No visit to Minnesota would be complete without a visit to – you guessed it! – the Mall of America. It’s very important that we experience Middle America in all its glory, so we decided it would be worth taking the time to go to the Mall of America and seeing at least a bit of it.
So, after getting ready and saying goodbye to Chris & Kate, we found our way out of their neighborhood, passed the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, and arrived at the largest shopping mall in the country. We arrived at the perfect time – it was just before 10 am, the non-holiday opening time for malls everywhere.
I had actually been to the MOA before, for just a couple of hours, when I was in Minneapolis on a business trip in 2000. Dave, however, had no idea what he was getting into. When you walk into any of the side entrances of the Mall of America (the corner entrances are all department stores), you can either go to the left or to the right to visit the shops. Otherwise, you can go straight into the middle of the mall, which is the Camp Snoopy theme park, complete with roller coasters, a flume ride, face painting, etc. Dave was gazing around like a 7-year-old and admitted after we wandered through it for about 10 minutes that he was overwhelmed.
I got some tea from Starbucks and we walked around the third level of the shops for a while, and Dave went back to normal. Other than the fact that it has a theme park in the middle of it, the Mall of America is really just an enormous mall with pretty much every store you would find in any other mall in this country, plus the outlet store for those stores, plus a bunch of Minnesota or midwest themed stores, plus several food courts. I don’t know how many miles of stores it turns out to be, but you could walk around that mall for several hours and not pass the same spot twice.
We only stayed for about an hour and a half, and managed to get out of there before 11 am. Then we stopped by the nearest AAA to pick up some campground guides, then got on interstate 35 heading south.
The Minnesota landscape is similar to Wisconsin’s, only a bit flatter. There are a LOT of corn fields. There are other crops, too (a lot of alfalfa, I think), and plenty of cows, but mainly lots of corn. Dave and I marveled at how much corn products Americans use, without actually eating much corn.
It took us about an hour to get to I-90 from Minneapolis, and then we continued our westward trek. A little over a half an hour after we got onto 90, we arrived in Blue Earth, Minnesota. We were just about ready to stop for lunch anyway, when we saw the sign that said, “60 Foot Jolly Green Giant – Next Exit!” Dave was SO psyched. So we got off and picnicked at the foot of the enormous green giant. It was the perfect American kitschy experience. It’s like pop art, only without the irony. *smile*
Our next unique American experience was at the Walmart across the street from the Jolly Green Giant. From the outside, it looked like it may have been one of the first Walmarts in Minnesota – certainly it had been there a while and was not one of the giant Walmarts that take up 12 city blocks. We went inside and it was semi-under construction. I overheard several ladies comment on how much better it was now that things had been changed around. Dave and I didn’t know what to think about that, because we thought this was a pretty sad Walmart. We bought our hot dog skewer and continued our journey.
We were on I-90 for about 2 and a half more hours after that. The only thing of note that happened as we drove was that we passed what seemed to be a Corvette convoy – there were about 8 Corvettes of different years and styles traveling all together. I was very amused because they were keeping their speed down, so I went zooming past them. Other than that, we drove through a couple of thunderstorms and came out the other end into much sunnier skies.
Finally we reached the South Dakota border and made a quick stop. We intended to stop in Sioux Falls to get some groceries, but somehow we blinked and missed it. So we kept going west.
The next town (it may actually have been the next exit) was Mitchell, SD, home of the Corn Palace. Prepare to be a-maized when you see our photos. The Corn Palace helps define the term “tourist trap”. The outside is decorated with – yep – corn. Apparently they redecorate it every year with a new theme. The inside is nothing but a sparsely stocked gift shop. The Dakota Wesleyan University basketball team also plays their home games here, but in the off-season it’s just very… gotta say it… corny.
But Mitchell was a good stop because we also got to go to the grocery store. Since we’re going to be camping for the next two nights, we’ll need to be able to feed ourselves. So, it was productive, but we were glad to get back on the interstate.
Since we were in Mitchell for longer than we needed to be, we set a “No Stopping!” rule. We only broke it twice – once when we came to the overlook for the Missouri River, to take photos. It was fascinating that right after we crossed the Missouri, the terrain suddenly looked a lot like the foothills in California. It was very comforting. The second time we broke the “No Stopping!” rule was for a quick bathroom break. Right after that, we crossed the time zone line from Central into Mountain time. After all that driving, here we were, back at quarter to eight. And the sky was just as dark!
Quote of the day, from Dave: “I never thought I’d love driving on I-90.” The truth is, driving on 90 here in the middle of the prairie is the complete opposite of driving on the Massachusetts Turnpike. And we managed to go for several hours with very few trucks on the road.
We finally got to the campground we had aimed for, in Belvidere, South Dakota. It is a KOA Kampground with all kinds of amenities – my favorite being that the entire campground is an internet hotspot! How cool is it to be in your tent and be online at the same time?
When we pulled around from the campground office to find our tent, what crossed our path but another bunny! It turns out there are several rabbits hopping around here. They don’t seem to be as fearless as the one in Ontario, though.
Campfire pits aren’t allowed here on the prairie, but we cooked ourselves some hot dogs over a charcoal fire on the grill. Better than peanut butter & jelly! Then we chilled, Dave took some photos of the moon, I started reading Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” (we started reading it on our last road trip and I never finished it), and now it’s started to rain off and on. At least it waited until we were all set up and finished with dinner. Hopefully the weather will dry out before we have to pack up our tent in the morning.
Now we’re off to sleep listening to the sounds around us… of the trucks screaming across I-90… of campers in other tents snoring… of the raindrops on our tent… and are those owls I hear?
…oh bury me not… on the lone prairie…