Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Iowa City IA to Mitchell, SD


 Today was our third very long day of driving, and the least eventful one. Here's a quick summary: Corn, soybeans, more corn, massive wind farm, more corn, ethanol plant, desperation time truck stop coffee, more soy beans, more corn, more massive wind farms, 75 mph speed limit, Wall Drug signs, indoor pool with giant water slide, puzzling Pizza Ranch restaurant, delightfully kitschy Corn Palace. Oh, and we're so lucky...Leo didn't end up getting sick after all. Phew!

Driving through beautiful and diverse Iowa, I really got a sense of how the huge ethanol production subsidies are really making lots of folks quite wealthy. I tried to explain to the boys about the controversy regarding the subsidies, and how much it really costs from an environmental perspective to produce ethanol. Between the endless rows of corn and the thousands of windmills, it was hard not to reflect on the changing mix of energy production in the U.S. and where we might be in another decade. It was my first time driving through such massive wind farms as Prairie Winds in south-central Minnesota, and the giant, sleek structures are like a friendly alien invasion across the serene landscape.

Our dinner choice of Pizza Ranch was a concession to the boys, and it really had me scratching my head, trying to figure out how their business model worked. They have over 300 franchises in the midwest, with the most restaurants in rural Iowa communities. I noticed how they tended to avoid bigger cities. They offer lukewarm, greasy, meaty pizzas in a buffet, along with a pathetic salad bar. The better Romaine lettuce had bacon mixed in, though I must say that the pizza dessert items were the best things available. 

The highlight of the day was not the Corn Palace, even though it was fun to revisit this landmark and revel in the curious souvenirs. The Days Inn pool gets the top nod, at least from all of the boys in the family. The water slide was outrageously fun, especially after I took a tip from Toby and laid perfectly flat on the slide and got the extra acceleration at the start by giving a good pull from the overhead bar. Collectively the boys and I must have taken over 50 trips down the slide.

Off to Wall Drug and the Badlands tomorrow! I look forward to a much shorter day of driving and our first night of camping.

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