that. Of course, Walnut Grove, circa 2016, looks nothing like Walnut Grove of the nineteenth century. We didn’t expect that. The city fathers make a few nods to the source of their fame by calling streets, “Ingalls Ave,” etc. There is also a cafe called Nellie’s Cafe, but more on that later.
Sadly, though, the museum itself was underwhelming. It does have an attractive sign, though.
When one of the highlights of a museum is a fairly attractive wooden sign out front, that’s probably not a good sign. Pardon the pun.
The museum itself has a number of buildings, but only one of them really has anything to do with Laura Ingalls Wilder. For a place called The Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and Information Center, that’s disappointing. The building that has the Laura Ingalls memorabilia in it had some nice pictures, like this one, which is of the real “Ma and Pa” Ingalls:
Doesn’t look much like Karen Grassle and Michael Landon, I know.
A quick aside: I watched Little House when I was a kid, so at that time, Karen Grassle looked like an old lady to me. Having not watched the show in decades, I was surprised when I saw her picture in the museum and was surprised to see that she was young on the show, and attractive. How our own perspective changes the things we see.
Much of the museum was a timeline of Laura Ingalls and her family’s lives. Unfortunately, I thought it had a little bit of the look of a high school science fair entry.
Probably the coolest thing in the museum was a prop from the set of the television show – the mantle from the Ingalls’ house:
There are several other Laura Ingalls Wilder museums – in South Dakota and Missouri, and I have a hunch they got all the cool stuff. My recommendation is, if you are driving directly through Walnut Grove, Minnesota, it’s worth a stop. Dawn and I both agreed if we knew what it was yesterday, though, we wouldn’t have backtracked to see it.
When we were done seeing the entire museum, it was noon, and the aforementioned Nelly’s Cafe beckoned. It looked exceptionally modest on the outside, but we never judge a book by its cover. When we went in, we found that the exterior had probably received the most upkeep and attention. The walls were paneled like the interior of a mid-sixties trailer, and the carpet was old and blotched with stains. We tried to ignore that and did our best to finish our lunch, which was, at best, entirely forgettable.
So, Walnut Grove was a bust for us. Onward!
We headed east across the remainder of Minnesota and into South Dakota, adding a new state to Dawn’s list and putting her closer to her own 50/50.
We debated whether to hit the Mitchell Corn Palace on the way by, but as we so often have on this trip, we thought, When will we be back in Mitchell, South Dakota again? So, we swung by the Mitchell Corn Palace, which bills itself as The World’s Only Corn Palace. I can’t prove that claim wrong, although there used to be a number of crop palaces scattered around the midwest.
Mitchell is proud of its corn. Their town mascot is Cornelius, an ear of corn. Their local radio station is KORN. You get the picture. The Corn Palace itself is a multipurpose venue that hosts all kind of entertainment – plays, concerts, etc. The exterior of the corn palace is changed every year, with a new theme. This year’s theme is Rock of Ages. Here are a couple of pics of the outside of the Corn Palace.
It’s very appropriate that Willie be memorialized in corn, after everything he’s done for farmers. The way the art is created is that different types of corn ears are cut in half, then nailed onto to the side of the building, like a Corn-by-numbers. That’s not my joke, by the way, it’s on a poster inside the Corn Palace.
Of course they had to put Elvis up. I have always found him a little corny.
We didn’t spend a lot of time at the corn palace. I mean, once you’ve walked around and looked at the corn art, what is left to do?
For the last three days, ever since we were in the western part of upper Michigan, we have been passing husked out corn fields. We’ve seen so many miles of the brown, waving fields that it has become the recurring motif of this part of our trip. Bearing that in mind, and knowing that would stop when we got too far into South Dakota, we stopped and took this picture:
Multiply that picture by about 500,000, and you’ll have what our scenery has been like since about Sunday. It’s pretty, but it has gotten a little monotonous. We are looking forward to seeing the Badlands tomorrow.
Oh, and that weird pizza I mentioned earlier? We always stop at the front desk and ask them where they recommend we eat, but it has to be a locally-owned business. Tonight, our front desk savant directed us toward a place called Prairie Pizza.
Here are the top three reasons why Prairie Pizza is, well, a little weird.
#1) I asked for jalapenos on my half of our pizza, just like I always do. The owner looked at me slightly askew and said they didn’t have any. “Oh, run out?” I asked. “Nope. They’re not very popular around here.” Especially when you refuse to supply them, I thought, but did not say.
#2) They only make pizzas in one size at Prairie Pizza: 15″. You want a personal, or small pizza? Take a hike, bub. We make fifteen inchers here at Prairie Pizza.
#3) When the pizza arrived, she told us the crust was a little different. It had sugar and cinnamon in it and on it. “That way you’ve got dessert and dinner all together,” the owner said. Which is fine, as far as it goes, but I happen to like pizza crust, and having my dinner and my dessert separate.
That’s just the kind of day it was on the road in South Dakota, though. Tomorrow, Badlands National Park and Mt. Rushmore.
Cheers, and safe travels.