Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Road Trip to Americana!

In August, I took ten days vacation to help my friend Lise drive from Arizona to Wisconsin, where she has a new job starting in September. She had movers taking all her household stuff to Stevens Point, but she has three dogs that are hard to box up and ship anywhere, so she asked me to come along on a road trip and help with the driving and dogs!

I love a road trip so of course I said yes, especially when I learned we would be stopping at Carhenge, Mount Rushmore, and the Corn Palace!

After surviving hail north of Payson, Arizona on our way to Albuquerque, we toured the downtown of Winslow, Arizona, made famous in the Eagles' song. There is a terrific bit of Americana there in Winslow, appropriately on the corner on Route 66.

(There is not much else to recommend in Winslow, I must add....)

Next stop on the Americana Tour was Carhenge, a public art/memorial near Alliance, Nebraska. Carhenge was constructed in 1987 by Jim Reinders as a memorial to his father, and a replica on Stonehenge.

It is constructed of 38 junked cars, painted grey (the windows are removed and replaced by metal sheets). It is literally in the middle of nowhere and is quite a sight (there is an excellent and modest gift shop as well).

And of course no Road Trip through the American Heartland would be complete without a stop at Mount Rushmore, the ultimate in patriotic kitsch and sculptural hubris! Lise had not been there since 1974 and was unfamiliar with the extensive and be-ribboned Visitor Center and its enormous gift shop (s)....

I had visited Mount Rushmore in 2000 and found the most amusing part of this 2008 visit the beautifully sited and lighted soda vending machine in the Women's Restroom (I suppose there was one in the Men's, too....) (Would Thomas Jefferson have chosen Mountain Dew?)

It is very flat and agricultural as you travel east through South Dakota, so our next Road Trip pilgrimage was to the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.

The Corn Palace was first built in 1892 as a celebration of the rich soil of the South Dakota prairie, and as an enticement for settlers to come and farm the land. The first palace was a temporary wooden building and was replaced by a more long lasting structure by the Chicago architectural firm of Rapp and Rapp in 1921. The minarets were added in 1937. Every year the Corn Palace is decorated with corn cobs, husks, and straw, and with other grains, illustrating a particular theme. The 2008-2009 theme was "Ordinary Heroes." Mitchell seems like a modestly prosperous and pleasant American town (sort of like a South Dakota Mayberry!), and the Corn Palace is definitely worth a visit!

I didn't realize that the interior of the Corn Palace is also decorated! It is a basketball court for a local college team, and has many murals inside. The most important part of the interior however is the Gift Shop, which takes over center court when basketball is not being played, and features postcards and tee shirts and all things corn and corny.

The final piece of Americana I will add to this Road Trip blog is a less vernacular and more historical example of middle American architecture, the Farmers and Merchants Union Bank in Columbus, Wisconsin, which we visited on our way to the Milwaukee airport. This Louis Sullivan bank is very charming and beautifully proportioned, sited on a corner of downtown Columbus.

The Bank was constructed in 1919 and is a prime example of Sullivan's banking buildings, with subtle massing and delicate interlace decoration.

Oddly enough, the bank is enjoying some celebrity right now as the location for a bank robbery scene in a Johnny Depp movie about John Dillinger, so no one is surprised to see tourists on a Road Trip snapping photos like mad of the local bank!

We stopped and had lunch in Columbus, too, at the American Diner. The menu featured "Fahitas" and a "Monte Crisco" sandwich, as well as a "Corned Beef Burrito." The coffee was good but I skipped the Fahitas for pie....

It was a great Road Trip and I really enjoyed the sites. I highly recommend a visit to all of the above!