My father is one of those people that’s difficult to shop for. Here’s how holiday talk usually goes:

“What do you want for Christmas?”

“Pliers, gloves or jeans.”

“You’re a real party animal, Pop.”

Kids can be even worse. As a nerd uncle, I like to play the role of “Geek Enabler,” but there are only so many movies and action figures they can use. Adults and children alike need to remember the outdoors and the adventures that await them no matter what age they are/pretend to be.

South Dakota is spoiled in its scenery (rolling plains and hills in the east, the Missouri River right down the middle, and the Black Hills and the Badlands in the west), but some people go a long time without experiencing any of it. How can you give a gift that will create memories of lifetime?

I have some ideas.


– The South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks has a great page devoted to gifts for nature lovers, sport-folks, park-goers and cyclists. Click here to purchase gifts of camping reservations, annual park licenses, entrance fees and even firewood. All of these can inspire someone to experience the South Dakota outdoors and perhaps develop a new, or at least previously neglected, appreciation for the great outdoors. What’s shopping when compared to a roaring campfire or a morning dip in fresh water?

You can also use the website to purchase hunting and fishing licenses for sportsmen and women. South Dakota is full of opportunities to bring home some fresh and delicious game, so why not shoot for a savory feast from field or lake to plate? (No offense to lutefisk, but I’ll take fresh walleye over damaged…I mean, “lye-saturated” fish any time of the year.)


– Getting kids to get behind vacation plans isn’t always easy. You could describe the Badlands to a child or even show them pictures, but some children are more stubborn than others. Instill a real interest in the Badlands with “The Badlands: A to Z.” Written by South Dakota native Katie Johnston and illustrated by Gavin McCullough, this beautiful children’s book explains the wonder of the Badlands with colorful pictures and educational text that could certainly lead your child to say “Can we go to the Badlands?” For more information and instructions on how to order the book, click here. The Badlands Natural History Association has books for all ages as well as other gift ideas that could pique the interest of potential explorers of any age. To see all products, click here.


– Winter can be maligned in South Dakota, but I see it as something to be embraced. Maybe someone needs some new snowshoes to experience the tranquility of an off-road winter hike. Do you have a skier or snowboarder in your family? Consider buying a season pass or gift cards for Terry Peak, Great Bear, or Ski Mystic Deer Mountain.


– Finally, you can just think what an outdoors person might need. Hiking boots? A reservation at a hunting lodge? Camping gear? A card that just says “We’re going fishing next year in South Dakota. Mark your calendar.”? In whatever form, a gift that fosters a love of the outdoors is one that create lifelong memories. There’s nothing like the camaraderie of a good hunting/fishing session or the feeling of shared accomplishment after a hike. Keep this in mind as you shop this year and always. You might end up giving a surprise that someone will never forget.

Leave your outdoors gift recommendations in the “Comments” section. You can also defend lutefisk…if you really want to.



Feel the fall in South Dakota

by Austin Kaus on October 8, 2015 · 0 comments

“My favorite color is October.” – Unknown

     October is my month. It’s the perfect excuse for some of my favorite activities: decorating the yard in order to scare strangers, watching cheesy horror movies that make my wife question her marriage and, of course, watching my beloved South Dakota change colors. In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d whip up a list of beautiful and/or scary places to check out in SD.

1) Absorb the mystery of Sica Hollow State Park (15 miles northwest of Sisseton)


     Legend has it that the Native Americans named this area “Sica” (prounounced “she-cha”) which means “evil” or “bad” and, probably, “not a place we should hang out for very long.” There are a few reasons why early visitors may have been on edge. Streams appear to be flowing “blood red” because of iron deposits, which led the Sioux to believe they were seeing the flesh and blood of their ancestors. The phosphorous in the rotting tree stumps can make the wood appear to be glowing green. In recent years, visitors have reported hearing drums or war whoops, spotting distant campfires that can never be found, or seeing a bear/Bigfoot type creature or ghosts of Indian braves.

     The history and legends of Sica Hollow make it a must-camp space for those looking for intrigue and adventure. It’s also an amazing place to experience fall colors. If you’re looking for a South Dakota outdoors spot to get in the Halloween mood, I can’t think of a better place. I do, however, have some other suggestions.

2) Fish for a ghost at Pactola Lake


     The town of Pactola became Pactola Lake in the 1950s when the mining town was submerged in water. That makes it a ghost town, but one report says there is a ghost on the lake as well…and he likes to fish.

     According to a story by Bob Willis in the Jan 20, 1984 issue of the Rapid City Journal, there was once a man who fished Rapid Creek almost every day. He went mad for reasons unknown (South Dakota winters aren’t for the weak) and died one day after falling through the ice. His body was recovered in the spring and buried properly, but reports started coming in of the “mad Pactola fisherman” who was always fishing with a smile on his face. People spotted the ghost fishing for trout up and down Rapid Creek. He reportedly looked so lifelike that one might not even know he was a ghost, However, if he caught a fish, it mysteriously never had a hook mark in the lip.

     Things got weirder. Fisherman started reporting that their ice fishing lines would be torn away before suddenly going limp. (Yeah, uh, me too. GHOSTS ARE EVERYWHERE.) Also, people would report cracking on the lake “almost as if something or someone were down there trying to get out.”

     Skeptics could easily dismiss the cracking and line pulls as part of ice fishing, but the legend says that if someone bores a hole in the ice that’s large enough for a man to fit through, the cracking stops. When the hole freezes over, the cracking begins again as the “Pactola Fisherman” starts trying to escape from under the ice.

     Are the legends of the Pactola Fisherman true? There’s only one way to find out. (Pick up your fishing license online here.)

3) Take a tour of the “haunted” Fort Sisseton


     The site of this 1864 fort was chosen because of its location, ample supply of lime and clay (for making bricks), abundant drinking water and a thick stand of trees for timber and fuel. Some believe the ghosts of soldiers stationed here still haunt the area. It’s a legend workers embrace by giving Haunted Fort tours every October. All that’s required for entry is a state park entrance license (which can be purchased here), but interested parties must RSVP at (605) 448-5474 or at For more information, click here.

4) Meet some ghostly residents at Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood


     Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock are all buried in one of South Dakota’s most beautiful and mystical cemeteries. The hillside place of rest is also home to, according to the cemetery’s website, “western legends, murderers, madams and pillars of Deadwood’s early economic development.” Will you see a ghost during your visit? No guarantees. However, the eerie feeling once you set foot in the cemetery is undeniable. Bonus: Seth Bullock’s grave is more than 750 feet away from the main grounds, so you can get a nice short hike in during your visit.

5) Check out the other Halloween events in South Dakota


     Want to check out this weekend’s Spirits of the Forest at Good Earth State Park? How about a pumpkin festival or a corn maze? Whatever you’re looking for, has a great list of events for people unafraid of a little outdoor fun.

     Happy October!


All it takes is that first blast of sunshine, the first complete rolldown of the car windows and the first donning of the cargo shorts to get me thinking two things: 1) “I am very glad that winter is over” and 2) “When can I go hiking?”

Are you too suffering from hiking fever? If, like me, you’re antsy to get some fresh air in your lungs, head to one of the top spots: Harney Peak.

That’s a very unintentional pun, but it’s also an appropriate one. Located in beautiful Custer State Park, Harney Peak is the highest point in the Black Hills of western South Dakota. In fact, it’s the highest mountains east of the Rocky Mountains in the country. The trip up Harney Peak is one of those hikes that’s beautiful in every chunk. To pull into Custer State Park is to find an immediate sense of peace. To have previously made the Harney Peak hike is to know the awesomeness that awaits you.

The hike to Harney Peak is about 7 miles total, which should take the average hiker approximately three hours in cooler weather. I took longer myself last year as I was stopping to take pictures, chatting with fellow hikers or pretending to take pictures as I remembered how many cookies I consumed in grad school/vowed to be in better shape next year. (Spoiler alert: I am…even during Girl Scouts Cookie season.) I also made the hike in a July afternoon. This meant I still got the amazing experience and views. I just had to drink some more water to get there.

Before I left, I was warned to bring extra layers. The temperature has a tendency to drop a bit as you ascend (although that wasn’t an issue on a July afternoon.) Still, it’s always better to be prepared for such a temperature shift.

What a trip. I took the most direct (and popular) route, which is to take Trail #9 all they way to the top. It’s pretty simple, but make sure you’re paying attention to the signs. If Harney Peak is your goal, you want to make sure to make a left at the #9/ #3 intersection.

This map should help. (Click to enlarge.)

Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ve been on a more beautiful hike. Starting at Sylvan Lake and working your way up on a well-worn trail surrounded by nature is magical. The grades seem to get more intense as the trip goes, but it’s worth every step and sweat drop. When you start to see how close you are to the tower, you get an extra burst of energy.

And then you’re at the top. (Click the pictures for panoramic power.)

You’re at the stone-walled Harney Peak Fire Tower, a structure built by the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1935 to 1938 with stones gathered from nearby French Creek. Although the building stopped being staffed in 1965, it still remains and looks out on a stunning view of The Black Hills. What’s impressive about the tower is not only that the building materials were hauled by man and mule during construction, but that modern man and pack animals made more than 40 trips up the mountain only a couple of years ago. Doug Bechen and the rest of a group called Black Hills Back Country Horsemen made sure the tower’s 2013 restoration happened. For their efforts, the group received an award in 2014. (For more information, check out the Rapid City Journal’s story here.)

So, there’s plenty of history and view to reward you for your vigorous hiking. Wander around the tower. Take in the vista. Enjoy a snack in the makeshift picnic area.

Savor a hike well done and know that you conquered the highest – and perhaps most beautiful – point in South Dakota.

WHAT DO I NEED TO BRING?: Shoes suitable for a rugged hike, water (at least one quart per person), some layers (in case it cools down near the top), rain gear (should it start to rain, there isn’t a lot of cover to keep you dry) and some snacks. What many people don’t tell you about Harney Peak is that there’s a great picnic area beside the fire tower. Feeding the chipmunks is optional. In my experience, they are definitely up for it.

WHAT DOES IT COST?: $4 per person, $10 per motorcycle or $15 per vehicle. For more information, head here.



WHAT’S A “WILDERNESS USE PERMIT”?: A Wilderness Use Permit is a form you’ll encounter along the hike. Simply fill it out, remove the top copy and put it in the box. Keep the other part on you. This information helps the Forest Service learn about what type and how many wilderness users are using the trails. (For more information, click here.)

For example:

ANY OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS?: Know your limits. After hitting the peak in rather warm weather, I decided to take the longer route (trailhead #3 to #4) back instead of #9. It added on quite a bit of time to the hike and left me thirsty and exhausted by the time I actually reached the parking lot. I intend to take this very way back again, but at a time when the weather’s cooler and I have enough water to be safe. So, I’d advise you to make the hike earlier in the day than later. Also, be aware that Trail #9 is particularly popular between May 1 through Sept. 30. If you’re looking for a hike with lighter traffic, consider taking one of the many alternate routes.

For more information, click here. Happy hiking!


Posted in Hiking

It began something like this:

My boss: “You’re going ice fishing.”

Me: “Great!”

My boss: “Have you ever been ice fishing before?”

Me: “No, ma’am.”

I had nothing against ice fishing. I’d just never really had a chance to experience it. My fishing gets done in the summer when the sun shines, when you wonder whether you should wear shorts or pants.

That’s not really an option with ice fishing, and it certainly wasn’t last weekend when I made my first trip on the ice with some writers, television people and equipment representatives. Joining the far more experienced crew, I arrived at Hidden Hill Lodge in northeastern South Dakota ready to see what I could pull out of an icy hole.

I love all parts of fishing (especially the eating part at the end), but I wasn’t sure what to expect. The weather seemed…cold, even for South Dakota. I unpacked my warmest clothes and headed outside, a student surrounded by gracious and experienced teachers.

We loaded up and drove northeast to Clubhouse Slough. My hosts had heard the fish were biting there, so we drove onto the ice. Part of ice fishing is maintaining a respectable distance, so we made sure to set ourselves apart from the other groups on the ice. It looked like it was going to be quite a day.

It was after taking my first step out of the pickup that I realized what we were in for. I saw the sun, but couldn’t feel it. We drilled our holes, set up our shelter and started fishing. The shelter and portable heater made things tolerable, but it was hard to escape the fact that the weather was mean outside.

I’m no stranger to South Dakota winters, but I did note that this particular day was intense. However, it didn’t matter. The word-on-the-ice that we were in for good fishing turned out to be true. I, a first time ice fisherman, pulled in eight perch in a few hours.

After a lunch, it seemed like it would be good to tear down, pack up and head back to the lodge for some warmth and preparation for an evening on the ice in front of the lodge. As we packed things up, we had a feeling the weather might not be letting up any time soon.

It doesn’t matter what fishing season you’re a part of or how hard a cold wind blows. Spirits are good when fish are being caught. I was pretty pleased to have pulled the perch I did. (To remind me of exactly what hobby I was involved with, my biggest perch was also the “one that got away.” Some parts of life are inescapable, I suppose.) We warmed up. My coffee cup got refilled and we set out on the massive body of water that sat in front of our lodge.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have quite the same luck. A different group of fisherman staying at the lodge had found a sweet spot on the lake and I just couldn’t replicate their success. While our group didn’t have as much luck as we had in the a.m., Craig Oyler, an Ice Team Pro, did manage to snag a beautiful walleye that night.

Corey Studer (fishing with NO SHELTER AT ALL) of Vexilar pulled in this walleye before most of us had our shacks set up. By the time I made it over for a picture, the fish was frozen. Between that and the wind, it was hard to tell where the fish ended and the ice resumed.

As the temperature continued to drop below zero, we decided to pack it in. The next day, I headed home with some cleaned perch and walleye and, more importantly, a new love for ice fishing. Sure, it’s a colder version of what I was used to, but that’s what made it unique. Anyone can (and should) give some non-winter fishing a try. It takes a strong constitution to head out on the ice on days when most people wouldn’t dream of using a car without letting it run first much less sit on the ice in a quest for fish. I basked in the joy that I’d confirmed that constitution in myself. The bellyful of perch I enjoyed from the warmth of my dining room didn’t hurt a thing either.

WAS IT WORTH IT?: Without a doubt. My first time on the ice was in some of the coldest weather some seasoned fishermen had ever been in. That’ll make you feel mighty tough.

WHERE SHOULD I GO?: There are great ice fishing opportunities all across South Dakota. For more information, click here to learn about the sites recommended by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. Otherwise, hit up your local bait shop and ask where the fish are biting. Bait shops are a prime source of widsom and (often colorful) advice.

WHAT EQUIPMENT DO I NEED?: Like many things, you can go as minimal as you’d like. You’ll for sure need a rod, bait (we used minnows), an auger to drill a hole with and warm clothes. Was my first trip more enjoyable because of a depth finder, a shack, a heater, coffee and a sandwich? You bet.

CAN’T YOU JUST SHOW ME A VIDEO ON HOW TO DO IT?: Thanks to BBC Pop Up, I sure can.


Posted in Fishing

The Meat of the Tiger…sort of.

by Austin Kaus on December 3, 2014 · 1 comment

I came back from lunch on Monday to find a mystery sack on my chair.

Random things just appear/move at my desk. It’s nothing new. Sometimes, I find a Ramones CD and sometimes I leave for a week and come back to find all of my office action figures hanging from my plants.

But Monday’s surprise was a bit different. I lifted it. It had a bit of weight. I felt it. It was cold. I squeezed it. It squished. I was intrigued.

It turns out a family member had dropped off some tiger meat. If you’re thinking about import laws or anything striped right now, you might not be from the Midwest. Tiger meat isn’t made of actual tiger. Rather, it’s made with raw ground sirloin (and sometimes venison).

Yes, raw beef. Don’t worry. I had a similar reaction. I’m a Midwestern guy who doesn’t need you to cook his steak with a flamethrower, but I’m generally wary of anything served raw that once had legs. But, in the name of science and an almost-constant hunger, I grabbed some crackers from my office and gave it a shot.

It was delicious.

I’m not sure what went into this particular recipe, but I immediately tasted delicious onion and green pepper flavors along with a lot of spices. (My particular batch of tiger meat had been purchased from Kessler’s in Aberdeen. The overall flavor was far more complex and tasty than what I imagined although, to be fair, I imagined raw hamburger with some salt and pepper. (Worst-case scenarios are sometimes my specialty.) It tasted so good that I’m considering not taking it home and making it into hamburgers which, until a few minutes ago, was called “Plan A.” (I very much hope I don’t lose my South Dakota citizenship for that admission.)

It turns out that tiger meat is pretty popular among ice fishermen. Since the food needs to be kept cold (it is raw hamburger, after all), it makes a great snack for people surrounded by nature’s refrigeration. (If you’re curious about exactly what tiger meat is actually made of, check out this recipe from South Dakota native Chris Hull.)

Do you like tiger meat? Have a favorite recipe? Take it with you on ice fishing trips? Know the best spot to get tiger meat in South Dakota? (South Dakota Magazine recommends Meridian Corner near Freeman.) Leave a note in the comments section and let me know your thoughts. I’m extremely interested in hearing your opinions about a gift that was left in my office and ended up in my belly.

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Get ready to #HuntInSD

by Austin Kaus on October 17, 2014 · 0 comments

If pheasant hunting means anything to you, you can feel something in the air right now. Excitement. Anticipation. You can smell freshly-cleaned guns and hear the sound of dogs ready to hit the field. Pheasant season is a holiday in South Dakota and, man, are people ready to celebrate.

The season officially opens for everyone tomorrow, but residents had a chance last weekend to go out and hit the fields. While reports are still coming in, the Aberdeen News reported that hunters seemed happy.

“South Dakota hunters had their first shot at pheasants this weekend and, according to state Game, Fish and Parks Conservation Officer Nick Cochran, those who put in the time got their limit.” (Source)

Between that and news that bird numbers are up, it’s hard not to be excited.

As if it wasn’t enough, I was able to go out to R & R Hunting near Seneca and walk with some hunters that were clearly excited to finally be out in the field again. There’s something special about the first time in a season that you get to crunch some weeds and fire off some shots (even if I was walking with a camera instead of a shotgun.) The gunpowder smelled just as amazing as I remembered and the fields were alive with the yells of “ROOSTER! ROOSTER! ROOSTER!” followed by what was, more often than not, the sound of a successful shot.

After a few rounds of pheasant hunting on a blustery South Dakota day, we all came back to the cabin happy.

I’m hoping that the hunters that start to fill our fields this weekend leave with the same smile. Good luck and happy hunting!

Don’t forget to share your hunting pictures and videos with #HuntInSD! Whether it’s a picture of a happy pooch or a good day’s haul, show the world what you’re experiencing in the beautiful fields of South Dakota.


Posted in Hunting

Ferris Car Fighters

by Austin Kaus on September 18, 2014 · 0 comments

Huron (pop. 12,867) is probably best-known as the home of either the South Dakota State Fair or the giant pheasant that lives on the east side of town. Keep going east on Highway 14, however, and you’ll find Dakota Fireworks. I love fireworks (while many of my former neighbors do not), but it’s not the potential explosive inventory that caught my interest a few weeks ago.

Instead, it was the out-of-commission Ferris wheel that stood aged but proud just near the store’s entrance. Having grown up less than an hour from Huron, I recognized the wheel, its collection of pods each decorated like World War I fighter planes standing firm against the elements as they did decades ago. Ferris wheels aren’t uncommon for visitors to the state’s fairs (the Sioux Empire Fair, Central States Fair, Brown County Fair and, of course, Huron’s own South Dakota State Fair.) However, there’s something rather magical about walking straight up to a decommissioned piece of equipment free of gates, its days of rotating giddy children and fun-loving adults long behind it.

The wind blew but the pods stayed still. I pictured junior fighter pilots flying as high as the wheel would take them, hopped into my vehicle and took off for my own next adventure.

HOW DO I GET THERE?: Dakota Fireworks is at 40317 U.S. Highway 14 in Huron.


Town celebrations are always a good time. An entire community comes together to bask in a collective sense of pride as their residents wrestle each other in a homemade vat of mashed potatoes.

O.K. Maybe that’s just what happens in Clark.

Each year, the northeastern town of Clark (pop. 1,068) celebrates Potato Days. The weekend-long celebration of the, in the town’s website’s own words, “favorite over-used, under-appreciated starch” features some of the more common celebration staples (parades, equipment shows, arts and crafts). More importantly, it has some tuber-centric events like recipe contests, mashed potato sculpting and, of course, mashed potato wrestling.

The goal of my Clark visit was to witness live potato wrestling and I did not leave disappointed. I strolled onto the baseball field at Dickinson Park (as with most small towns, I didn’t even bother with directions – “Drive until you find the cars” is my motto in situations like this) to find a live kickboxing demonstration happening 10 feet from where mashed potato insanity was soon to take place. The square ring was constructed of hay bales covered in a tarp and filled with instant mashed potatoes.

Before the bell could ring on the spud-soaked spectacle, a kickboxing demonstration kept the crowd entertained. In my first five minutes in Clark, I spied the aforementioned wrestling ring and watched someone kick a board in half…while blindfolded. Sometimes, you just know you’re going to have fun.

When the demonstration concluded, the wrestling began. A local announcer introduced the referee (a local well-known wrestler of the non-potato kind).

What happened next was giddy summer joy covered in mashed potatoes. Children and adults (never in the same match, of course) wrestled friends or family members while what seemed like most of the town cheered. Some matches were tame, but others featured aerial maneuvers and takedowns that would make fans of any style of wrestling clap their hands while wearing very large grins. Whether or not you want to wear potatoes is up to you.

WHY SHOULD I GO?: There’s a complete list of annual events listed here, but didn’t I already have you at “potato wrestling”?

WHEN IS NEXT YEAR’S EVENT: A 2015 date hasn’t been determined, but the above link will be updated once a date is set.

WHERE IS IT?: Dickinson Park is just north of Highway 212 on Kansas Street in Clark. Again, just look for all the cars.

WHAT DO I DO AFTER I POTATO WRESTLE?: You find a friendly fireman to wash you off.


When I plan my hiking trips, I sometimes survey friends and family about the best places to check out. Other times, I just find a place and go.

The latter was how I found myself in the area of Lookout Mountain. Located just north of Spearfish across Interstate 90, the mountain is one of three peaks that help make up the “crown” that gives Spearfish the title of “Queen City.” Here’s a bit of history, courtesy of The Rapid City Journal:

Legend has it that early settlers Louis and Ivan Thoen were hauling building stone from the base of Lookout Mountain in 1887 when they stumbled on a crudely carved tablet with which their family name would forever be associated.

The Thoen Stone was found near what was then described as “the main Indian trail to Deadwood,” and provided perhaps the most compelling evidence of early exploration of the Black Hills.

“Came to these hills in 1833, seven of us, all died but me Erza Kind,” reads the rock face on display at the Adams Museum in Deadwood. “Killed by Indians beyond the high hill got our gold June 1834.” (Source)

Thanks to an entry from Black Hills Travel Blog, I learned what I needed to about the area before heading out to explore.

Of the two available trailheads (according to the blog), I went with the one that starts near the  Church of the Nazarene. I parked on Nevada Street and went looking for the short tunnel that would take me to the trailhead.

As you can see, there’s no clearly-marked path to the tunnel. Don’t let that discourage you. Head to the tunnel, enjoy some of the interesting graffiti as you walk through and come to a trailhead that both Robert Frost and roleplaying gamers would appreciate.

I went with the right path since it was the logical way to the mountain. After walking through some grassland, I started to make a slow but steady ascent. It’s a pretty beautiful collection of scenery – rock, trees, wide open sky – and it doesn’t take that long to start enjoying some amazing views.


Instead of shooting for the peak, I just wandered.

There’s a decent chance you’ll encounter some wildlife while you’re making this hike. As a hiker, I’m always aware of the slight chance I’ll encounter a mountain lion or a rattlesnake but, as usual, all I ended up seeing were a couple of beings definitely more scared of me than I was of them. For this particular hike, that meant a beautiful blue jay and an extremely skittish wild turkey.

After some ascent, I found a sort of flattish road area. Instead of continuing to the top, I decided to head west and see what I could find. For a while, I could see the second trail. I just couldn’t get to it. No matter. That’s part of the fun, right? Thanks to my wandering, I ended up finding a series of beautiful flat rocks.

I took the second path back and strolled through beautiful wildflowers and other foliage before reaching the trailhead.

WHY SHOULD I GO?: It’s a pretty neat area in a town already surrounded by beauty. (Stay tuned for a future blog on my hike to Devil’s Bathtub in Spearfish Canyon). If you’re looking for a semi-strenuous hike with a variety of scenery, the Lookout Mountain area is the place for you.

HOW DO I GET THERE?: You’re looking for the 500 block of Nevada St. (click here for a view. If you’re having trouble, just look for Nevada Street beside the Church of the Nazarene (1200 N 10th St). Park on the street and you’re good to go.

ANYTHING I SHOULD WATCH OUT FOR?: After I got back from my hike, locals told me that rattlesnakes can be active in that area. I didn’t see one (and, trust me, I keep a pretty close eye out for them) so chances are you’ll be safe as long as you take some basic precautions. (For a complete list of tips on avoiding rattlesnakes, click here.) I kept my eyes open, made sure not to step or reach in areas where I could not see and kicked a bit of rock down inclines before tromping down them.

BONUS: There is some entertaining – and occasionally PG – graffiti in the tunnel. I’m entertained by things like that (as long as they’re not done on something natural), so it was a fun sight to come across at the beginning and the end of a nice hike.

WHAT IS THAT?: It appears to be a bicycle helmet on a fence post. I encountered it on my hike, but wasn’t sure what it meant. Is this part of a secret hiker code? Do you need a helmet to enter? Having no clue or helmet, I moved on. If you know, let me know in the “Comments” section.


Posted in Hiking

“You need to go to Nicollet Tower.”

That’s what a friend said when I took over this position, so I headed north last weekend to see exactly what this tower was all about.

WHY SHOULD I GO?: What it’s about is beauty and history. The tower’s namesake was Joseph N. Nicollet. Nicollet (prounounced “nico-lay”) was a talented French professor and astronomer who left his home country after being passed over for academic honors and going broke. (For a full history, please click here.) He came to this area with “the bold but informed plan of mapping the great valley of the Mississippi River” even though he was 52 by the time he ended up at the spot where the tower stands today. From 1836 to 1839, Nicollet explored areas of what is now North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. (For a map of his expeditions, click here.) Sadly, Nicollet died before his report to the Senate could be published or a tower would be erected in his honor.

However, a Sisseton banker named Harold L. Torness became enamored with the story of Nicollet and spearheaded a $335,000 fund-raising campaign to build the tower that has stood since its completion in 1992. Seven people provided all of the funding for the tower. Not a dime came from federal, state or county funds.

When I arrived shortly after 8 a.m., I was immediately sold on the entire project. The Douglas fir pillars held aloft a magnificent wooden structure built with bolts and steel. No nails. (For more on the construction materials, click here.)

Only 96 steps and a couple of very surprised pigeons later (look, pigeons, I wasn’t expecting you either), I was at the top. The view was stunning. From the top floor of the tower, you can gaze out over portions of South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota. The view captures three states, six counties, 11 communities and the Continental Divide. The beauty of the view, though, makes it hard to think about borders.

There’s a certain peace that comes from being alone with a beautiful South Dakota view. This one is no exception. The various shades of green of the trees and grass provided a landscape that almost shifted before your very eyes. The sounds of a babbling brook near the tower made the scene all the more serene.

So, my friend was right. I did need to go to Nicollet Tower. I hope you can do the same.

HOW DO I GET THERE?: You can find the tower by taking Exit 232 off of Interstate 29 and then driving west through Sisseton on Highway 10.

WHAT DOES IT COST?: There is no admission charge for the tower or the Interpretive Center.

WHEN CAN I GO?: The Interpretive Center is open mid-May through mid-October from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The tower is open for ascent from sunrise to sunset.

ANYTHING ELSE I NEED TO KNOW?: As I said before, I surprised the feathers off of some pigeons as I rounded the last flight of stairs. Another friend that had visited the tower said his arrival to the top floor accidentally ruffled the feathers of a rather unimpressed and annoyed owl. Be aware that you might be surprising some birds if you’re the first up the stairs for the day. It’s a great view. Can you blame the birds for wanting a piece of it?

BONUS EXPLORATION: That brook I mentioned? It’s easily accessible by vehicle or foot. Instead of turning left into the tower’s parking lot, continue on the entry road. You’ll be taken down to a bridge where a shallow creek gently runs over naturally-scattered rocks. The road is nearly one lane, so you’ll want to be cautious about where you park/walk. Still, the trip is an easy and worthwhile addition to your visit to the tower.

For a more in-depth addition to your trip, head over to Sica Hollow State Park. It’s a beautiful park with a fascinating history that deserves its own blog entry. (Spoiler: Native Americans saw the gurgling reddish bogs as the blood and flesh of their ancestors.)

For more information on the Joseph N. Nicollet Tower and Interpretive Center, head over to the official web page here.