As with a handful of other states, I only had a cursory knowledge of South Dakota. I’d done my homework and planned out a nice itinerary thanks in part to the advance work of our friends Tony and Alice. The combination of a well-planned route and unanticipated experiences sweetened by the element of surprise seems to be the perfect combination for a ramble.
Linda and I entered South Dakota at Sioux Falls and had an immediate moment of awe at our first stop –the falls that give the city its name. In the very center of the city, they cascade down over pink Sioux quartzite. I can see why some visitors think the city built this water feature – it is stunning – but nature had it well in hand. Sioux Falls also offered a wealth of brewpubs and restaurants to choose from and a lovely sculpture walk through the downtown.
We ended up at Monks House of Ale Repute where Linda found her favorite Belgian Beer, Lindeman’s Framboise, and we had an exceptional dinner at Parker’s Bistro. We also made it to the Empire Fair. I’m a sucker for 4H clubs showing their livestock and the blue-ribbon winners for plants, pies, and art that anchor state and local fairs.
Since the myriad attractions in Western South Dakota were calling us, we had to skedaddle across the midsection of the state but we couldn’t miss the Corn Palace in Mitchell. It is the “world’s only corn palace” and has been wowing visitors since 1892 attracting an estimated 500,000 tourists from around the nation each year to see the corn murals that deck its walls (zoom in on them – they are works of art). Perfectly situated another hour down the road, we stopped at a visitor center right off the highway to see the 50 foot Dignity statue that was installed in 2016 to honor the cultures of the Lakota and Dakota people.
By the end of the day we were in the Badlands – a wonderland of bizarre, colorful spires and pinnacles, massive buttes and deep gorges. Erosion of the Badlands reveals sedimentary layers of different colors: purple and yellow (shale), tan and gray (sand and gravel), red and orange (iron oxides) and white (volcanic ash). Linda fell in love with the residents of prairie dog towns and I was mesmerized not only by the landscape but also by the number of bikers that were on the roads on their way from or to Sturgis. Of course, we also took in a true dive bar in the thriving metropolis of Interior (population 94 in the 2010 census).
The next day included visits to the Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore on the way to Rapid City. These massive sculptures in the Black Hills don’t need me to try to create some flowery description. Let me just say that they deserve the term colossal for the ambition and the accomplishment.
While Blueberry didn’t really fit in as a hybrid, we had to head to Sturgis next. This annual motorcycle rally attracts over a half a million bikers for ten days of riding, concerts, and drinking. While I didn’t get to feel the wind on my face or the roar of an engine between my legs while driving through the magical landscape that surrounds Sturgis, we had a lot of fun walking the streets, talking to bikers, imbibing at bars and listening to music.
The only disheartening elements were at a handful of vendor stands and on some of the posters around town that reflected the coarsening of discourse in our nation. It saddens me to see the ease with which we castigate others in our nation. While some see it as humor or as a reaction justified by the actions and beliefs of those on the other side of the political or cultural spectrum, I find it disheartening and just mean whether it comes from the right or the left.
Fortunately, this wasn’t reflected in any of our conversations and we can now chalk up one of those life events you hear about but never imagine you’ll have the opportunity to experience. In fact, I’m inspired to see whether I can get some bikers to adopt Wounded Knee as part of their charitable work. My next post will profile this deeply painful and poignant stop.