My idea for a road trip into the area known as “Siouxland” (the general area where the corners of South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota meet) came about rather randomly. I don’t think many people would dive head first into a three-day itinerary that puts them right in the heart of America’s prairies, but I digress. Siouxland has many, many charms and Breeah and I were ready to seek them out.
Of course, this took a bit of research. My initial promptings for undertaking this trip were rather simple, while prairies seem familiar and boring on the outset, this was still an unexplored area for us filled with many little geographic oddities to stamp out. From there it was just mapping out all the worthy sites to hit up on a four-day whirlwind (I probably shouldn’t use that term in tornado country) tour.
So, with that, here’s a stop-by-stop recap of our journey through Siouxland…
There was no real reason to enter Hanska except for the fact that neither of us have ever been in Brown County (the closest county to Minneapolis that we had yet to visit). Hanska is predictably Scandinavian (for its location) and that is no more evident than its full scale replica of a Stabbur church. We also spent a little time around town looking for geocaches.
HAWKEYE POINT (IOWA)
We found this spot entirely by accident. I have yet to develop a full time interest in seeking out high points, but if one is sitting off the side of a main road, then why not, right? This is right off Iowa 60 after crossing over from Minnesota. It’s 1,607 feet above sea level, but you’d never know that from the flat surroundings. Still, it’s a high point!
BLUE BUNNY ICE CREAM (LE MARS, IOWA)
We skipped out on lunch for ice cream at the Blue Bunny store in Le Mars, Iowa and it was well worth the sidestep into this small midwestern town. Compared to the relatively rougher facade of Le Mars, the Blue Bunny stores interior is quite glam – complete with a grand staircase to a second level museum.
TRINITY HEIGHTS (SIOUX CITY, IOWA)
Billing itself as an outdoor cathedral of sorts, Trinity Heights is an epic walk through Catholicisms greatest icons, with huge statues of Jesus and Mary towering over visitors. Organ and piano music is funneled through the speakers near the parking lot and plays continuously during daylight hours. It’s worth seeing this unique outdoor spectacle, regardless of one’s religious affiliation.
PONCA STATE PARK (PONCA, NEBRASKA)
We spent two nights cabin-bound at Ponca State Park, a beautiful little park on the extreme edge of the eastern deciduous forest that is more prevalent in, well, the eastern states (but hangs close to rivers in states like Nebraska, Minnesota and North Dakota). A night in Ponca feels like a night in any forested park and its easy to trick your mind that you’re not really in Nebraska, more known for its seemingly endless cornfields. The state park is adjacent to the Missouri River, and, more specifically, the National Park-controlled Missouri National Recreational River.
MIDDLE OF NOWHERE NEBRASKA
We drove out on some patch of cornfield a few miles into a series of dirt roads deep in the Northeast Nebraska “back country” (I’m certain that is the only time that sentence has been formed). Why did we come out here? Well other than to get a stereotypical snapshot of the state, we were on a few geocaching missions. We succeeded out in this “outback” of sorts, as you can see me holding the prize in the above picture.
DAKOTA DUNES, SOUTH DAKOTA
The southernmost point of the Dakotas (and South Dakota) lies somewhere in the community of Dakota Dunes, which abuts the Missouri River on the southeastern tail of South Dakota. I believe the southernmost point of land is somewhere behind this one house, but I was too shy to go knock on their door (and I don’t endorse anyone traversing private property without full permission of the land owner!). Anyway, this was about as close as one could get to that point in a car…
UNITED AIRLINES FLIGHT 232 MEMORIAL (SIOUX CITY, IOWA)
We drove again through Sioux City and this time found the Flight 232 memorial, documenting one of the nation’s most well-known air disasters. Flight 232 took off from Denver with 285 Chicago-bound passengers. It never made it, instead taking on an emergency landing in Sioux City after engine failure caused the complete loss of flight control. 111 people perished in the incident. The a famous picture of a child survivor, Spencer Bailey, being carried by Lt. Colonel Dennis Nielsen was recreated into a statue, which resides at the monument. Colorado Rockies radio announcer Jerry Schemmel, who I worked with in 2007 when he did Billings Mustangs games, was a survivor of the flight and wrote the book Chosen to Live.
WESTFIELD, IOWA and HUDSON, SOUTH DAKOTA
On our last day of the trip, I made sure to hit up some “extreme communities” while we were close by. Westfield is the seemingly self-aware westernmost community of Iowa while Hudson just barely qualifies as the easternmost place in South Dakota. There isn’t a whole lot to see in either town, but it makes for a curious addition to the travelogue.
MINNESOTA-IOWA-SOUTH DAKOTA TRI-POINT
About a half-hour from Sioux Falls, South Dakota lies the tri-point of Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota. It’s officially the first tri-point I’ve stood upon (I’ve gazed upon the Maryland-Virginia-West Virginia point from Harper’s Ferry).
BLUE MOUND WAYSIDE CHAPEL (LUVERNE, MINNESOTA)
This is it, folks, this is the smallest church in Minnesota! This was a cute, little roadside stop right outside of Luverne en route to Pipestone. Yes, it’s quite cramped inside, with seating for about eight people. The windy day made you feel like you might just get swept up into the air in this tiny building!
PIPESTONE NATIONAL MONUMENT (PIPESTONE, MINNESOTA)
Our last stop was a visit to the Pipestone National Monument, which preserves an area of catlinite stone used in the Native American process of making pipes. This is – like Ponca – one of those places you can’t believe exist in this corner of the world. The rocks create an oasis of sorts in this prairie-dominated slice of Minnesota and there is even a nice little waterfall to walk out too. It’s worth an hour or two to stop by.