At first glance, South Dakota really isn’t that visually interesting, but I love it. More than half of the state consists of sprawling plains and clear blue skies, and while that might sound great to some city-folk, let me be the first to tell you that it gets really boring really fast. Once in a while you can find a mediocre lake or partially-clear river, but that’s few and far between.
That’s why I’m partially ok with the fact that many places throughout East River (as we South Dakotans call it) have scattered weird, useless statues throughout the countryside – even though a lot of them don’t make any sense. I would like to reiterate that these are my views and mine alone, and if anyone wants to explain the history of these places to me I would welcome it. Thus begins part one of our tour.
The Weird Clark Junkyard
If you’re driving east on highway 212 and happen to come upon the tiny town of Clark, you’ll notice that right as you pull into town, there are somewhere between 5 and 10 red cars parked in the field to your left. If you bother to slow down and take a closer look, you’ll see that some farmer decided to line up those cars in a perfect formation in his field. But wait, there’s more! Upon closer inspection, you’ll see that in the adjoining fields, there are a series of metal wagon wheels stacked about 15 feet into the air and a series of telephone poles all evenly spaced and angled the same way.
What art?! What breathtaking art?!
Larger-Than-Life Ugly Animals
If you continue along highway 212 towards Watertown, you’ll come upon an intersection with an abandoned-looking farm building sitting at it. In its front yard, however, are the painted stone statues of a donkey, a pheasant, and what looks like a dog or cow – all at least three times larger than life. All of them equally ugly, all of them equally unexplained.
If this is piquing your interest, you’ve got to check out the larger-than-life pheasant that sits atop one of the 10 light poles in Redfield, S.D. It’s…oddly angry-looking.
The Mitchell Corn Palace
It’s a gymnasium covered in corn with overpriced souvenirs. Enough said.
Giant Bull Head on Interstate
When you leave Sioux Falls going west on Interstate 90, you immediately see a giant metal bull head sitting on a hillside. This place bothers to advertise that it is Porter Sculpture Park of Montrose, S.D. If you Google the place, you’ll find that “Wayne Porter was moved to create giant metal sculptures for the edification of interstate motorists.” – whatever that means. Along with the giant bull head, you can see a pink Chinese dragon, a giant yellow hand that sticks straight upward into the sky, and lots of other odd creations that don’t make any sense whatsoever.
Now, let’s come back to where it matters – West River. I’m not going to touch Crazy Horse or Mount Rushmore, but seriously guys…I’m aware that other states have roadside attractions like “The Biggest Ball of Twine” or “The Larger Than Life Jolly Green Giant,” but it’s getting a little excessive in the Black Hills.
Ok, this just really takes the insanity cake. Scattered throughout West River are dinosaur statues. The only possible way this would make sense is through the mammoth bones that were found years ago by Hill City – but these aren’t mammoth statues – they’re green, cartoonish dinosaur statues.
The Sinclair gas stations all have smaller green Brontosauruses. Rapid City went all out and sports an entire park of various prehistoric giants that don’t make sense either and Wall Drug has a terrifying T-Rex that roars and terrifies small children.
This is the only one that makes a little bit of sense. If you’ve ever driven through South Dakota with your eyes open, you’ve seen a billboard that reads something like “Free water at Wall Drug! Only 3,400 miles to go!” This originally happened because the state was pretty barren, so they had to draw in customers to a little roadside attraction somehow – and what better way to do it than through ridiculous amounts of advertising and useless attractions?
The place has a giant jackalope you can ride:
The aforementioned terrifying T-Rex:
And lots of other useless stuff that people pay good money to look at from afar:
Miscellaneous Nonsensical Statues
So, because one person did it and was successful, everyone else followed suit. There are more oddly-placed statues in this side of the state than I can count. There’s the face of Native American Chief painted on a rock in someone’s yard near Angostura Reservoir, an out-of-place Virgin Mary on the highway near Hermosa, S.D., and my personal favorite, the giant heads of three similar-looking presidents in white stone right by the Flying J 15 miles south of Rapid City.
I get it – we need to draw in tourists and we need to make a little-known state a little more interesting, but West River is already beautiful! There is Needles Highway and there are massive hills and rock outcroppings that can take your breath away – I don’t need to see Jimmy Carter’s face 10 times larger than it needs to be to find the Black Hills worth visiting.
Though it does make for a good story.