Weekend in the IA-MN-SD Tri-State Area | August 22, 2020
The month of August was exactly as hot and humid as you’d expect for a Midwest summer. However, we weren’t adjusted to it at all. We hadn’t seen temps or humidity that high since…well, last summer when we were on the mainland. It was tempting to hide out in the air conditioning, but we happen to know what comes after August…and how quickly fall gives way to winter. There’s nothing like the changing seasons to motivate us to get out and enjoy each one while we can! We certainly haven’t had that kind of motivation for a while.
Curtis really wanted our first weekend trip to be up to the Sioux City area, or maybe even the IA-SD-MN tri-state area. I’m pretty sure he just wanted to claim some of my ‘pink counties’ on our joint county map, but that’s ok, I still have plenty that I’m sure I’ll keep for a long time. 😉 We made a list of all the parks and trails we could possibly check out and found there was way too much for one weekend — that’s always a good sign, right? We also realized that our last-minute planning style wasn’t ideal during the summer because most campsites were booked. But we were fortunate enough to find one that was technically a ‘canoe-in’ spot, which we contacted the park about and they said it was alright to park our car in a nearby lot.
We packed up and set off for our weekend adventure bright and early on Saturday morning. We drove into Iowa and headed North on I-29. Our first stop for the morning was Preparation Canyon State Park in the Loess Hills. Here we hiked a 2 mile loop that went through a prairie and a forest. The best thing about Iowa state parks is that all but 2 of them are free, so it never hurts to just drive in and check one out. While we were hiking, it started raining, but the high tree canopy kept us from getting wet and it helped to keep the temperature down. If you’re interested in seeing our trail recording, check it out here.
From the trail head, we drove around deeper into the Loess Hills on dirt country roads eventually making our way to the ‘highest point of Monona County’. We weren’t expecting much to begin with, but it ended up being a pretty cool lookout over the Loess Hills and Missouri river valley. There was a trail that followed the ridge with unobstructed views all around which we followed until it came to a deep cut before turning back around.
After finding our way back to the interstate (and stopping to see the Monoma County Courthouse), we were indecisive about what else we wanted to do today and what to save for tomorrow. Eventually I made the call that we should just drive to Pipestone National Monument because it was the furthest North and we still had plenty of sunlight left today. We took I-29 into South Dakota, drove around Sioux Falls, and then East on I-90 into Minnesota. Just like that, we had visited 4 states in one day! That was a fun concept for us, considering how much time we’ve spent in only one state over the past four years.
Once in Minnesota, we took MN-23 North to Pipestone. We stopped briefly to see the Pipestone County Courthouse, then drove to the park. The visitor’s center was closed, but the park was still open and we were able to do a mile long loop hike with Charlotte.
This area is significant to the Plains Indians due to the prevalence of a soft red claystone that was integral to their mythology and religious ceremonies. The Siouxan and other tribes would travel to this area, where, do to the tilt of the geological layers, there was a relatively exposed seam about a mile long. They would quarry out slabs of the rock and then carve them into the T shaped ‘calumet’ pipe associated with plains tribes today – hence the name Pipe-stone. These pipes then became traded across the upper plains and with American expansion into the region, spread across the continent as a novelty item. Today the tradition continues with Siouxan artisans still allowed to quarry the stone. Of note, most if not all of the exposed rock in the pictures, around the loop hike, and all the buildings is NOT pipestone, but rather hard Sioux Quartzite which acts as a capstone for the pipestone underneath.
We really enjoyed the loop trail — starting behind the visitor’s center, it went through prairie to the tall red walls, passed a waterfall and across the creek. Here is our trail recording.
Following our hike, we followed the Pipestone Creek and Sioux Quartzite to the Southwest back into South Dakota. There, we hiked a half mile loop through the steep cliffs at Devil’s Gulch Park, famous for a daring escape by outlaw Jesse James, and then drove to Palisades State Park where we hiked the Balancing Rock Trail next to Split Rock Creek. It was definitely unique to follow along the water as it traveled through flat, open prairie, then through essentially a canyon, and come out into prairie again on the other side. Maybe a place to go kayaking in the future?
But Charlotte decided afterwards that we had hiked quite enough for a day and requested we just sit in the grassy area and do nothing, so we did just that until we could convince her to get back in the car.
The day was winding down, so we began our drive to our campsite in Newton Hills State Park — but not without a few short stops. Driving through Canton, SD, we came across yet another county courthouse (#3 for the day) and stopped for a picture. Then we drove back into Iowa and down another country road until we found the IA-MN-SD tri-state marker, where we could say we were standing in 3 states at once. There certainly aren’t points like this in Hawaii!
Finally, we drove to our campsite and set up for the night. We made some hash on our camp stove, and Curtis discovered our site came with a plum tree. We watched the sunset and then retired to our tent. We enjoyed a quiet night camping in the country with this site all to ourselves!