What is that on the side of the road?
In your travels, you may happen upon larger-than-life sculptures that serve as popular roadside lures or well-planned tourist traps.
In both North and South Dakota, there are sights with similar offerings. But which has the better attractions?
Driving along I-90 in South Dakota, just west of Sioux Falls in Montrose, a large animal head looms in the countryside. A short detour off the highway is Porter Sculpture Park. On any given day, the artist, Wayne Porter, or his family may greet you and give you an overview of his outdoor gallery.
Following a U-shaped path, visitors will enjoy the whimsical fish figures, including one escaping from a cracked fishbowl (a metaphor for breaking out of the routine). A giant bouquet of flowers and a huge hammer removing a nail are a few more pieces along the route to the giant horned-animal head, the centerpiece of the park.
Standing 60 feet tall and made of railroad plates, the animal head, an ancient Egyptian longhorn, is the size of one of the Mount Rushmore presidents. Parents of small children should be aware that the reverse of the head contains several scary items that seem to be reminiscent of an '80s slasher movie. There also is a dragon structure that is home to diving barn swallows that attack passersby, so be ready to duck and cover.
Continuing up the path back to the parking area, there are several more twisted sculptures, like a jack-in-the-box from a childhood nightmare and a wild-eyed rocking horse. Other pieces, like the sledding child, are cleverly displayed. Many of the sculptures have explanations that provide insight into the artist's creativity and interesting perspectives.
Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for children ages 13 to 17. At the exit, be sure to get a free bumper sticker.
In North Dakota, not far from I-94 toward the western part of the state, visitors can experience the Enchanted Highway, technically Route 21. The "World's Largest Sculptures" along this stretch of road were built by former school teacher and principal, Gary Greff, to attract tourists to the town of Regent in hope of keeping the area prosperous.
Along the 32 miles between I-94 and the town of Regent, there are seven stopping points, including the most recognized set of sculptures, "Tin Family" (complete with mom holding flowers, dad holding a pitchfork and the son clutching a lollipop). One stands 45 feet high, quite a bit smaller than the artist's largest, "Geese in Flight" (110 feet tall). The newest addition, "Fisherman's Dream," includes an assortment of fish including a 70-foot jumping rainbow trout.
Viewing the Enchanted Highway sculptures is free, donations accepted at each stop or online.
To visit these locations online, go to www.portersculpturepark.com and www.enchantedhighway.net. Which Dakota has the better big sculpture set? While North Dakota can claim it has the biggest, South Dakota surely has art work that will keep your family talking for the remainder of your vacation, which may be one of the best compliments for an artist.
The world's largest buffalo sculpture is located off I-94 in Jamestown, N.D. At the far end of the National Buffalo Museum property, there are live buffalo, including two rare albino buffalo and the large bulky beast. The World's Largest Buffalo stands 26 feet tall and was erected in 1959. Frontier Village connects the bulky beast to the museum and includes many storefronts that children can visit, including the one-room schoolhouse, sheriff's office, barbershop and jail. More than 100,000 travelers stop in each year to experience the buffalo and feel of the Old West.
Another big buffalo can be found in the central part of South Dakota off I-90 in Oacoma, across the street from Al's Oasis. Unlike the North Dakota figure, the South Dakota counterpart has a buffalo calf suitable for climbing and "riding" for a souvenir photo. With more vibrant paint and fewer chips and cracks, these two buffalo also seem to be in better condition than the bison giant to the north. Stop in to Al's Oasis, which contains a grocery store, gift shop and restaurant. Don't forget your 5-cent cup of coffee.
So which buffalo boasts best?