In spite of its creators’ best intentions and its own corny nature, the Palace speaks two truths — first, of the bounty of the American West, of the riches to be mined. Its building was maybe just a prideful wink celebrating the success of corn on the Midwestern prairies and, later, the corn market — fact is, Great Plains corn feeds a good share of the world — but the Palace casts a long shadow, and its shiny minarets point out to newly planted fields. They’re on all sides of town. Corn. The Palace rules over a monoculture destroying what was once one of the richest and deepest topsoils in the world. It’s now degraded and blowing away. Farmers, let us give thanks for them, are way more aware of soil management today than earlier, and most would be excellent caretakers if they were given the final decisions made on the proliferating corporate megafarms. Save the soil.

The inferences are dark and the Palace won’t bear the weight. Its creation might well be the symptom of a failing infrastructure, but it’s also just a sunny delight in a small town. I’ve stopped here a number of times since that first trip, and each time get another impressionistic dose of corn art by a new and talented artist — the effects are always entertaining and sometimes stunning, the beauty of the murals made more acute by the fragile art form.

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I can’t help wonder, though, about the town’s odd dedication to the corn plant. Some of it must come from the revenue that headliners like Willy Nelson and rodeos and farm implement shows generate for both the town and the Palace. That said, a significant amount of its dedication has to be plain gratefulness for corn, and its farmers for their way of life, flat as that might seem to a mountain boy. I leave it at that and speed on, I need to get back to Colorado.

(to be continued)