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Destination: Sioux Falls

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Destination: Sioux Falls, South Dakota
By Rochelle Caviness - December 16, 2002

Sioux Falls is the largest city in South Dakota and it serves as an intriguing vacation destination, both as a city and as a base from which to explore the surrounding areas. Sioux Falls has a rich historic heritage that can be explored in formal settings, such as by visiting one of the areas many museums, or by taking one of the numerous self-guided walking tours of the historic areas of the city. In addition to its historic traditions, Sioux Falls also has many 'modern' attractions that are sure to please the whole family, ranging from the Great Plains Zoo and Corn Mazes, to the Kirby Science Discovery Center and the Outdoor Campus.

Whether you are planning to spend your entire vacation in Sioux Falls, or if you are just passing through, you'll find that Sioux Falls offers a range of affordable accommodations, from camping to full service hotels such as the centrally located Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites. You also find that Sioux Falls has a stimulating variety of restaurants, that run the gamut from Nap's Alabama BBQ to Sioux Falls' renowned Italian Restaurant, Spezia.


Must-See Attractions in Sioux Falls

Old Courthouse Museum

Located in the historic downtown district, this beautifully restored 1800's courthouse was constructed from pink quartzite that was quarried in Sioux Falls. This museum offers a variety of rotating exhibits that chronicle various aspects of Sioux Falls' history.

The accessibility of the exhibits varies, however the museum can arrange a special tour of the facility for visually impaired visitors, if there is staff available. Your best bet for arranging for such a tour is to call in advance of your visit. Try to give the museum as much advance warning as possible as they operate with a small staff and they may have to make special arrangements to have the staff on hand to show you around. The museum also has on hand a raised line map of the exhibit halls, and there is an audio tour available that covers some of the exhibits in the museum.

One of the current exhibits at the Courthouse Museum that is particularly hands-on is called, Harvesting the Natural World. This is a Native American exhibit, and braille legends are to be found throughout. A major focus of this exhibit is the decorative art of Quill Work. In addition to displays of various styles of quill work, there is also a 10 minute video on the craft. As well, there is a hands on quill work demonstration where you get to practice quill work using straws and popsicle sticks. Another feature of this exhibit is a "touch" exhibit of products derived from buffalos, such as their milk teeth, ribs, wool, bladder, horns, scrotum, dew claws, and the like. You can touch all of these items, and there are braille markers explaining what each item is. There is also a touchable display of various animal hides.

In addition to its range of permanent and rotating exhibits, the Courthouse Museum also sponsors a variety of special events ranging from historical lectures to astronomy programs. Once a quarter the museum offers an in-depth, behind the scenes tour to the public. Also offered periodically are preservation workshops for archives, textiles, photos, and art work. Admission to the museum is free, and is well worth a visit, both for its exhibits and for the architectural importance of the building itself.


Pettigrew Home & Museum

Richard Franklin Pettigrew (1848-1926) was the first full-term U.S. Senator to represent the 'new' state of South Dakota, serving from 1889 - 1901. Pettigrew had a tremendous impact upon the development of Sioux Falls. His history, and the impact he had upon Sioux Falls, can be explored at the Pettigrew House & Museum.

The museum is located on 8th street, and free guided tours of his fully restored 1889 Queen Anne style home are offered regularly. The Pettigrew Museum is located in the house and details the history of 1880's Sioux Falls. Most of the exhibits in the museum are not fully accessible to the visually impaired. The museum does, however, offer a video history on Pettigrew that is extremely interesting and informative. As well, the staff at the museum is very friendly, and I would imagine that with advance notice they would, if they were not too busy, show visually impaired visitors around the museum.

A visit to this fine house and museum is a must for anyone interested in historic homes, the history of Sioux Falls, or, most importantly, Richard F. Pettigrew's extraordinary life. The Pettigrew home contains a research library with over 5,000 books, as well as an extensive collection of Pettigrew's personal papers.


Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History

There are over 500 animals housed in the Great Plains Zoo, ranging from rhinos to reindeer. Special exhibits include the exotic bird aviary and a children zoo whose animals are 'petable'. The zoo is open year round, with many special events and educational programs scheduled throughout the year.

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend visiting the zoo during the colder months when the zoo does not have many visitors. During these times, you will find that the animals will take almost as much interest in you, as you do in them - and many of them, especially the bears, seem to take great delight in 'acting up' in order to attract your attention and keep you at their 'window' so that they can watch you, watching them.

The zoo is currently creating a new, 13 acre, African Savanna exhibit area that is scheduled to open in May of 2003. While at the zoo you can also ride on the Savannah Express, a train on wheels. This train ride provides a behind-the-scenes tour of the new African Savanna property, as well as normally unseen zoo facilities, such as the zoos veterinary hospital. The train ride is enhanced by audio commentary that explains what you are seeing.

Located on the zoo grounds, the Delbridge Museum of Natural History features an outstanding, permanent collection of over 150 mounted animals from around the world. The animals are displayed in naturalistic looking dioramas.


Center For Western Studies

Located on the grounds of Augustana College, and housed in a new 22,000 square foot building, this museum is dedicated to "preserving the history and cultures of the Northern Planes." There are permanent exhibits in the museum depicting Native American and Scandinavian cultures, as well as an exhibit dedicated to the wood carvings of Jim Savage. Artifacts in their collection include a brain tanned buffalo teepee hide that you can touch, quill work and other native art work, and tools. The museum also highlights the artwork - mostly paintings and sculptures - by a variety of artists, including Norman Rockwell and Oscar Howe. A recent exhibit at the Center, Art of the American West, featured such artists as Ernest Berke, C. R Cheek, Edgar S. Paxson, Charles M. Russell, and William Standing, to name just a few.

An import component of this museum is its research library containing over 35,000 books related to the American West. The Center for Western Studies also publishes books on the American West. Most of the exhibits in this collection are static, however guided tours can be arranged for the visually impaired. To arrange such a tour you will need to call in advance of your visit.


U.S. S. South Dakota Battleship Memorial

The USS South Dakota was the most decorated battleship to have served during World War II, and this memorial was built to honor the men who served on her. This unique memorial is designed around the outline of the actual battleship, that emerges from the ground like a newly sprouted flower. This raised outline matches the exact measurement of the ship, and by walking around this outline you can truly get a feel for just how big a battleship was. (The overall length of the battleship is 680 feet, while it is 108 feet in the beam.) In addition, various artifacts from the ship are positioned within the outline, including a screw propeller, an anchor, a 16-foot gun barrel, as well as some shell casing. All of these items, and more, are fully touchable. In addition, historical signs and markers on the site are presented in a raised typeface. There is also a small museum located on the site. While the outside displays are open year round, the museum is only open from Memorial Day through Labor Day.


The Outdoor Campus

At the Outdoor Campus you can, well, learn about the outdoors. This wonderful facility is located in Sertoma Park, in the heart of Sioux Falls. This unique educational project teaches just about everything 'outdoorsy' from cooking over a fire to identifying wildlife. On the grounds of the campus is a restored tall grass prairie, hiking trails, a butterfly garden, educational exhibits, and wildlife ranging from turtles to Flopper, a Blue Jay that can meow.

At the Outdoor Campus you will also find a natural history museum depicting South Dakota's outdoor heritage - including a 3,000 gallon aquarium stocked with fish native to the state. As you walk through the museum you will hear the sounds of nature associated with each exhibit.

Admission to this museum is free, and they offer a variety of hands-on educational programs throughout the year. Programs are available for both children and adults, and they range from moonlight snowshoe hikes to fly tying seminars. Most of these programs are free and require preregistration.


The Sertoma Butterfly House

Located across from The Outdoor Campus, the Sertoma Butterfly House is scheduled to open in January 2003. I expect that it will quickly become one of the top attractions in Sioux Falls! This butterfly house will feature an indoor butterfly habitat, artfully landscaped with plants, waterfalls, and other natural artifacts in order to create a natural, tropical habitat for the butterflies. Visitors will get to walk around in the habitat, enjoying not only the hundreds of butterflies flittering around, but also the tropical environment.


Washington Pavilion of Arts and Sciences

The 255,000 square foot building that houses the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Sciences is composed four facilities.

As a whole, the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Sciences has a detailed policy manual in place to ensure that they adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act. In short, the Washington Pavilion has taken steps to make the facility accessible to everyone, including the visually impaired. Time and staff permitting; the facility will try to accommodate any reasonable request for assistance. When requesting special assistance, it is best to let the staff know well advance of your visit what help you will require. For instance, according to their policy manual "With one-week prior notice, most printed material produced by the Washington Pavilion can be available in alternative formats. Braille programs may take two weeks to produce."

Usually, the Washington Pavilion has on hand large print and braille copies of their Performance Series programs, as well as information on the Kirby Science Discovery Center and Visual Arts Center exhibits. To be sure that these materials will be on hand, it is wise to call in advance. The Washington Pavilion also offers a variety of special tours for visually impaired visitors, such as "touch tours" of select exhibits in the Kirby Science Discover Center and the Visual Arts Center. At least one weeks prior notice is required in order to arrange for such a tour. For information on these special "touch tours" or to request printed materials in alternative formats, you will need to contact the Group Service Coordinator at 605-367-7397, extension 2319.


Exploring the Sioux Fall's Natural Heritage

Sioux Falls is set in a park like setting, due in part because almost all of the cities flood prone areas having been turned into city parks or gardens. These parks and gardens include the 'must-see' Falls Park and Shoto-Teien Japanese Gardens.

In addition, Sioux Falls is surrounded by a 14.5 (and growing) mile paved trail that is ideal for walking or biking. When the scenic Big Sioux River Recreation Trail and Greenway is completed, it will totally encircle the city.


Getting Around Sioux Falls

Sioux Falls is not a compact city, making it difficult to walk to all of the areas attractions. If you will have access to a car during your visit, you will find that Sioux Falls is an easy city to drive around in. If you'll be 'carless' during your visit, never fear. Sioux Falls has a city bus system that goes by all the major attractions in the city. Currently, the cash fare for the bus is $1, however monthly passes are available that can prove cost effective if you will be riding the bus extensively during your visit. The Sioux Falls Transit authority operates several bus routes, and you can get detailed information on these routes by calling 605-367-7183. The only drawback to taking the bus in Sioux Falls is that the bus stops are not always clearly labeled, so you'll need to check in advance as to where to stand. In addition to the city bus system, Sioux Falls Transit also operates a free trolley service in the historic downtown area and Falls Park.


In Conclusion

As you can see from the above overview, Sioux Falls offers a range of attractions for the whole family. In addition, most of the attractions in Sioux Falls are open to working with visually impaired visitors in order to make their experience in Sioux Falls as fun and rewarding as possible.

In such a short space, it is impossible to fully explore all that Sioux Falls has to offer. For more information on Sioux Falls, visit the following websites:

And for information on a few day trips that you can take while in Sioux Falls, check out our article, Day Tripping: Fun Day Trips to Take From Your Base in Sioux Falls.

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