Tag Archives: South Dakota

Strawbale Winery

Strawbale Winery


The Strawbale Winery is in Renner, South Dakota, about 15 minutes from Sioux Falls.  The winery is named for the straw that insulate its walls.  The bales help the winery reduce its energy use and facilitates the climate-controlled environment necessary to produce great wine.



The tasting room is small but engaging with high tables and wine accessories packed into wooden crates along the walls.  For $5, you can sample five wines and take home a commemorative glass.  Once you’ve perused the list of wines, you write your selections on the chalkboard countertop, and the pouring begins!


In the midst of my fruity choices, I threw in a dark horse:  Jalapeno.  It’s a white grape wine with an outrageous kick of heat.  I couldn’t manage more than one sip.  Brown Cow is a fortified wine, a blend of a table red and brandy with flavors of chocolate, coffee and orange.  It was delicious but oh so strong.  Delectably dangerous.



The truth window shows the hay in between the walls.

Besides drinking and shopping, Strawbale hosts events: Sangria Sunday, Twilight Flights, and various festivals.  Stop in for a quick tasting or stay for the day.  Cheers!



The Jalapeno wine is hot, hot, hot!

Brunch at the diner

Brunch at the diner

Lemon Curd Pancakes

There’s something decidedly decadent about brunch.  The late hour, the combination of breakfast and lunch dishes, the leisurely pace.  If you count it as two meals in one, you can forgive yourself for eating too much, especially if you’ve gotten some exercise beforehand.  That’s why I was able to nosh without guilt when we brunched at Phillips Avenue Diner in Sioux Falls’ historic downtown after our chilly walk in Falls Park.


Of course, I helped things along by thoughtful ordering.  A spinach and tomato eggwhite omelet was accompanied by a side of fresh fruit in place of toast or potatoes.  I simply had to try the lemon curd pancakes, though.  Normally, they come in stacks of three, but that would’ve been over the top.  So, I asked if I could have just one, and our waitress happily obliged, charging me an extra buck for the privilege.  The pancake was infused with lemon essence.  Juice, I think, not extract.  Instead of syrup, it was crisscrossed with glaze, a dollop of lemon curd and some raspberries to add color and a flavorful contrast.  Nummy!  The omelet was good, too.


The neat thing about downtown Sioux Falls, besides its history, is the SculptureWalk.

SculptureWalk is an exciting exhibit of outdoor sculptures displayed year-round in downtown Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Artists place their sculptures in the program for one year, and all sculptures are aggressively promoted to the public for sale. Artists are eligible to win any one or more of the 14 awards in the Best of Show, People’s Choice voting and the random drawings. Awards total to $15,000.

Two impressive pieces are on the corner near the diner.  My favorite?  ‘Look and You Will Find It’ by artist Kate Christopher.  It’s so simple but so striking.  The group of standing men, all with heads downcast except one, has a compelling message: the path to discovery reveals itself when we lift our eyes.  I learn the truth of that every day on this amazing journey.


Look and You Will Find It


Butterfly by Jaque Frazee

Falls Park

Falls Park


Native Americans were the first visitors the falls of the Big Sioux River.  The Lakota and Dakota were nomadic bison hunters, and they used the falls as a place to rendezvous with French fur trappers.  As the land around the falls was claimed by European settlers, a 1,200-acre village sprung up.  Sioux Falls became an official city in 1883.  Railroads really put the city on the map, with a population spike from 2,164 in 1880 to 10,167 at the end of the decade.  Economic ups and downs over the years mirrored the nation at large, but through it all, the falls have been central to the city’s industry and recreation.



In pioneer days, the falls were used for water power to run the Queen Bee Mill.  When it was built, the mill could process 1,500 bushels of wheat and was considered one of the most advanced facilities in America.  Unfortunately, weak water power and a lack of wheat forced it to close in 1883, just six years after it was built.  A few companies attempted to  make the mill a going concern over the years, but nothing worked.  After a fire in 1956 compromised the structure, upper walls were knocked down until only two of the original seven stories of the mill remain.


Remains of the seven-story Queen Bee Mill


Millrace and dam

Today, Falls Park covers 123 acres with an average of 7,400 gallons of water dropping 100 feet each second.  With paved walking and biking paths, picnic tables scattered charmingly on the grassy spots, and a cafe in the old Light and Power Company building, the park is captivating place to spend an afternoon with family and friends.


A romantic dinner at Crawford’s

A romantic dinner at Crawford’s


Mike works hard.  He is sole proprietor of his own busy company.  He handles the mechanical stuff on the RV, and he does the bulk of the driving.  I’m just getting started with my freelance career, so it doesn’t pay a lot right now.  But, I make enough that I was able to take Mike out for a romantic dinner as a thank-you for all that he does for me and Charlie, Sadie and Meeko.


Crawford’s Bar & Grill is an upscale eatery in historic downtown Sioux Falls.  The decor is funky with lots of dark wood, century-old quartzite and brick walls, bejeweled wall paper, art deco lighting, and plush, intimate seating arrangements.


The restaurant has an interesting history.

Crawford’s is the location of one of the first butchers in Sioux Falls, Louis Bauch, Bauch’s Meats, 1896. If you look closely you will see the wood beams throughout the quartzite walls used as scaffolding when building the massive walls. Louis Bauch’s son and son-in-law’s names are signed and dated “May 1936″ on the back of the bar under the first shelf of wine glasses. Behind the second shelf of wine glasses there is an original piece of cork from the butcher’s cork lined cooler.


Black soot runs up the mens’ bathroom brick wall from where the meat was smoked, the blood trough still runs along the north cellar wall and a rusty old nail hangs in the quartzite wall under one of the large gilded mirrors. When restoring the building to its original beauty Louis Bauch’s meat cleaver was discovered, hidden neatly away for almost a century, it is displayed in a special spot in Crawford’s today.


After Bauch’s Meat Market closed in the late 1930s, the building housed clothing and shoe stores.  One included a namesake, Crawford’s Men’s Wear. Look down when you step over the threshold of the front entrance, you will notice the original 1963 Crawford’s Men’s Wear logo.


We started with Walleye Fingers.  We could have just had that and dessert and been plenty satisfied.  Portions at Crawford’s are generous.   But we like to experience it all, and traveling with our house on wheels means that we can easily keep any extras.


Walleye Fingers: panko-crusted and served with a lemon Dijon tartar sauce

After that, I had the Tomato Crab Bisque instead of a salad like Mike.  I was already starting to get full, so I ate only a spoonful.  I wasn’t sure what to do with my leftovers since we still had the rest of the meal ahead of us.  Our waitress neatly solved the problem by bringing me a fresh batch in a to-go bowl before we left.  Excellent service!


Tomato Crab Bisque

For his entree, Mike went with two filets each prepared in a different way.  He’s a simple fellow, so he liked the grilled, buttered version best.  He doesn’t like asparagus, so I brought that home with the remainder of my Pappardelle Chicken.


2 Filets 2 Ways: one crusted in peppercorn with a cognac demi glaze and the other grilled, topped with roasted shallot butter


Pappardelle Chicken

The s’mores were a delight and would have been perfect for sharing if Mike didn’t have his own chocolate cake.  I packed up the uneaten marshmallows and graham crackers, so we could snack on them later.  The entire experience was wonderful.  Very romantic and unhurried.  The food was superb, and the service was spot on.  Best of all, my man was happy.


Midnight Layer Cake




Tower Campground (Sioux Falls, SD)

Tower Campground (Sioux Falls, SD)


Tower Campground is a year-round park in Sioux Falls that’s got easy access to all the stuff you want to see, like the U.S.S. South Dakota Battleship Memorial, Falls Park and the historic downtown.  Even better for our purposes, it was also a quick jaunt to Mike’s gig at J&L Harley, just four exits up the highway.  The proximity to the highway has led to some negative reviews of the campground because of the roadway roar.  Our rig is well insulated, so we didn’t really notice the noise inside.   Outside, yeah.  But, the trees buffer some of it.


I don’t know if the staff was workcampers or owners, but they were super friendly and helpful.  While we were there, we had oodles of packages delivered, including two folding bikes.  They texted us when our multiple boxes arrived, and they helped me load those big boys into the Jeep.


This was the perfect place to break in our new bikes because we were practically on top of the Big Sioux River Recreation Trail.   The nearly 26-mile route follows the Big Sioux River as it loops around the city.  In particular, we enjoyed the River Greenway, a paved bike trail that winds through scenic urban and wildlife areas.


The park has full hook-ups and one pull-through spot, it looked like.  Of course, that was on our side, which I think was the newer side.  The other side looked packed, and I’m not sure if there were pull-throughs.


Our one complaint about the campground was the Internet.  The Wi-Fi is free, but it’s very controlled.  If you hog bandwidth, they don’t just throttle you back; they cut you off completely.  Frustrating!  I spent my mornings at one of the Starbucks in town so that I could get my freelance work and blogging done.  Not a bad way to deal with the problem.

Despite our Wi-Fi woes, we enjoyed Tower Campground and would stay there again if we were back in the area.


A good visit to the Badlands

A good visit to the Badlands


The Badlands National Park is made up of 244,000 acres of geological deposits that appear to be otherworldly sandcastles plopped on top of each other.  The striking, richly striped mounds once hosted ancient mammals: rhino, horse, and saber-toothed cat.  Now, bison, bighorn sheep (we saw some!), prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets live on the mixed-grass prairie.

If you don’t have a National Park pass, it’ll cost you $15 to drive through in your car.  And dogs are prohibited on the trails.  We managed to walk the bark babies off the trail, away from the crowds, a couple of times.

We didn’t have much time, so this was a quick stop before we left the Rapid City area for Milwaukee.  When we’re back next year, I’d love to take one of the ranger-led programs or participate in one of the free paleontology lab.



Hickok and Bullock and a girl named Jane

Hickok and Bullock and a girl named Jane

Wild Bill Hickok’s grave with Calamity Jane’s in the background

No trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota is complete without a stop at Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood.  The sprawling location is primarily known for its eternal VIP guests: Will Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Seth Bullock.

James Butler Hickok was better known as Wild Bill.  He was a legendary Old West gunfighter and lawman who was drawn to the vices of drinking and gambling.  Cards were literally the death of him; he met his end while engaged in a game of poker in Deadwood.  His aces and eights became the “dead man’s hand” after Jack McCall shot Wild Bill in the back as he played.

Wild Bill met Calamity Jane when his wagon train stopped in Laramie, Wyoming, on its way to Deadwood.  Jane’s parents had died by the time she was 12.  As an adult, she had a number of a different gigs: cook, miner, prostitute, ox-team driver.  She also became an accomplished horsewoman and shooter.  Men who offended Jane were said to be “courting calamity”, which is supposedly how she got her colorful name.

Both avid drinkers and exuberant storytellers, Wild Bill and Calamity Jane got on well.  So well that Jane described them as a couple, a relationship status that was purportedly strenuously denied by Bill.  Jane loved Bill so much, though, that she insisted on being buried next to him.

Seth Bullock was a Canadian who relocated to the United States in the late 1860s.  In 1876, Seth moved his hardware business from Michigan to Deadwood after gold was discovered in the Black Hills.  He became sheriff of Deadwood and was later appointed a U.S. Marshall by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Visiting Deadwood prompted us to buy the first season of the HBO show of the same name.  We had had a marathon screening one afternoon, getting a feel for what it was like in Deadwood in Hickok and Bullock’s time, when South Dakota was still a territory in Indian land, not a state.  It’s supposed be a pretty accurate depiction of that time in history. There’s an awful lot of cussing, with F bombs and C bombs flying left and right, and I wonder if that’s really how they talked back then…and why it changed as we became more civilized.

There’s lots more to see and do in Deadwood, so hopefully, we’ll fit all those things in when we’re back in the area next year.


Seth Bullock’s grave

Nellie Zabel Willhite, an aviation pioneer

Nellie Zabel Willhite, an aviation pioneer


Mike’s had a passion for aviation since he was eight.  It’s something he shared with his father, who, in the Army Aircorps, worked as an airplane mechanic.  A few years ago, Mike fulfilled a lifelong dream and got his private pilot’s license.  No matter where we are, if there’s something aviation-related around – a museum, an airport, a meetup group – we don’t miss checking it out.

While we were in Rapid City for work, we stopped at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum on Ellsworth Air Force Base.  There are retired military planes and helicopters outside, with a couple of smaller aircraft inside along with a variety of exhibits.  Admission to the museum is free. The 50-minute, air conditioned bus tour of the base costs $8 and includes descending into a Minuteman II missile silo.  We didn’t have time for it on this visit, but we plan to do it when we come back for work next year.

My favorite part of our visit was learning about Nellie Zabel Willhite.  Nellie, born in Box Elder, was the first deaf woman to become a pilot.  She was also South Dakota’s first female pilot.  She was a founding member of the famous Ninety-Nines, the group of 99 women pilots that was established in 1929.  Nellie not only got her license and had fun as a flour-bombing, balloon-racing barnstormer.  She also flew for work.  She was an airmail carrier until 1944.  As an intermittent student pilot myself, I was inspired by Nellie’s story.  A woman, a disabled woman at that, taking on – and excelling at – a risk-filled endeavor dominated by men?  Nellie was a true adventurer. I wouldn’t be surprised to find her picture in the dictionary next to the word “pioneer”.


Red Ass Rhubarb, anyone?

Red Ass Rhubarb, anyone?


I’m a Jane-come-lately to the whole wine thing. It’s only in the last year or so that I’ve developed an appreciation for the stomped grape.  I still don’t understand “legs” or “bouquet”, but I enjoy a glass of red with dinner.  Mike doesn’t like wine.  He doesn’t even really like beer.  He drinks Bud Light, which true beer aficionados scoff at.  Even though Mike is not a vinophile, he’s gracious enough to accompany me to the occasional wine tasting.


After our adventure at the Rushmore Tramway, we stopped at Prairie Berry Winery for a free wine tasting. Prairie Berry is a family winery run by fifth generation winemaker Sandi Votja.  The large space holds a plethora of wines from dry to dessert, and there are plenty of wine-related gifts to pick up with your bottle.  Sample five wines of your choosing gratis and then head over to the deli counter for fresh-made food.  (We were lucky and got a counter girl who gave us a couple of extra tastings.)


Prairie Berry’s signature wine is the Red Ass Rhubarb, a sweet-tart wine made from rhubarb and raspberries.  It was my favorite of the five wines I tasted, and I bought a bottle I look forward to uncorking soon.  Prairie Berry is a super fun place to visit. It was one of the few times I regretted being in the RV and not being able to hold more stuff.  I saw lots of goodies I wanted to buy, particularly gifts for my friends and family.


Prairie Berry is open 7 days a week with tastings going on continuously.  It’s a nice, quick (we were in and out in a half hour!) stop as you tour Rushmore and environs in South Dakota.




Kickin’ it in Keystone: Zipline and Ropes Course

Kickin’ it in Keystone: Zipline and Ropes Course


Ziplines rock. And so, I recently learned, do ropes courses.  I got to do both – after riding the alpine slide with Mike – in one place: the Rushmore Tramway in Keystone, South Dakota.



The coolest thing about this zipline was how you got to it. A curving dirt path cut into the hill led to a rope-and-plank bridge. That’s what you walked to get to the zipline platform. The back-and-forth motion of the bridge was kinda freaky.  The more unsettling feeling, however, came when you were on the platform, waiting to zip.  As other people walked up the bridge, the platform would sway. Gulp.

(The punching bags at the end of the zipline were there to stop you if the guy couldn’t manage it.  It was the first time I’d ever disembarked down a ladder, as opposed to a platform or the ground.)


After zipping, I swapped the full-body rig for the half harness of the ropes course, which was made up of rope, net and plank bridges, ladders, and ziplines between the trees.

Before getting started, there was a tutorial on the equipment that would keep me from tumbling to the ground.  The harness had two large carabiners, as well as a zipline handle. An odd little number called a “tweezle” was the key to safety and moving to each obstacle.  (A tweezle is a small mechanism attached to each tree on a wire that locks and unlocks the carabiners.)   After a while, a flow developed:  push the carabiner into the tweezle to lock/unlock, scale the obstacle, use the tweezle to lock/unlock, and repeat.



The course had levels of difficulty.  My instructor said that the seven- and eight-year-olds had to start with the yellow course, the easiest one, but adults could start on any of the four, progressively more challenging, courses.  Erring on the side of caution, since it was my first time, I stuck with the yellow route.  I was relieved that the threat of rain kept most people away.  I didn’t want to be holding up some nimble-footed kid as I tentatively made my way along.



Even though my heart was pounding as I inched platform to platform, I loved the ropes course.  I’m super excited to try another one. Maybe the teenage route this time? 🙂