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Vivian and I have been married for one year now, so over the weekend we took a four-day anniversary road trip across Nebraska and South Dakota to celebrate!
We headed off west on I-80 and stopped at Pioneer Village in Minden. For those of you who haven’t visited this attraction, it’s something of a personal museum created by the late Harold Warp, a somewhat eccentric collector and pack rat. His collection includes a genuine steam engine that you can climb up inside, dozens of antique cars, and historic buildings filled with various memorabilia. He even managed to buy the one-room schoolhouse he attended as a child in the early 20th century, leaving such things as the original schoolbooks intact on the shelf from the last day of classes in 1938. If you’re the sentimental type and have a few hours to kill while traveling on I-80, come down and check this out.
Vivian and I continued on our journey to the panhandle, avoiding congested traffic and construction on I-80 by taking the old Lincoln Highway. The scenery was much more interesting along the old road, and there were far fewer cars as we drove along through the tiny whistle stop towns running parallel to the railroad tracks.
We passed through a brief rain shower in time to see beautiful Lake McConaughy. I never knew such a beautiful body of water existed in Nebraska. As we traveled into the panhandle, we started seeing more evidence against Nebraska being all boring, flat farmland. We spotted Courthouse Rock and Jailhouse Rock from a distance along Highway 26, and then drove up next to Chimney Rock for some photos at sunset. I was surprised at the lack of signs directing us to Chimney Rock. Considering what an iconic symbol it is (it’s on Nebraska’s state quarter after all), I expected there to be at least some kind of sign directing us to the best spot to take a picture. Instead, we followed a lonely dirt road with nobody around for miles to share in the moment. I felt almost sorry for the old monument.
Vivian and I spent the evening in Scottsbluff and managed to get some more photographic evidence that Nebraska is not made entirely of perfectly flat cornfields. We headed up to Alliance to check out Carhenge, a Nebraska landmark I’d heard about ever since my family moved here in 1995, but we’d never actually made the trek out to the panhandle to check it out. We were surprised to find a number of other amusing pieces of automotive art, including a covered (station) wagon and a large fish.
We continued north across the border into South Dakota and stopped for lunch in Hot Springs. It was a picturesque little town with a beautiful little waterfront that included a waterfall and a fountain of fairly potable spring water.
We finished off the day by visiting a couple of South Dakota’s most well-known monuments. First was Crazy Horse, which we learned is privately funded and has been under construction for half a century. The original sculptor Korczak Ziółkowski spent half his life just getting started on it, and they only just finished the face some ten years ago. They have Ziółkowski’s original model for the finished monument on display, but Vivian and I aren’t entirely sure it would be finished in our lifetime. It’s still quite an impressive piece of work, and Vivian and I were quite happy to see it under construction.
Next up, of course, was Mount Rushmore. Vivian had never seen the four famous stone faces, and the last time I’d seen them was back in middle school. They’ve done some serious construction since then, and you can now walk up much closer to the mountain, and even follow a walkway underneath. It’s quite a site to look straight up George Washington’s nose.
We spent the night in Rapid City at the Alex Johnson hotel, a historic old place with interesting Native American symbols used in their lobby decor (obviously predating the Third Reich by at least a couple years). The next morning, we headed off and spent some time at Wall Drug, a tourist attraction well-known for its free ice water widely-distributed billboards. We checked out an animatronic t-rex, rode a Jackalope, and took a couple goofy pictures, then bought some ice cream and souvenirs before hitting the road again.
I had another surprise stop along I-90 for my wife: the tiny town of Vivian, South Dakota! I discovered this “census designated place” while hunting for attractions on Google Maps and knew we had to stop by. Little did we know Vivian had a town named after her with its own fire department, park, and Lutheran Church! If we were hungry, we could even have stayed for lunch at the Vivian Junction Lounge and Restaurant, but we had to hurry along and settle for sandwiches at Al’s Oasis in Chamberlain.
Of course, no trip across South Dakota would be complete without a trip to the Mitchell Corn Palace, home of Cornelius the corn cob and a wide variety of corn-related memorabilia. The palace theme this year was “America’s Destinations,” and it was amazing to see what kind of art they could create using a mosaic of multi-colored corn cobs. Our friends know what big fans of corn Vivian and I are, so we had to grab a couple souvenirs before heading on our way.
We spent the evening in Sioux Falls, and celebrated the anniversary of our wedding night with a dinner at Red Lobster. It was the first time we’d had lobster since our New England honeymoon last year. I also gave Vivian the gift I’d made for our “paper anniversary” — a comic depicting events from our first year together!
Of course, Vivian and I had to stop by Falls Park before leaving Sioux Falls the next day, strolling among the beautiful red rocks and roaring waterfalls before heading South for home. We drove into a series of rainshowers along the way, which made things a little wet and cut short our visit to Ponca State Park. We wrapped up our anniversary trip at Bob’s Bar in Martinsburg, a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in a town of barely 100 famous for its giant burgers.
By the time we arrived home on Monday, we’d driven over 1400 miles across two states, but the time passed quickly because we found so much to see and do along the way. It was a great trip, and I never knew we’d have so much fun so close to home. I’ve had a wonderful year with my lovely bride and I’m looking forward to another year together here in Omaha!
Happy Anniversary, Vivian!