On that classic coast-to-coast See-America-First drive in the family truckster, once you hit the Great Plains things begin to seem a little slow -- it's just such a long way between cities. That's the appeal of the Corn Palace, sitting right off South Dakota's long east–west stretch of I-90. You have to get off the road somewhere, and when you do, it might as well be somewhere that makes you blink your eyes in wonder.
Turning onto Mitchell's main street downtown, you can't miss the Corn Palace, a gaudy, multicolor riot of onion domes and turrets. It was originally built in 1921 as the main exposition hall for this agricultural market town, but in a way the Corn Palace is built new every year. Every spring, a different artist announces a theme and sets to work, creating a set of murals to cover the outside of the Corn Palace -- murals made out of corn. Yes, that's right, kernels and husks of real corn are applied to the facade, a custom that goes back to the 1890s when the first Corn Palace was opened. Actually, it still seems bizarre, no matter how long they've been doing it. But that's why the Corn Palace looks as though it's made out of corn, though underneath the building is mere reinforced concrete.
Concerts, stage shows, and sports events take place in and out of the hall, and still the artists work to complete their design, using thousands of bushels of native South Dakota corn, grain, and grasses. Come here in the summer and you'll still see a work in progress.
If you are visiting in July, considering treating your kids to an authentic rodeo. The Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo is a 4-day event featuring top-notch competitors. There are tons of activities for kids of all ages. To learn more, check out their website at www.cornpalacestampede.com.
Nearest Airport: Sioux Falls Regional, 72 miles.
Where to Stay: $$ Days Inn, 1506 S. Burr St. (I-90 & SD 37, Exit 332; tel. 888/440-2021 or 605/996-6208; www.daysinn.com).