Petrified Wood Park
Lemmon, South Dakota
Lemmon, a town along the upper reaches of South Dakota, is justly proud of their Petrified Wood Park. Bigger than the classic post cards suggest, the tourist attraction fills an entire city block in the heart of downtown. Recent renovations and careful maintenance make this one of the better manicured rock sculpture parks.
Petrified Wood Park was built from 1930-32 by town men under the command of visionary Ole S. Quammen. "Thirty to forty otherwise unemployed men received sustenance during this period," explains a sign at the site. Quammen, an amateur geologist, had the men scavenge rocks and fossils from the vicinity and haul them back to Lemmon. Their labors yielded a castle, a wishing well, a waterfall, the Lemmon Pioneer Museum, and hundreds of pile sculptures-- all made of petrified wood.
The park became city property in 1954 when it was donated by Quammen's heirs. A plaque honors "Ole S. Quammen, father of Mrs. Harry C. Olson, the creator and donor of this, the world's largest petrified wood park of its kind." In 2002, extensive repairs and renovations restored the park to its Depression Era glory. While we were there, someone official looking was watering the grass between the rock cones.
A hundred conical sculptures are spread around the park at sizes up to 20-ft. tall. Some are made from petrified wood and others from spherical "cannonballs" -- round rocks from North Dakota's Cannonball River. The tree effect adds to the eerie illusion of a petrified forest, especially since it's artificially constructed in this mostly treeless region of the northern plains. The "trees" are decorated with Christmas lights for an annual holiday "Fantasyland" display.
A building referred to as "the Castle" was crafted from a variety of petrified wood and thousands of pounds of petrified dinosaur and mammoth bones. Inside a room with a gate and spires, dinosaur bones masoned into interior walls
There are two separate museums in the park. The Petrified Wood Park Museum is housed in an imposing petrified wood structure with spires spaced along the outer walls. The floors of the museum are also made from rocks. The Petrified Wood Museum displays a collection of town historical artifacts and antiques. There are old kerosene lamps, wheelchairs, livestock brands, buffalo heads, and a replica bread wagon where one of the prominent town grocers got his start. There's a miniature version of a petrified wood house. Look for the lamp made of three lamb legs!
A few disappointments: In the Park museum, the stuffed animals playing musical instruments seen on previous trips have been taken down and placed in storage. A local woman had complained about them, and the museum gave in (we recommend all visitors who sign the guest book to demand their return!).
Also, the stunted woman mannequin in the kitchen diorama has been reassigned to a different mundane scene of prairie life.
In the second museum (and gift shop) there's a display of news clippings about the history of Petrified Wood Park. "Epoch Making Ceremony Was Very Impressive" proclaims one headline about the park's dedication in the 1930s, accompanied by a photo of a "Road Zepplin" present at the event.
The gift shop sells t-shirts saying," I Got Bent In The Tent." Apparently, the big festival every year in Lemmon involves putting up a big tent -- then everyone goes into the tent and gets drunk. For souvenirs, we picked up replica petrified wood tree and some postcards.
In 1989, in conjunction with South Dakota's Centennial celebration, a $60K addition to museum was completed. A waterfall was constructed to honor the men who performed the original construction. Lemmon also sealed a Time Capsule. Today, Lemmon's South Dakota Centennial Time Capsule -- a polystyrene baby casket -- sits in the museum atop a vintage Hotpoint clothes dryer. Filled with artifacts from 1989, the time capsule is scheduled to be opened, according to a plaque leaning against it, "in the year 2007."