Sioux Falls is, in a nutshell, neat.
If that makes me sound like Richie Cunningham, so be it. If you have no idea who Richie Cunningham is, I can’t even with that.
Sculptures & Bright Lights
Our journey began Friday at 1:00 p.m. We had a five-hour drive ahead of us plus a jump ahead to the Central Time Zone, so we were in no mood to dilly-dally. But we did stop at the rest area in Chamberlain to visit Dignity of Earth & Sky, a Lakota sculpture on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River that was erected in 2016.
After stopping here in 2011, I wrote that this was the nicest rest area I’d ever been to…and that was pre-sculpture. It’s only gotten better since!
South Dakota is pretty flat once you get past the Black Hills, but it turns even flatter in east river (local slang for east of the Missouri). It’s about a five-hour drive, plus you have to factor in the time change, so we didn’t arrive until 7:00 p.m. There was never any doubt about dinner, though—we were keen on checking out Vinyl Taco, a rock ‘n roll themed casual Mexican eatery, based on their impressive wall of lava lamps alone. They did not disappoint.
Afterward, we headed downtown to check out the Arc of Dreams sculpture. The stainless steel monument, a new addition to the city’s SculptureWalk, spans the Big Sioux River. The 15-foot gap in the middle represents the leap of faith you must take to make your dreams come true. It’s very impressive lit up at night.
I basically passed out when we got back to the room. Could’ve had something to do with the 32 oz. pitchers of margaritas we split at Vinyl Taco.
Fall Foliage & Quartzite
Saturday began with a stroll through Falls Park, the city’s top attraction. This 123-acre park features waterfalls, natural quartzite, and some historic buildings dating back to the earliest Sioux Falls pioneers. And, this time of year, lots of autumn foliage.
The weather was overcast and pleasantly cool; perfect for strolling around. This being eastern South Dakota, just give it another month. We stopped by the farmer’s market and I felt a serious pang of envy. It’s so much bigger and better than ours. I bought some decorative gourds just because.
We then hit Granite City Food & Brewery for breakfast. The food was good, but the star of the show (for me) was the $3 Bloody Marys. Talk about a steal!
Next up was a drive out to Palisades State Park. It’s a beautiful little park less than 30 minutes east of Sioux Falls, with dramatic rock formations (more quartzite) towering 50 feet above Split Rock Creek. Downside: immediately after stepping out of the car, our nostrils were assaulted with the smell of cow. Not surprising, given the fact that we drove through the heart of farmland to get there. Also, there were these annoying little biting black gnats. But the scenery made up for those minor inconveniences. We timed it really well, once again, with the fall colors.
We’d managed to cram all this into about six hours, and our day wasn’t done yet. When you only have one full day to explore an area, you’re going to be on the go for much of it. After a brief break in our motel room—one which allowed me to upload and edit all my pics and Tara to grab a quick catnap—we headed back downtown. Strolled around the city, stopping at Fernson Brewery for a beer flight and people watching on the patio. One friendly sales clerk at Duluth Trading Company told us we had to check out ROAM Kitchen & Bar for dinner, so we did. This turned out to be an excellent suggestion as the food was great. Thanks, random sales dude!
We were exhausted after such a busy day, so we went back to our room to chill for the evening.
Still Corny After All These Years
All too soon, our weekend getaway was coming to an end. We grabbed an early breakfast at Original Pancake House on Sunday before hitting the interstate. We hadn’t seen an OPH since our Pacific Northwest days and Tara is a big fan of their sourdough pancakes.
We’d intended on stopping at Porter Sculpture Park in Montrose, right off I-90 about 20 miles north of Sioux Falls, but neither of us had packed hoodies or jackets and the weather was windy and cool, so we decided to save that for a future trip.
One thing we definitely didn’t want to miss was the World’s Only Corn Palace in Mitchell. This place was established in 1892 and every year since, the exterior is decorated with corn murals. The beauty of it is, with a new theme every year, it’s always a new experience.
I’d last been here in 1984, as evidenced by this grainy (pun intended) photo.
Here it was yesterday.
Gotta admit, it’s pretty impressive to see in person. So much so that I embarrassed Tara by purchasing a bunch of souvenirs like some goddamn tourist. She didn’t balk at the t-shirt, magnet, sticker, or coaster, but the cornstalk-shaped ballpoint pen kinda put her over the edge.
Mitchell was still four hours from home, but it felt like about forty because I battled a 50-mph headwind the whole way that made steering a challenge and screwed with my gas mileage. I average just under 30 mpg on the drive to Sioux Falls, but just over 20 mpg on the way back (and, in fact, my low fuel warning light came on just past the Badlands; fortunately, I was able to limp into Wall on fumes). After a quick stop at Wall Drug, we made it back home around 1:00. It was a quick but fun 48-hour getaway.
Overall, Sioux Falls impressed us. With a population of 190,000, it’s the biggest city in South Dakota, far eclipsing second-place Rapid City’s 78,000. All those people mean there are a lot more dining and entertainment options than we have back home, which was nice. And the city is spread out, so it still has a small town feel. Housing is cheap, and so is gas; I paid $1.93/gallon at one place. There are some very appealing neighborhoods. Just when I was starting to think, hmm, I could see myself living here, the locals we talked to invariably were all jealous of us because Rapid City and the Black Hills have so much natural beauty and outdoor activities. One guy said yeah, the food scene in Sioux Falls is great, but you’re screwed if you want to go hiking. It was nice to gain some perspective from east river peeps.
Also, though it bothered Tara a lot more than me, there was a persistent odor in the Sioux Falls air. Research shows it’s from the city’s meatpacking plants. I imagine you’d get used to it, and when the wind blows right it disappears, but it’s just noticeable enough to be annoying at times.
Further proof that there’s no place like home, I suppose!