We were lured into this small town that rides the border between North and South Dakota by our friend Travis. He promised us the world if we came to visit him. Well actually… he promised us the World’s Largest Petrified Wood Museum. He delivered on that promise, but there was more to the town than just some wood turned to rocks. He showed us his town that he has become an important part of. Travis took us to see one of most famous citizen’s of the town, and the region for that matter. He also showed us that even though Lemmon might be a small town of just 1398 people, his town still has a story.
It had been a number of years since last time we saw Travis. We originally met in college and since Travis moved back out to South Dakota and started his young family. We caught up over pizza at one of his favorites in the town called Powderhorn. In a part of the country where many young people leave and never come back, Travis did. He now is part owner in a business that employs over 20% of the town population. He’s not the only one doing interesting things in the town of Lemmon, Travis also introduced us to local artist John Lopez.
In the outskirts of Lemmon sits an art studio making up a unique blend of sculpture. Born of scrap metal and blended with layers of sweeping steel pieces. The result is a highly detailed and texturized sculpture John calls “Hybrid Metal Art”. What truly impressed me most about his work was how realistic the animals he sculpts turn out. In his studio stood a full-sized rhino, and the face looked just like the ones in Africa, well except that it was metal. Another piece in his workshop was a group of three sculptures he had been commissioned for the opening of a new Hermès store in Houston. His sculptures can be seen around Lemmon and in all corners of the U.S., with over 17 major pieces in total.
Besides making the town of Lemon a little bit prettier with his sculptures, John is also trying to put it on the map. Lemmon is primed to see an influx of tourist in the coming months. In January of 2016, Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest movie “The Revenant” is coming to theaters and is based on a local legend of Lemmon. Leo will portray Huge Glass, a seasoned frontiersman of 1823, who was violently attacked by a grizzly bear.
He fought for his life and manage to kill the bear using only a knife. Badly mauled after his struggle he would be left for dead by his search party. With broken bones and all, he crawled his way hundreds of miles back to civilization and vowed revenge on those who left him to die. If the movie does as well as it’s predicted it could bring some tourism to the area around Lemmon.
To aid this push, John helped organize an event to commemorate the story by holding the inaugural Hugh Glass Rendezvous. He likened the event to a civil war reenactment or renaissance fair. Of course, John did for the festival what he does best, create a life-sized sculpture of Hugh and the bear.
Another thing Lemmon is known for, and their claim to fame, is holding within its city limits the World’s Largest Petrified Wood Museum. We are suckers for random world’s largest random stuff so this was reason enough to visit. The story has it that local businessman, Ole S. Quammen, hired local people during the great depression to collect and build the museum. He did it as a way to keep the town working during tough times.
83 years later, the pyramids and buildings still stand and are still the biggest in the world. A little less popular than the Needles Highway, but we love quirky gems like this. It’s places like this and other things that Travis brought us to in Lemmon that shows some of the appeals of living in small-town America.
Last but not least, on the way out of town we had to stop at Scoops. If the name didn’t give it away it’s Lemmon’s ice cream spot. Scooping up over a dozen different flavors we settled on Monster Candy bar. Which is vanilla ice cream mixed with peanut butter, M&M’s, and about 7 other candy bars mixed in. For just $3.75 we got a monstrous dish that was more than enough to split. Definitely worth a stop next time you’re in Lemmon. We hope we inspired you to consider putting a few small town gems like Lemmon on your South Dakota road trip plan!
If a little bit of movie based tourism takes off in Lemmon, we can say we were there before it was the place to visit. If not, we’re glad we stopped to visit a friend and meet some interesting people and hear a good story about their part of the world.