2017 Aug 10 – Mitchell, SD to Grand Island, NE

Yesterday we made a side trip into Minnesota to see Pipestone National Monument and then Devil’s Gulch which is just across the border back in South Dakota, but our real direction for tomorrow is south from Mitchell, so we made a three-sided box and ended up only about 120 miles south and west of Brookings, where we had spent the night before.Before we left Mitchell we took a drive into the old Historic district and checked out the famous Corn Palace.  The workers were still completing this years decorations.  The front of this old building has open businesses in it, but the back has a serious problem.I liked this large mural on the side of a building.

The first Corn Palace was built in 1892 to showcase the rich soil of South Dakota and encourage people to come here.  They cover the two street-visible exterior walls with ‘murals’ created entirely from different colours of corn cobs, straw, and grasses.  Every year the murals change and the theme changes.  It was decided this year to keep the 2016 murals for another year so they are just changing one of the dates on the marquee and all of the grasses to give the palace a fresh look. We  did a quick tour through the gallery, where I photographed all the signs I thought might be most interesting to read but didn’t have the time to read right then.  1903  1902  1921  1984   2008  1974 The basketball court on the arena floor was full of merchandise, but later this month, during the Corn Festival (Aug 23-27) there will concerts each night by Judd Hoos,  Eddie Money, Diamond Rio, and Gary Lewis.  The Corn Festival is huge; with amusement rides and contests and street parties.                   Even the tiles on the entry hall pillars look like corn.

After leaving Mitchell it was just a driving day, with a few stops to find geocaches, heading south into Nebraska on Highway 281. This tidy looking church was on a hill in Yankton. There was a cache at the viewpoint overlooking Fort Randall Dam and the lake and valley.  It was a lovely view.  There are certainly more hills in Nebraska than we have seen since we entered Saskatchwan on Aug. 4 and drove in Manitoba, North and South Dakota. The town of Spence had a large new veterans memorial outside the fire department (there was a cache hidden in the base of a lamp post)

And there was a cache hidden near the old train depot in O’Neill.  We made another little detour jog to go see Happy Jack’s Chalk Mine.  We arrived with minutes to spare before closing and they were kind enough to give us a tour anyway. The mine was excavated by hand by four men over several years and then was derelict.   For years the empty mine was used recreationaly by the residents of nearby Scotia.  Motorcyclists had a course they would ride around the pillars and kids would come and party (and, unfortunately, paint graffiti on the walls).  The mine was closed in the 1970’s by the State of Nebraska who deemed it unsafe and had the majority of the access points filled with piles of dirt.   After two years of volunteer work 6,000′ of the mine was re-opened for public viewing in 1997.   Several community events would take place in the mine, the favourite being the Haunted House.  (The fire department said they needed to install a sprinkler system – as if raw chalk would burn – and that it wasn’t a house so the event was cancelled.)  The tools of the trade of chalk mining. There were a few fossils in the walls; none of vertebrates as chalk dissolves bone. They are hard to make out with the white-on-white.This is a small  jelly fish

And a Sand Dollar                                There were two Giant Worm fossils.                                                                          This is the smaller one.

The roof of one of the passages had a few whiter veins.  The lady said that in a few hundred years they would be opals or another gem I can’t recall.The cave is also home to a non-native tiny bat that is being studied by naturalists. The climb to the top of Happy Jack’s Peak is arduous even with stairs for half of the distance, but the view at the top was pretty impressive.We used the much more recently built stairs at the back of the peak to go up but went down the 121 very worn, very unevenly spaced, railway tie steps at the front.

This is the original entrance to the mine and the entry and exit port for the little bats.

From Happy Jack’s it was only about 42 miles into Grand Island where we spent the night.

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