Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sioux Falls, SD: July 16th - 18th, 2010

Hotel: The Hilton Garden Inn Sioux Falls
Dining and drinking: Granite City Food and Brewery, Tea Steak House, Borrowed Buck's Roadhouse, Bob's Carry Out & Delivery, Uncle Ed's Specialty Meats, Golden Dragon
Events and Places: Sertoma Butterfly House, Palisades State Park, Devil's Gulch, Falls Park, Sioux Falls JazzFest

"This bridge marks the spot where the notorious outlaw Jesse James left his legend with the Garretson community. While attempting to evade a posse following a bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota, Jesse James and his gang encountered the Split Rock River. Jesse found that the only way to evade the posse was to jump the chasm, now known as the Devil's Gulch. This he did, leaving the posse on the other side and giving him time to escape to Missouri." - Cool.

I didn't really know what to expect when I decided to hang out around Sioux Falls, SD for the weekend - the history lesson (legend?) was a bonus. Devil's Gulch has eroded significantly in the 135 years following James's famous leap; but at the time it was about a 25 ft. gap.

I’ve developed a habit of entering something like “July 17 festival” into Google at some point during the week and making my mind up to go somewhere new. The Sioux Falls Jazz Festival was this weekend, and I had never set foot in South Dakota, so it was an easy choice.

Eating here will test your mettle.

On Friday, when I arrived, I checked out the Sertoma Butterfly House (it was on the way to the hotel). I’ve never seen one of these things before, but a brief stop made me want to visit a larger one (I think there’s a pretty substantial one in Denver).

After checking into my hotel I decided to check out Granite City Food & Brewery after reading some favorable reviews on this chain online. I wasn’t impressed at all by the beer selection; I don’t like it when microbreweries over-hop their beer to try to give it a distinctive taste. It’s distinctive... distinctively gross. In spite of this, my burger would calibrate me to a refreshing fact about South Dakota: If you order meat medium-rare, it will be served medium rare. Medium rare is supposed to be red in the center, not pink; distinguishable only from rare because the red center is lukewarm versus cold. The burger meat also had a lot of character to it… when I remarked on this to the bartender, he indicated the processing plant was just up the street. Neat.

After the late lunch, I finished some work and then struck out for Tea, SD. A small town just up the road from Sioux Falls. This was my first encounter with rural South Dakota. The roads were dirt; every driver raised a hand from the wheel in acknowledgement as I passed. I pulled off at a “wetland conservatory” place across from a high school to take a few photos.
So many questions… I suppose if you want to walk your dog here you’d better bring a bow and arrow... but this is a waterfowl sanctuary… can you shoot ducks in a waterfowl sanctuary? Only if it’s not target practice? What is a hunting dog going to do with big game?

Anyhow, my purpose for visiting Tea was to check out the Tea Steak House. The restaurant has been around since the 1960s… and it is still stuck there. In some ways I feel like the ExpressJet ERJ that brought me here from Chicago was actually a time machine… this was one of those times.
I eschewed the family dining for the bar next door (O’Toole’s) where I had my first encounter with South Dakota’s gun laws (or loose enforcement thereof) as the gentlemen seating at either side of me both had pistols hanging from their belts (where am I?). I ordered a large beer (in South Dakota that apparently means 30 ounces; for what it’s worth) and small steak and hash browns.
The steak was fun – not pretentious; a slab of meat on a cafeteria plate, flavorful if not tender. In South Dakota if you don’t finish your meal, you get picked on. Given the presumably militant nature of my neighbors, I cleaned my plate. This place is worth a stop.

The evening’s entertainment would be provided by Borrowed Buck’s Roadhouse. It didn’t disappoint: a good crowd, delightfully out-of-fashion dance music (when Achy, Breaky Heart came on – most of the staff were mouthing the words as they shuffled between their tables and the bar…). I don’t stay out late anymore; but I imagine if I had, things would have been pretty fun late night at Buck’s. Check it out.

Saturday I was up early to explore. This was a good decision as temperatures throughout the day became oppressive. See my review of Bob's for a great breakfast stop.

I will insert a plug here for my new phone: The Motorola Droid X. The navigation features in this phone are great and its size makes it easy to prop on the dash. Speaking of the dash… Hertz gave me a brand new 2010 Nissan Maxima. This is a good looking car and it handled the dirt roads well. I drove it like a rental and it was no worse for the wear.

Thirty or so miles outside of Sioux Falls is farm land… big time farm land. It was beautiful. Mile after mile of straight dirt or gravel, gently rising and falling; enough change in elevation to keep you guessing at what lay ahead. It’s probably a few weeks before the harvest. A truck company dispatcher told me that it’d be a month or so before North Dakota would start up the combines – but the South was ready. The corn certainly looked full-grown. South Dakota’s primary crop is corn (followed by soybeans and wheat). The south east of the state is the best growing region for corn. I also noticed alfalfa (the purple flowers stood in stark contrast to the green everywhere else).

I would visit Palisades State park and Devil’s Gulch. The quartzite cliffs in Palisades took me by surprise; I would do a little climbing and exploring (the park was empty except for some tent campers just starting to wake up).
It was getting hot. The Jazz Fest (the reason for the random choice to visit) ended up disappointing… mostly due to the heat – and I didn’t stick around for too long. It was worth the price of parking to pick up a pork loin sandwich from Uncle Ed’s – I need to try to recreate this… and their sauce was perfect. It reminded me a lot of my favorite.

I always encounter a lot of quizzicality when I announce my plans for the weekend involve going somewhere new, alone. My favorite poet is Elizabeth Bishop. In her poem, Questions of Travel, she asks:

"What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?

She goes on to contradict with what a “pity” it would have been to not have accumulated certain experience and finally challenges the reader to really define “home” (essentially flipping the poem on its head).

I have no idea where I will be next month, next year… there was a time, now quite a while ago, that I did have a “home”. I learned that the presumed inherit stability in that life, in fact, was fragile and precarious.

If life is going to be unpredictable, regardless of circumstance, I choose to embrace and encourage the entropy, the randomness. Woody Allen said it best: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”

Anyway, South Dakota is a pretty terrific place. Good people, good food (if you like meat). I probably won’t voluntarily return to this part of the state anytime soon… but it afforded plenty of time to think and I got to meet some terrific people (Bob, Leslie, Mira, Jim… thanks a bunch).

This post's tip:
Smartphones have essentially rendered the bolt-on GPS nav units from Garmin or TomTom obsolete.

Things I learned this weekend:
  1. People in South Dakota take very, very tight left turns - it's bizzare... like they take drivers' ed. in tractors or something...

  2. I forgot how nice it was to have smokefree bars

  3. The best Chinese in Sioux Falls is at the Golden Dragon - try their General's Chicken

  4. If you attend the Sioux Falls JazzFest in the future, bring your own chair

  5. Chislic... really?


  1. Thanks for sharing, Jason. We'll live vicariously through you. M&D

  2. Jas- you and Bill need to discuss (over a beer) the use of a dog for big game hunting. One of his favorite subjects!