Apparently, Memorial Day is when everyone with a tent or RV busts out from the long Midwestern winter to commune with nature. I checked every state and county park in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota within two hundred miles of our route trying to find a place to ride out the weekend. There was NOTHING available.
We finally found a spot at a KOA in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. At 300 miles away, it was at least 100 miles more than we like to travel in a day. We pulled in to find a nicely maintained RV park. But…the park is right next to I-90, with a constant parade of tractor-trailers using their annoying jake brakes. Adding to the noise assault was an enormous American flag near our site cracking like a giant bullwhip in the wind. We closed our windows, cranked up the AC in the 95-degree heatwave, and hunkered down for three nights.
Despite our less than idyllic campsite, we had a good time in Sioux Falls. The centerpiece of the town is a beautiful series of natural waterfalls cascading over pink Sioux quartzite. Early one morning, we embarked on the Sioux Falls Bike Trail Loop, which begins in Falls Park and circles the entire city. It’s a smooth paved 19-mile trail and makes for a good ride.
On another hot day, we ventured out to explore more of the city. Downtown Sioux Falls is home to SculptureWalk, an outdoor exhibit of 56 large sculptures by artists from across the country. The styles vary from classical to fantastical, and a new series of sculptures are installed each year in May. Residents and tourists are encouraged to vote for their favorite, and the city of Sioux Falls purchases the winning sculpture each year for permanent display in Falls Park.
Overall, we enjoyed our stay in Sioux Falls, although we prefer our campsites to be out in nature instead of next to the freeway. However, Fernson Brewing Company, with very good craft beers, is conveniently located just a short walk from the KOA. That was a fun bonus.
The Corn Palace: Mitchell, SD
When the Memorial Day crowds evaporated, we continued our journey west along Interstate 90. We stopped at The Corn Palace, just a few miles off the highway in Mitchell, South Dakota. In the late 19th century, cities of the Great Plains constructed “grain palaces” to promote their products and to encourage people to settle there. The Corn Palace is a fanciful structure, adorned with domes and minarets—but the best part is the murals, made entirely from corn cobs in various colors and sheaves of grains.
The exterior corn murals are replaced and redesigned each year after Labor Day with a new theme. When we visited, “South Dakota Weather” was the theme. Most of the murals were pastoral in nature. Sunflowers in summer, sledding in winter, a farmer standing in his field. But the mural of the tornado was ominous. And the corn art portraying giant lightning bolts striking a church—I’m still pondering that one.
Plains Indian Culture: Chamberlain, SD
We visited Chamberlain, South Dakota specifically to see the Akta Lakota Museum. Located on the campus of St. Joseph’s Indian School, the museum and cultural center was established in 1991 to honor and preserve the culture of the Northern Plains Indians. The center houses a rich collection of historical artifacts as well as contemporary works of art by tribal members.
Just off of Interstate 90 near Chamberlain a 50-foot tall stainless steel sculpture gleams in the sun. Created by South Dakota artist laureate Dale Lamphere, the statue depicts a Native American woman dressed in Plains-style clothing, holding a traditional star quilt behind her back. The eight-pointed Morning Star, which separates the darkness of the night from the light of the new day, is the most common symbol on Plains Indians quilts.
An inscription by the artist reads: “My intent is to have the sculpture stand as an enduring symbol of our shared belief that all here are sacred, and in a sacred place.” It is a gorgeous, inspiring work of art.
About The Campground
Following our three-night stay at the Sioux Falls KOA, we retreated 170 miles to Left Tailrace COE campground, about 12 miles north of I-90. The campground is 20 miles northwest of Chamberlain (where we visited the Akta Lakota Museum and the Dignity Statue).
It’s a pretty, peaceful park with beautiful lake views and no traffic noise (yay!). The sites are spacious, with electric hookups only (we’re kind of getting used to this), water spigots throughout, clean bathhouses, and a dump station. Verizon is good.