It can be truthfully said that the best way to get to know South Dakota is to tour its regions and cities. Each holds its own traditions and customs and has its own unique attractions. There are three major regions in South Dakota, Central Region, the Western Region and the Eastern Region.
The Central Region is the home of the beautiful State Capitol building, located in Pierre. This building was designed by an architectural firm based in Minneapolis and cost nearly $1 million. The use of the native field stone along with Italian marble and limestone from Indiana is very effective and striking. The flooring of this building is said to have been laid by sixty-six Italian artists who were each given their own signature blue tile. Mysteriously, only fifty-five of these special blue tiles can be seen.
The great Missouri River flows through the central region. This river is the second longest in America and has served as a means of transport for more than ten thousand years. The Indians used this river and the pioneers did as well so we can say that this river has played a key role in the settling up of South Dakota. This river has been used by steamboats and its rushing waters have been used for irrigation and water powered electricity. Hunters prowl the banks searching for duck, turkey and geese or deer. Fishermen can find walleye, bass and crappie for a plentiful catch. There are many birds that rely on the Missouri for food, making this a bird watcher’s heaven.
The most often spotted species are the Least Terns, Piping Plovers and the great American Bald Eagles. Camping is not permitted on the banks of the river, but with the Badlands National Park less than four hours away and many parks nearby, this does not present a problem. Pheasant hunting is also a popular activity found in South Dakota and there are many hunting lodges that cater to this sport.
In the Western Region is home to the two most popular attractions found in South Dakota. The Mount Rushmore or `face mountain’ as it has been dubbed and the Crazy Horse Memorial. The Badlands are also located in the Western Region where are found the Black Hills and the gold mines. Rapid City is the biggest city. Mount Rushmore took fourteen years to complete and it took 400 sculptures to complete the four heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The tour includes a full description of the work involved, the various Tools used and anecdotes by the workers. It is worth it to visit this memorial on the 4th of July for the spectacular Independence Day fireworks display.
Located not far from the Mount Rushmore is the Crazy Horse Memorial. This memorial is a work in progress. The idea was born in the Indian Ziolkowski who wished to have a memorial to the `red men’ or the Indians.
When completed, the whole carved area of Mount Rushmore will fit into the face and hair of the Crazy Horse Memorial!! It was first begun in 1948 and continued until his death in 1982. However, his wife and family have continued on, finishing the face in 1998. Some visitors come by annually, just to see the progress made on the carving.
Sioux Falls, the largest city in South Dakota is located in the Eastern Region. There are many festivals held in this city, including the Jazz Fest and the Life Light Festival. There are also unique attractions such as the Terry Redlin Art Centre and the Storybook Land.
You have made the excellent choice of taking a vacation in South Dakota. Now, where to stay? The choices are many, varied and quite frankly, can be confusing. For those of you who wish to be close to nature, to sleep in the great outdoors, the campgrounds are probably the best bet. But sleeping beneath the great night sky, next to a bonfire or star gazing does not have to mean a lack of commodities. Oh no. There are laundry rooms, restrooms, convenience stores and RV hook-ups available at most of the state’s campgrounds. Some even offer on-site restaurants.
The campground option is a must for those that love to go fishing or rafting before breakfast. Like a bit more luxury? Then choose a hotel or motel for comfort. Here in South Dakota with more than a thousand hotels to choose from there is no shortage of options, from the more economic motel room to a full scale penthouse suite. There is something to suit everyone’s budget. This option gives easy access to public transportation, unlimited dining choices, and sightseeing tours.
Do you wish to fit right in and feel right at home? Then the bed and breakfast option is definitely for you. Try a cozy cottage in a small scenic town for a relaxed vacation with personalized attention from the owner as well as free advice on the best sightseeing, dining or shopping available in the area. For an extended stay it is more practical and economical to rent an apartment, rustic cabin or a condominium. Any of these allow you to plan your vacation around you and your family’s wishes. This is a great choice for a large group, like a family on vacation or if you are visiting with friends.
One area that offers the perfect solution is the Black Hills area. With cool forests and cozy cabins equipped with kitchen, laundry and multiple bedrooms, this is excellent for a vacation in a home away from home. To truly get away from it all yet maintain the small luxuries of everyday living like cable TV, internet connection and so on, try a resort or a lodge. There are hunting lodges which offer top class accommodations such as private rooms, satellite or cable TV and fully stocked bars. These hunting lodges often provide home cooking, sometimes with the fruits of the day’s hunt.
There are additional services such as hunting equipment rentals, guided or accompanied hunts and kennels for the hunting dogs. These services are somewhat particular to the hunting lodges but other lodges and resorts offer horse riding, fishing, boating or scenic tours. Some resorts also offer saunas, swimming pools, tennis courts and many other luxuries. These beautiful South Dakota lodges and resorts have it all and the staff is warm and friendly. Three of the best known are, WaTiki Waterpark Resort which is a resort surrounding a waterpark. This is geared towards young visitors and is an excellent place to visit with kids. The Circle H Ranch, which offers the sport of pheasant hunting and the Barefoot Resort, nestled in the old mining area of the Black Hills. This resort is very close to Terry Peak, one of South Dakota’s best skiing areas.
In the vast state of South Dakota there are many varied activities from gambling casinos to zoos. You could choose to visit any of the numerous state parks or just roam the scenic countryside by car or on horseback. If history is your thing, then choose from any of the museums around to view old American Indian artifacts, fossilized remains dating from the ice age or artwork from local and famous artists. If you prefer the great outdoors there are plenty caves and caverns to explore, stemming from the time when gold was discovered in the Black Hills.
As the base rock is limestone, these caves were formed fifty million years ago as the underground streams flowed through the porous limestone. This water gradually wore away the limestone, creating magnificent underground passages and rooms. The Black Hills caves are located between 300 and 700 feet below the surface, which means that this is an ideal place to visit as the refreshing temperatures of the caves, usually around forty degrees, are a welcome relief from the high summer heat outside.
Some caves are typically open year round. These caves are the Jewel Cave National Monument and the Wind Cave National Park, while the privately owned caves conduct tours from May to November. These are Black Hills Caverns, Mount Rushmore Cave, and the Crystal Caves and Crystal Cave. In August in South Dakota there is the great Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. This is the most celebrated gathering of motor cyclists in the world. Partying bikers from worldwide gather, swelling the population to over fifty times its size for two weeks.
Of course, there is also the typical western experience – the rodeo. Watch the thrilling feats of cowboys and admire the beef bulls of South Dakota. Where ever there is a rodeo, there is a rib-fest or BBQ following. These are usually held in early summer in Sioux Falls, and there is a wide choice of BBQ meats available.
Maybe you prefer to visit the farms. Here you have live stock judging, tractor pulls, equipment showing and horse shows. This gives a valuable insight into the agricultural history of the United States. To see the Indians and imbibe their traditions, then it is a must to visit a powwow. These descendants of the ancient tribes get together every year to sing and dance as their forefathers did so long ago. Some of these celebrations invite visitors to join and take part in the festivities.
Every year in South Dakota, there is also a Jazz festival in Sioux Falls. More than 90,000 people gather to listen to the jazz, the blues, Latin, big band rock, reggae and soul music for 2 days. This is truly an atmosphere to experience. Following this is the Life Light Festival, also held at Sioux Falls. This is held over three days and showcases many kinds of Christian Music. This festival attracts a crowd of over 30,000 people to listen to the sweet strains of gentle music.
South Dakota, the 16th largest state in the United States, is aptly described as the land of variety. In this state is found Harney Peak in the Black Hills, which is the highest peak in the United States with an elevation of 7,242 feet. South Dakota also boasts of more shoreline than that of Florida! It has a population of more than 750,000 inhabitants giving a ratio of 10 persons per square mile.
South Dakota is also known as the Mount Rushmore State due to the `face mountain‘, as it is often described. The state has integrated this in its slogan `Great Faces, Great Places.’ Indeed, this state boasts tourism as its second largest industry with good reason, as tourists alone accounted for more than $860 million statewide.
But this is not all. South Dakota has always been listed amongst the top 10 states in the United States in the production of corn, wheat, cattle, hay, sunflowers, rye, honey and soybeans. Agriculture is the largest industry in this state. And we must not forget, that in this state is located the great Black Hills, where are found the gold mines. Gold was first discovered here in 1874, predictably causing a rush of miners and treasure seekers to South Dakota. This started the settlement of this area of South Dakota and the arrival of the railroad helped to facilitate travel, which led to a massive explosion in 1878 in the search for land and housing. This is described as the `Great Dakota Boom’.
Yet, the agricultural sector does not account for majority of the employment, this is found in the service and manufacturing sectors. The retail trade also accounts for many jobs. This diverse state gained its statehood in 1889, making it the 40th state to enter the Union. As is expected in the United States, where the first people were the Indians, this state was first inhabited by the Sioux tribes. At the end of the 18th century, there were three main tribes, the Teton, the Santee and the Yankton, all of whom lived on the northern plains. These tribes spoke essentially the same language, differing slightly according to the dialect, of which there were three: the Lakota, the Nakota or the Dakota.
In 1804, and again two years later on their well documented historic journeys to and from the great Pacific Ocean, two explorers, Lewis and Clarke, crossed the great unknown which is called South Dakota today. They were later followed by the fur traders. This combination of travelers helped to open up this part of the West to trading of a commercial nature. The famous Missouri River flows through the southeastern and central part of South Dakota. Roam the sprawling prairies in central South Dakota like the pioneers did so many centuries ago, or visit the awesome glacial lakes which dominate the eastern part of this great State. Visit the ranching spreads and the fertile farmlands or hike the towering tranquil mountains found on the western edge of South Dakota.
Eating out in South Dakota reflects the German, American and Dutch roots of this state. However, there is something for everyone. To start the day off on the right foot, there are more than twenty coffee shops alone and about eighty bakeries. In these you can find typical oversize American cinnamon buns and decadent brownies to go along with your frosty latte or a piping hot black coffee.
You may decide to begin your day by relaxing at a typical main street corner café or bistro, or you may get your coffee on the run on your way to discover the nearby shops. As South Dakota itself is a vast state so are the menu choices. From the crystal clear waters of South Dakota come the native trout, pike, and walleye. From the rippling grasses of the flat open prairie and the cool peaceful glades of the forest come the tender American beef, buffalo, venison and pheasant.
For a truly typical western dining experience visit a chuck wagon diner, to indulge in a typical meal of juicy BBQ chicken, buffalo, or steaming slices of tender roast beef accompanied by cowboy style beans, buttered roast potatoes wrapped in foil, applesauce, homemade biscuits soaked in gravy, and gingerbread washed down with lemonade and coffee. This is a great option for an evening as you will likely have a cowboy strumming on a guitar, playing the old western songs of long ago as you savor your meal.
You can choose to eat your meal beneath the great star lit sky or you may choose an early morning cowboy breakfast watching the sun rise in the sky in a symphony of muted red and orange tones. On the breakfast menu would be sunny side up eggs and home cured bacon along with cowboy style beans and homemade biscuits eaten with fragrant steaming black coffee. This is a great way to experience the spirit of the past western days when cowboys and cattle were almost the only inhabitants of this territory.
The best hunting found in South Dakota is located in this state’s center. Here the restaurants offer a sizzling tender steak that is certainly not to be missed. Eaten along with the fried potatoes and tender greens, it is a meal to be remembered. The eastern region of South Dakota features a more international palate for dining out, but this only adds to the area’s charm. There are steakhouses offering succulent chops and mouth watering steaks, comfort food and decadent desserts such as triple chocolate pie and the traditional apple pie.
There are other ethnic restaurants, fast food establishments or BBQ joints which offer their own traditional menus. The fresh fish is delicious here too. As with most top restaurants worldwide, healthy, low fat, or sugar reduced options are provided at some restaurants. Whatever your preference or your budget there is something available in South Dakota for you and your family. The state’s history and diverse culture are reflected truly in these never to be forgotten dining experiences.