South Dakota’s I-29 Cultural Corridor

Drive this route for easy access to the state’s art, nature, history and Native American heritage.

By Renée S. Gordon

South Dakota is replete with sites that are on bucket lists of people around the world. The 244,000-acre Badlands, Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore are located in the western region of the state but there is also the appealing east. The boundary between the two sections is considered the Missouri River with the western region made up of the oldest rock formations in the state, sand dunes and tree-covered buttes. East of the river is largely prairie and farmland with deposits of limestone, sandstone and fossil fragments.

Archeologists have proven that Paleo-Indians roamed the area as early as 11,000 years ago. The Arikaras and Mandan greeted the LaVerendrye brothers, the earliest documented European explorers. They claimed the land for France in 1742 and 62 years later Lewis and Clark claimed the land for the U.S. on an expedition to the Pacific Ocean. The Dakotas were designated a territory in 1861, in 1874 gold was discovered in the Black Hills, and in 1890 South Dakota gained statehood.

Native Americans have always been part of the history and heritage of the state; the Sioux migrated into the region in the 1700s and today there are nine federally recognized tribes in the state.

Interstate 29 has become the state’s easiest access to the art, nature, history and Native American heritage along South Dakota’s 153-mile Cultural Corridor. The main cities along the route are Watertown, Brookings, Sioux Falls, and Vermillion. The corridor offers vineyards, breweries, spectacular shops and opportunities for outdoor land- and water-based activities. With this stellar menu of offerings there are always choices to be made. I have highlighted adult-oriented attractions that offer a one-of-a-kind experience, are affordable and worth the trip.

Situated in the midst of 16 glacial lakes, Watertown was founded by the Winona and St. Peter Railroad in 1879 and named after Watertown, N.Y. In the early years homesteaders rapidly populated the town.

Redlin Art Gallery - SDWatertown’s jewel in the crown is the Redlin Art Center. Terry Redlin, for nine years America’s most popular artist, was born in 1937 in Watertown. Because of a motorcycle injury he was eligible for an art scholarship and went on to become a graphic artist. In 1977 he moved into wildlife art and ten years later began concentrating on Americana with themes taken from his childhood, community and family stories. Redlin’s artworks are distinctive for his use of light, color and themes known as “romantic realism.” His artworks were completed using only three colors: cyan, magenta and yellow. The faces are indistinct, allowing viewers to personalize them. In 1992 Redlin was inducted into the U.S. Art Hall of Fame; he died in April of this year.

The 1977 Redlin Art Center and 30-acre surrounding Conservation Park and Wildlife Refuge were a gift from the artist to the city and world. Designed by his son and admission free, the Colonial-inspired four-story brick art museum boasts 24 granite columns. Artworks are individually LED lighted, suspended from chains and displayed in a series of galleries designed to alleviate crowding. There are 150 originals including his masterwork, an eight painting series, “America the Beautiful,” based on individual lines from the song.

The Redlin Amphitheater airs a documentary on the artist and audio tours are offered. Visitors can obtain information on a seven-stop tour encompassing sites that served as inspiration for Redlin.

A 46-mile drive takes you to Brookings, a city founded on land that was given to the government in the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux by the Dakota Nation in 1851. Brookings, named after early settler Wilmot Brookings, was laid out in 1879 and named the county seat. Two years later a decision was made to establish a 160,000-acre agricultural college, now 271-acre South Dakota State University. Brookings has one of the “Top 10 Main Streets in the USA.”

McCrory Garden #2McCrory Garden #1McCrory Gardens and South Dakota Arboretum are part of the university’s educational and research program and are maintained by the school. Creation of the gardens began in the 1960s and the site was named in honor of a professor. There’s a 25-acre garden and a 45-acre arboretum. The formal gardens include the Maples Family Garden, a Rock Garden and three Heritage Gardens that interpret the effect and importance of plant life to settlers and Native Americans.

Sioux Falls SDSioux Falls, 56 miles away, was established in 1856 on land ceded by treaty. It was named after the waterfalls that were named after the tribe. Sioux Falls is beautiful, with waterfalls situated in the city and buildings of the region’s abundant rose-colored quartzite. Trivago designated it “Best Value City of 2016.”

The Jazz Society was founded in 1987 with a focus on performance and education. Annually they host the largest free outdoor Jazz Fest in the Midwest. The Sioux Falls Jazz and Blues JazzFest occurs over three evenings and in addition to performances there are food and art vendors.

There are more than 650 restaurants, which can make choosing difficult. M. B. Haskett Delicatessen is a state legend. This farm-to-table delicatessen offers a constantly changing menu with specialty wines, craft beers and locally roasted coffee. Travel & Leisure voted Haskett’s “Best South Dakota Farm-to-Table Restaurant.”

A quirky, only in South Dakota attraction, Badlands Pawn, is a 70,000-sq. ft. “pawn and entertainment fortress.” The shop has many different offerings including apocalyptic vehicles, an active radio station, $1-million in gold bars and free tattoos. The tats are real and the only catch is that they must be Badlands-related art. The line can be long.

The 1859 town of Vermillion has actually had two locations. It was founded on the shore of the Vermillion River and named after the red clay in the region. A flood destroyed most of the town in 1881 and the new town was built on a bluff above the Missouri River.

National Music MuseumNational Music MuseumThe National Music Museum is one of America’s gems. The museum, founded in 1973, is internationally renowned for its exceedingly rare collection that exceeds 15,000 instruments. The two-story, 20,000-sq. ft., museum displays approximately 1,200 instruments gathered from round the globe. Highlights of the collection are Antonio Stradivari violins, the world’s earliest known cello, the oldest harpsichord in existence, 36 Amati instruments, the earliest French piano and Adolphe Sax saxophones. A collection of guitars belonging to icons including Dylan, Cash and King is also displayed. On a guided tour of the museum, stories of the provenance of the different instruments are recounted. The most poignant is that of items belonging to the Rothschild family that were stolen by the Nazis. They were eventually put on the market and are now on display in the National Music Museum.

Red Steakhouse is housed within the redecorated historic First National Bank and Trust Company. Choose from a variety of open or intimate dining areas all cozy and quietly upscale. The menu is comprised of steaks and chops as well as other specialties created from the freshest ingredients. The steaks are prepared perfectly, as is every other menu item and the service is impeccable.

Café Brulé is a must when visiting Vermillion. The creative 14-page menu has everything from country starters to imported ales, vegetarian and gluten-free to decadent Cakes by Monica. It is open for all three meals but it has been voted as having the “Best Breakfast in South Dakota.” There will probably be a line but it’s worth the wait.

More Information…

Sioux Falls SD - Sculpture #1Travel South Dakota

Southeast South Dakota

Visit Watertown

Read more about Sioux Falls, South Dakota

– Photos by Renée S. Gordon

Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.

Renee GordonRenée S. Gordon has written a weekly travel column for the Philadelphia Sun for the past 14 years and has published travel articles in numerous publications. Her columns focus on cultural, historic and heritage tourism and she specializes in sites and attractions related to African American and African Diaspora history. Renée serves as a consultant for educational trips and history-related tourist destinations. She considers herself a “missionary journalist” and as such she continues to promote heritage and sustainable tourism. She has been honored with several awards including the 2013 Recipient of African Diaspora World Tourism and Flame Keeper in Media Award for Travel Writing.

Leave a Comment

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.