The terrain of eastern South Dakota is a sea of grass-covered swells and troughs, segmented by streams and punctuated by islands of trees. The largest of these “tree islands” is the city of Sioux Falls. The Big Sioux River twists and loops through the city of more than 170,000 residents and provides it with its namesake by stairstepping down an outcropping of pink quartzite.
The friendly, active people in South Dakota’s most populous city enjoy their museums, parks, art galleries, restaurants, and zoo. And the city’s four colleges and five hospitals make it a regional center for education and health care. It’s not surprising then that Money Magazine rates Sioux Falls among the top 10 small cities in America in terms of quality of life.
At the northwestern corner of the city, the Big Sioux River begins its loop through town. One of the parks the river passes is Sherman Park, located at 16th and Kiwanis Avenue. This facility boasts a number of attractions, most notably the Great Plains Zoo and the Delbridge Museum of Natural History. The zoo was patterned after the San Diego Zoo and contains more than 300 animals. Some of the creatures that are native to the state reside in the North American Plains Exhibit, which encompasses six acres along the banks of the Big Sioux River. Another exhibit displays ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson’s favorite kind of bird – the penguin.
Complementing the zoo, the nearby Delbridge Museum of Natural History houses one of the world’s largest collections of mounted animals. Nearly 175 animals are displayed in this facility and arranged according to the climatic zone or ecosystem in which they lived. Attorney C.J. Delbridge, for whom the museum was named, purchased these mounted animals from a hardware store once owned by Henry Brockhouse, who legally hunted and mounted these animals in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Delbridge donated the collection to the city on the condition that funds would be raised to construct a suitable building in which to display them. The city completed the museum in 1984.
Driving south on Kiwanis Avenue, parallel with the river, you will reach one end of the Big Sioux River Recreation Trail and Greenway at 41st Street near Oxbow Park. This bicycle trail system encircles the city. The best place to begin a trek on the bike trail is at Yankton Trail Park, located at the southern end of Western Avenue, where plenty of parking is available. From there, the trail follows the river for over 19 miles (31 km) past city parks replete with canoe launch areas, baseball diamonds, playing fields, picnic areas, and towering cottonwoods.
Going counterclockwise along the bikeway from Yankton Trail Park lies yet another riverside facility called Cherry Rock Park. A few blocks away at 713 S. Cleveland Avenue, you used to find the Jim Savage Western Art & Gift Gallery and Studio. Savage, who died in 1986, was a self-taught sculptor and painter of Western and Native American subjects. His wife, Shirley, ran the gallery for many years after his passing. Eventually, his collection was moved to Augustana University which now has an exhibit called the Northern Plains Folk Art Continuum, which includes Savage’s art. Jim’s daughter, Connie Savage Thiewes, who is an accomplished artist in her own right, has created a Facebook page to track her father’s artwork.
Following the river counterclockwise further, bicyclists will reach a spur off of the bike trail that leads to Fawick Park, located at 11th Street and Second Avenue. Named for Thomas Fawick, a Cleveland, Ohio, inventor, industrialist, and philanthropist, the park is home to a full-scale copy of Michelangelo’s sculpture of David – one of only two copies ever made – that Fawick gave to the city. Another of his gifts is the only copy ever made of Michelangelo’s likeness of Moses which adorns the campus of Augustana University at 2001 South Summit Avenue.
Situated several blocks west of Fawick Park at 11th and Phillips Streets is one of Sioux Falls best restaurants – Minerva’s Restaurant. Winner of the Silver Spoon Award from The Gourmet Diners Club of America, this eatery offers Seafood, Italian, Cajun and French selections. Sioux Falls provides visitors with a wide range of other dining selections as well, from All-American fast-food to Mexican, Japanese, Cambodian, and New England fare among others.
Just before it leaves town, the Big Sioux River cascades over an outcropping of rocks and forms the waterfall that gave the city its name. The pink Sioux quartzite that is exposed at the falls and throughout the area ranks as some of the oldest rock in South Dakota. The hard, durable quartzite was once quarried, for it provided excellent paving and building stone. Falls Park, which surrounds this waterfall, contains the Queen Bee Mill, a grist mill, and a Light and Power Company power plant that serve as reminders of the time when the falls were harnessed for power. The power plant has been remodeled to become the Falls Overlook Cafe. The park is also home to many sculptures.
And, speaking of reminders, the history of Sioux Falls is presented at the Old Courthouse Museum at Sixth Street and Main Avenue, which was built with blocks of quartzite. Museum visitors will learn about the Woodland People, who lived in the area 1,000 years ago; they were followed by the Arikara, who grew corn, beans, and squash; next came nomadic bison-hunting Sioux. After a treaty was signed with the Sioux, pioneer farmers established the town of Sioux Falls in 1857.
The Old Courthouse Museum and the Pettigrew Home and Museum (the latter located at Eighth Street and Duluth Avenue) are collectively known as the Siouxland Heritage Museums, which has a website of the same name (no spaces). The latter facility once belonged to Richard Pettigrew, one of South Dakota’s first senators. Elected in 1889, this surveyor, lawyer, and businessman traveled around the world gathering artifacts and rocks and adding to his collection of mounted animals. To showcase his treasures, Pettigrew built a museum which was constructed predominately of petrified wood from Arizona. The facility adjoined his home, which, like the Old Courthouse, was made of Sioux quartzite.
Surrounding the Pettigrew Home and Museum is a historic district that spans a 14-½ block area and contains homes that were constructed between 1872 and 1925. The entire district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Junius Fishburne, a state historic preservation officer, said the district is “one of the outstanding cultural resources in South Dakota.”
Visitors can pick up a mapped guide to the district at either museum and then drive or walk past homes that boast such architectural styles as Queen Anne, neocolonial, Gothic and Tudor. St. Joseph’s cathedral, boasting a blend of Romanesque and French Renaissance architecture, serves as the focal point of the district.
Completing our circular tour around Sioux Falls, you should know that balloons hold a great deal of interest locally. And we’re not talking about party balloons, because Aerostar International, a subsidiary of Raven Industries Incorporated, manufactures all kinds of industrial scale inflatables at the Sioux Falls airport, north of the historic district. This company provides balloons for sporting, scientific, and commercial purposes, including the ones that are featured in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Kenny Anderson Park, at the eastern end of Sioux Falls, hosts the Great Plains Balloon Race in August, weather permitting.
For a taste of regional history, you may want to travel north from Sioux Falls to Prairie Village, located outside the town of Madison. This privately run village comprises a collection of restored turn-of-the-century buildings, as well as an 1893 steam carousel, farm machinery, antique automobiles, and old rail cars. The buildings were moved to the site from nearby towns. One of the structures, an opera house came here from Oldham, South Dakota, where orchestra leader Lawrence Welk made his stage debut in 1924. Theatrical productions are still staged there during the summer, and an annual festival known as the Threshing Jamboree fills the village during the last weekend in August. Prairie Village is located near Lake Herman State Park, where camping and boating can be enjoyed. Prairie Village offers camping from May to Labor Day with over 300 electrical sites.
Visitors will discover that the Sioux quartzite found in Falls Park also occurs in other areas near Sioux Falls. Northeast of the city, 14 miles north of Interstate 90 off of State Route 11, the pink rock forms towering cliffs over Split Rock Creek in Palisades State Park. This park contains camping, picnicking, and fishing facilities.
The nearby town of Garretson maintains its own special place in history. The notorious outlaw Jesse James reportedly robbed the bank in Northfield, Minnesota and hid in a cave near what is now Garretson’s Split Rock Municipal Park. As James set out again, a posse appeared right behind him, forcing the outlaw to jump across a quartzite chasm called Devil’s Gulch. A footbridge now spans the precipice.
The Earth Resources Observation System (EROS) Data Center is located near Garretson on County Road 118. The center, which is administered by the U.S. Geological Survey, is an archive and research facility dedicated to the study of satellite and aerial photographs, provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The center’s lobby contains several displays of note, including one that shows aerial photographs of Sioux Falls from 1937 on; another that consists of video programs; and a rotating Earth that’s nearly a story high.
Farther northeast on Minnesota State Route 23, the quartzite appears again at Pipestone National Monument in Pipestone, Minnesota. Indigenous people quarried beneath the quartzite to reach the soapstone below it, which they used in the bowls of their ceremonial pipes. The soapstone was dubbed “catlinite” after George Catlin, a famous 19th-century artist who was the first white man to describe the quarries. Native Americans still dig for the brittle catlinite by hand, because heavy machinery would shatter it. Visitors can observe this mining process at several active pits that are situated on the grounds. In case they want to take a specimen home, the gift shop in the monument’s visitor center contains pipes and other items made from catlinite.
The monument’s self-guided circle trail provides an introduction to the area’s natural history. For instance, millions of years ago, this part of Minnesota and neighboring South Dakota were part of a seashore. Deposits of muddy clay were covered over with sand that was “contaminated” by iron minerals. Geologic pressure and heat eventually transformed the clay into catlinite and the iron-filled sand developed into quartzite – the pink rock of Sioux Falls.
For additional information concerning attractions or campgrounds contact the following sources:
South Dakota Division of Tourisz
Capitol Lake Plaza, Box 1000
Pierre, SD 57501
(800) 843-1930 outside South Dakota
(800) 952-2217 in South Dakota
Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 1425
Sioux Falls, SD 57101
City of Sioux Falls website: http://www.siouxfalls.org
Old Courthouse Museum and Pettigrew Home and Museum, 200 W 6th St, Sioux Falls, SD 57104 (605)367-4210
Earth Resources Observation System (EROS) https://eros.usgs.gov
Madison Chamber of Commerce
Madison, SD 57042
Pipestone National Monument
P.O Box 727
Pipestone, MN 56164
Pipestone Chamber of Commerce
117 8th Avenue SE
Pipestone, MN 56164