Blue Bunny Ice Cream. By official proclamation of the State of Iowa, Le Mars is the Ice Cream Capital of the World. Blue Bunny even has an Ice Cream Museum. Sadly it was closed that day in preparation for relocation to new digs in downtown Le Mars. But the lucky flip side was that the adjacent ice cream parlor was giving away free ice cream to clear out inventory. What a tasty introduction to the city!
In lieu of a wedding cake, the happy couple served Blue Bunny White Chocolate Raspberry Truffles – ice cream served in a hard chocolate shell with raspberries on the side. And every table featured plates of “buckeyes” – candies made of peanut butter dipped in chocolate that resemble the fruit of the buckeye tree. They were made by a former co-worker of my nephew’s, who now works with his mother’s online business, Marsha’s Homemade Buckeyes. My nephew is also a diehard fan of the Buckeye teams at his alma mater, Ohio State, so they made a fine and fun substitute for a groom’s cake.
Le Mars turned out to be a larger burg than I expected, but still, the closest cost-effective place to fly into is Omaha, a two-hour drive away. As I checked my atlas and weighed the pros and cons of driving vs. flying, I realized Le Mars is within an hour from South Dakota. As a kid, my family had done a cross-country trip one summer during which we spent a day or two in the Badlands and Black Hills. Those areas made a big impression on me and I’d always wanted to go back and spend more time exploring them. This wedding, 41 years later, seemed like a perfect opportunity. I would drive to the wedding, then keep on going. South Dakota is one of those Midwestern states that’s about 400 miles wide, and I was headed to the western part of the state, so I had plenty of driving ahead of me.
On the recommendation of a woman I met at the wedding who lives in South Dakota, I stopped for lunch at Al’s Oasis in Chamberlain, where I-90 crosses the Missouri River. Al’s is one of many Old West-themed spots in the state designed to lure tourists.
A few hours farther down I-90, I arrived at the town of Wall, where I would spend my first night (and a night later in the week on my return trip) in an absolutely charming cabin at Frontier Cabins. Newly constructed log cabins just off I-90 and 6 miles from the entrance to Badlands National Park, they are homey and spacious, tastefully decorated with log furniture, complete with pretty much any amenity you could want, at a price comparable to a motel room with far less character. In addition to microwave and refrigerator in every cabin are picnic tables and charcoal grills outside the cabins, plus a central shelter house with a huge gas grill and hot tub. And the two women who run the place couldn’t be nicer or more welcoming.
I’d been driving across the state under cloud cover, only to arrive in driving rain, so in lieu of cooking out, I opted for a motel room picnic, turned on the furnace, and got a great night’s sleep in my cozy quarters. Monday morning was cloudy and chilly as forecasted, so I considered my sightseeing options.
I couldn’t bring myself to embark on a visit to the famous indoor tourist village that is Wall Drug, which has hundreds if not thousands of billboards throughout South Dakota and neighboring states. Cindie wanted me to pick up an “I went to Wall Drug” bumper sticker for the golf cart she drives through her small town to take her dog to the park, which would have been a hoot. But I don’t think they have any bumper stickers phrased quite that way. Sorry, Cindie.
Instead of patronizing the Wasichu, I chose to visit the Wounded Knee Museum. There’s a ton of information and archives packed into this small and unassuming storefront that illuminates centuries of Native American history in the area and provides context for what happened at the Battle for Wounded Knee. I was aware of some of it, but learned much more. Although photographing is permitted, I elected not to snap any interior shots during the hour and a half I immersed myself in the exhibits, the museum’s only “customer” during that time, grateful for the absence of tourists and centered by the gentle Native American flute and drum music filling the museum. The story told by the museum is powerful, and heartbreaking. There is a reason for the box of tissues placed next to the scale model of Wounded Knee. I took a half-hearted look at the museum gift shop afterward, but was too overwhelmed to hunt out that “Make Fry Bread, Not War” t-shirt I’d seen outside. Maybe I can find it online.
When I emerged from the museum, it was still cloudy, although the cloud ceiling was higher and the temperature warmer. I took a spin through the Badlands on the paved loop road to give myself an idea of how much territory was involved and how long it would take to drive when I returned later in the week, saving my photo taking for a sunnier day. I headed west on I-90 to Rapid City, then south to my cabin on Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park in the heart of the (southern) Black Hills for two nights.
The state park accommodations were older and more worn than those at Frontier Cabins in Wall, but there’s a lot to be said for such proximity to Sylvan Lake, where I had a “housekeeping” cabin, which means I had a kitchenette with a stovetop. Even better, a picnic table just outside my door overlooking the lake. If you squint at this photo I took in the late afternoon light the next day, you might be able to see said picnic table.
Here's Sylvan Lake itself.
That’s it for tonight’s installment. Coming up soon: Join me on a hike around Sylvan Lake. Plus wildlife and “cave bacon.”