Tag Archives: South Dakota

Mt. Rainier National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Our best idea

Mt. Rainier National Park, WA

Tomorrow is the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. All of America seems to be celebrating right now, and rightly so. In my opinion, our wildest pockets are our true national treasures, and our national parks, as Wallace Stegner said, our best idea.

Olympic National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Olympic National Park, WA

So since I’ve spent a good chunk of my sketching life in national parks both close to home…

Arches National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Arches National Park, UT

…and far afield…

Crater Lake National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Crater Lake National Park, OR

I figured I’d add my voice to the celebratory din, in the form of a little sketchbook retrospective.

Badlands National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Badlands National Park, SD

Beyond the centennial itself, I’m always up for toasting the parks. Not only do I think park rangers are the best people on earth,

Redwood National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Redwood National Park, CA

but I also sometimes think they’re the only thing standing between wildness and destruction.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM

And anyway, I’m not exaggerating when I say I’m a total park nut myself. It’s my goal to visit every NPS property before I die, including national parks, historic sites, national monuments, everything. (Actually, I’ve crossed a goodly chunk of them off the list already—

Guadalupe Mountains National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX

—and I even have the stamps to prove it.)

Olympic National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Olympic National Park, WA

I know I have a long path ahead of me before I reach that goal,

Grand Canyon National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

and getting there won’t be easy.

Big Bend National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Big Bend National Park, TX

Yet I can’t tell you how grateful I am that the opportunity exists in the first place—

Rocky Mountain National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

that so many people have fought to preserve these wild places, and won.

Saguaro National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Saguaro National Park, AZ

Best of all is the feeling that no matter how long it might take me to get to each park with my sketchbook,

Glacier National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Glacier National Park, MT

I know it’ll be there waiting for me, as close to unchanged as humanly possible. Thanks to the National Park Service, the window of opportunity remains open.









Corn Palace sketch by Chandler O'Leary

New kid on the cob

Last year I had the chance to revisit South Dakota’s world-famous Corn Palace for the first time in nearly a decade, and I had quite a surprise waiting for me. It’s common knowledge that the maize museum gets all new corn mosaics every year—but today’s Corn Palace has had more than a simple facelift. If you click that link above, you’ll see what I mean—they didn’t just replace the corn, but put in new turrets and onion domes, as well.

Personally, I think this change is a huge improvement. No longer a simple brick building with plastic domes stuck on it, these new additions are far better-crafted, hearkening back to the palace’s glory days of elaborate Victorian turrets and exotic canopies. Plus, the corn murals were real beauties last year—the icing on the, er, cornbread. All I can do is raise a cob in salute—bravo, Mitchell!

Deadwood sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Hitching posts for Harleys

I’ve mentioned before that I always seem to end up in the Black Hills right in the middle of the Sturgis Rally. Well, last summer I didn’t just sneak by on the highway—I jumped right into the fray. My destination wasn’t Sturgis proper, but rather nearby Deadwood, that infamously lawless frontier town of yore. I hadn’t been since I was a tiny child, so I figured it was high time I stopped by again.

And when I got there, I had a good long chuckle. Because somehow seeing all those motorcycles lined up like horses at their hitching posts, and all the weather-beaten wild-west road warriors who belonged to them… Well, somehow the scene fit the setting better than any costumed reenactor could have done.

Badlands National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Baa ram ewe

Friday’s post got me thinking about other places where you can see (and sketch) wildlife that’s totally unfazed by your presence. And since we’re coming up on the beginning of the Year of the Sheep, the Badlands zoomed right to the top of the list today.

Corn Palace sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Whole-kernel cornices

Now, there are roadside attractions, and there are roadside attractions. Much as I love a good giant fiberglass animal, the Corn Palace belongs in the elite upper crust of roadside gems.

For one thing, the hand-pieced corn mosaic on the façade changes every year. That is a labor of love, people. For another, the folks who built the place were incredibly gutsy—in 1904, the town of Mitchell launched a campaign to replace Pierre as the capital of South Dakota. Can you just imagine the Corn Palace as the capitol building? I mean, no disrespect to Pierre or anything, but somehow a crop-adorned government building just seems fitting. (Not even my beloved Minnesota State Fair could come up with something that perfect.) Oh, if only I ran the world.

Hey, maybe it’s not too late to get the question on the ballot in November…

Black Hills sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The road ahead

Tomorrow this little travel blog turns one year old. In that time, I’ve jumped around in time and place, in hopes of showing you as many different sketches as I could: country scenes, cityscapes, vintage kitsch, wildlife, you name it. But while I love me some roadside attractions, I must confess that my very favorite thing to draw might just be the road itself.

Wyoming road sketches by Chandler O'Leary

My sketchbooks are absolutely full of road sketches—either full scenes that I take time over, or little margin notes that I jot down quickly from the passenger seat as the car moves ahead. I just can’t get enough of them. I’m fascinated by how the road moves with the land, following hills and curves. As I race to put each vista down in the book, the actual road at my feet seems to transform into a painted line—tracing the landscape like a sketchbook drawing on the grandest scale imaginable.

Marin Headlands sketch by Chandler O'Leary

In the past year, I know I’ve shown you quite a few of these road drawings, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I have in my sketchbooks. And that’s because even after nearly a lifetime of taking road trips, and many years of drawing them, I still feel like I’m only just getting started.

So here’s to the next year of this blog, and to the road ahead. Thank you for coming along with me for the ride.

Wall Drug billboard sketches by Chandler O'Leary

Where the Heck?

I was born 50 miles west of Wall Drug. True story. I think, therefore, that my undying love of roadside attractions is imprinted on the genetic level.

Even if you don’t have this place in your DNA, it’s pretty hard not to be curious about something hawked by a hundred billboards as you drive through the back of beyond.

Wall Drug sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Then again, if you hate jackalopes, it’s best to turn back now. If, like me, you adore them—well, you’ve come to the right place.

Wall Drug sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The souvenirs ain’t cheap, but you can fill your travel-weary belly for next to nothing. There’s the five-cent coffee (not bad!), the free ice water (alkaline!), the ho-made doughnuts (pretty dang good!), and various hot-meal items (absolutely terrible!).

Before you leave, be sure to see the creepy animatronic Gold Rush puppets sing “North! To Alaska.” (Sorry, no sketch of that. I was too scared.) And when you hit the road again, you’ll be able to look back and see the 80-foot dinosaur standing vigil, waiting for your return.

So if you go—send me a postcard, will you?

Wall Drug sketch by Chandler O'Leary