Where Can You Get a Good Steak in South Dakota?

When you’re in cattle country, there’s not much you should eat but steak. Unless it’s fresh water fish caught in a nearby stream or river. So when we wanted steak, our local friends told us to dine at Cattleman’s Club Steakhouse east of Pierre, where steak is the menu.


With sawdust on the floor and a view of the Missouri River, the restaurant has a lot of atmosphere. Don’t be surprised if you find the place filled with hunters and cowboys, exchanging stories over a steak and a beer.

Inside Cattlemen's

Choose your favorite steak (prime rib, sirloin, porterhouse, t-bone, or ribeye), the size, and the degree of doneness. You can get the prime rib in 10, 16, or 20 ounce cuts and the top sirloin in a 8, 12, 16-ounce cut. Determine your degree of doneness. Do you want it rare (red cool center), medium rare (red hot center), medium (pink hot center), medium well (very little pink), or well done (cooked through)?

Add grilled onions or mushrooms. If you don’t want steak, they do have burgers and shrimp. But whatever you have (unless you’re gluten free!), be sure to try the breaded green beans served with cucumber ranch wasabi sauce or the fried dill pickles. Yum!

Steak and Onions

Pretend You’re a Cowboy

Where can you ride a bucking bronco without getting hurt? Watch National Finals Rodeo championship rides and see rodeo artifacts of rodeo clowns and cowboys? You can pretend you’re a cowboy or just learn about them at the Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center in Fort Pierre, South Dakota.

Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center

When Life Magazine published its October 22, 1951 issue, they put Casey Tibbs, a South Dakota born and raised cowboy, on its cover.

Casey was not just a cowboy, he was a rodeo cowboy, and a national champion as well. At age 19, Casey won his first national saddle bronc-riding crown. He went on to win a total of nine national saddle bronc riding championships during his rodeo career. At age 22, he was the first and only cowboy to ever be on the cover of Life Magazine.

In 2009, the town of Fort Pierre built a museum honoring Casey’s life and rodeo career. The Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center is located on a hill in Fort Pierre overlooking the Missouri River. And if you happen to see the list of Casey’s 8th grade classmates, look for the name Marialyce Tyler. Marialyce, my mom, went to school with Casey.

Casey Tibbs Statue

Trip taken July 2013.


When Ice Cream is Retro

Ready for a little retro ice cream? This place was discovered (well, revisited) one hot summer evening while I was in Pierre, South Dakota.


After a visit to the Flaming Fountain Memorial at the Capitol Building, we walked less than half a mile down Capitol Avenue to get some ice cream. Although they offer shakes (for $5.25) and banana splits (for $4.75), I was happy with my $2 vanilla and chocolate twist.

Zesto’s is the only place around to get an ice cream cone from March to October so be prepared. The lines are long but well worth the wait.

Trip taken July 2013.

Chiggers and Chokecherries and Jelly


For those of you who don’t live out west, and don’t live where the chokecherries grow, chokecherries are tiny berries with a big pit (relative to the size of the berry) and tart, but flavorful juice, good when made into jelly. I learned about chokecherries when I spent a summer in South Dakota as a teen.

With buckets in hand, we walked along the railroad tracks and along the Bad River searching for the tiny berries. It took awhile (at least in teenage time), but finally we had enough and stopped picking berries for a much needed swim. At home, my grandfather painted our chigger bites with nail polish to relieve the itch their tiny bites inspired.

We spent the next afternoon around the stove of our friend’s kitchen. I remember seeding the berries (that was a job!) and watching the big pot of bubbling juice. I remember skimming off the white foam and pouring the juice into the sterilized jars.

We brought jars of our chokecherry jelly home to California. Last summer, my brother discovered a jar of chokecherry jelly for sale at the general store in Custer State Park. He bought the jar and the memories it provoked back to California. I went home to Massachusetts and make Concord grape jelly instead.

If you live where the chokecherries grow, here’s a recipe to make your own jelly.

Chokecherry photo by Cindy Zackowitz licensed by CC under 2.0.

Swimming in Sylvan Lake

If you’ve seen the movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets, then you’ve seen a bit of Sylvan Lake, a crystal clear lake set amidst granite spires in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Spoiler Alert: The movie’s treasure hunt brings Nicholas Cage to Sylvan Lake for another clue.

Sylvan Lake

After a day of touring, we cooled off in the spring fed waters of Sylvan Lake. The water was cold and the altitude (at 6,200 feet) enough to take our breath away.

swimming at Sylvan Lake

The man-made lake is located on the Needles Highway in Custer State Park, South Dakota. There are picnic tables, restrooms, and a sandy beach. You can rent paddle boats or walk the the trail around the lake. Sylvan Lake Lodge offers overnight accommodations and dining at its restaurant.

Trip taken July 2013.

Eating Buffalo

When you’re traveling out west, in places like Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and South Dakota, you’ll likely find buffalo burgers on just about every menu. Some places offer beef burgers as well, but when I’m in cowboy country, I usually opt for a burger made from the American bison. That’s right, a buffalo burger.


Why? They’re leaner, healthier, tastier and just a little different than a burger made from beef. Buffalo burgers are lower in fat and lower in calories, and higher in protein, iron, and vitamin B-12.

Although at once near extinction, (there were less than 300 in North America in the early 20th century), the American bison has made a come back, now numbering about half a million, according to the Defenders of Wildlife. There are now several  ranches and farms in North America’s west that raise the animal specifically for consumption.

Check out this recipe, if you want to try making buffalo burgers at home. (You should be able to find the ground meat next to the natural beef at your local supermarket.) Just don’t forget to wear your cowboy hat!

Buffalo Burger Recipe, Bison Burger Recipe | Simply Recipes.

How Many Miles to Wall Drug Store?

Somewhere along the highway, you might see a sign advertising Wall Drug Store. At first, you think nothing of it, until you see the next sign. And the next. And the next. Wall Drug Store signs appear every few miles along the 650-mile Interstate 90. If you’ve never been to Wall Drug Store, be sure to stop on your next road trip through South Dakota.

Not because they have free ice water or 5 cent coffee. Not because the food is good or the pharmacy is well stocked. Wall Drug Store is a rambling touristy western bit of roadside Americana. There are shops selling cowboy hats and boots, turquoise jewelry, and laminated placemats just like the ones I had when I was a kid. There are cutouts for picture taking, ice cream for licking, and buffalo burgers to fill your tummy.

What started as a small drug store in the town of Wall, South Dakota, has grown into a tourist mecca due to the ingenuity of its owners in the 1930s. When the drug store began advertising it’s free ice water, cars began detouring off the highway and making a stop. Now, over 80 years later, Wall Drug Store is no longer just a drug store. It’s a 12 shop mall with a 530 seat restaurant.

It’s a tourist attraction visited by 20,000 people a day. And if you haven’t seen a sign yet, don’t worry, you will. They’re located all over the world, in places like Seoul, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, London, and even Antartica. If you go, be sure to pick up your own free sign to bring back home.

Trip taken July 2013.

Photos taken by Kurt Magoon (in 2009) and Jasperdo (in 2010) and licensed by CC under 2.0.

When Can You Eat Pie for Breakfast?

When we’re on vacation, sometimes our healthy diets go on vacation, too. So, when I discovered the Purple Pie Place in Custer, South Dakota, I knew we were destined to go at least once. And we did, but not just once …

Finding the Purple Pie Place in downtown Custer was easy. We just looked for the only bright purple building on the main street.

Purple Pie Place

The Purple Pie Place is locally famous for its bumbleberry pie; a blend of berries, such as: blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, plus apples and rhubarb. But they offer other pies as well: apple, peach, cherry, rhubarb, strawberry rhubarb, blackberry, blueberry, peanut butter, raspberry rhubarb jalapeño and a cream pie of the day. While the pie selection does not include any of the gluten-free variety, there is an ice cream bar for the gluten-free intolerant.

We ate our bumbleberry pie a la mode. The crust was flaky, the filling bursting with the flavors of different fruits all bumbled together. The pie was so good that we ate it for dessert one night, for dinner another night and another time for breakfast before we left the Black Hills.

Bumbleberry Pie

If you’re interested in going, the Purple Pie Place is located at 19 Mount Rushmore Road in Custer, South Dakota, just 13 miles from Jewel Cave National Monument (see related blog post).

If you won’t be visiting South Dakota in the near future, try making your own.

Bumbleberry Pie Filling Recipe (from allrecipes.com)
Makes 1 pie


2 pie crusts

2 cups apples – peeled, cored and chopped
1 cup chopped fresh rhubarb
1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup white sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 tablespoon tapioca
1 egg yolk, beaten
2 tablespoon water


In a large bowl, combine apples, rhubarb, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and lemon jiuice. Mix together sugar, flour, and tapioca. Gently toss with fruit mixture. Spoon into your favorite home made or store bought pie crust. Cover with top crust. Brush tops with egg wash (1 egg yolk beaten with 2 tablespoons water). Cut a few slits in the top to allow steam to vent. Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes or until filling is bubbly in center and top is golden brown. Trip taken July 2013.

Cool Off in Jewel Cave

If you’re hot and in the Black Hills of South Dakota, there’s an easy way to cool down: enter one of the area’s caves. The national monuments of Wind Cave and Jewel Cave are both located in the southwest corner of South Dakota, not too far from Mount Rushmore. We visited Wind Cave on a previous South Dakota trip in 2005. This trip we focused on Jewel Cave, the third longest cave in the world.

While there is a visitor center which you can visit at no cost, to really see the cave’s jewels, you need to take a tour. Jewel Cave National Monument offers four tours which range in time, price, and strenuous ability: the scenic tour, discovery tour, historic lantern tour, and wild caving tour.

Jewel Cave jewels

Although my spelunking experienced husband would have preferred the 4-hour wild caving tour, we chose the scenic tour, a moderately strenuous 1.5-hour tour.

Jewel Cave Sights

After descending deep underground (in an elevator), we (and about 25 others) followed our tour guide on a paved trail through chambers decorated with calcite crystals and other speleothems.

Scenic Tour

Although we traveled only 1/2 mile, there are over 170 miles of mapped and surveyed passages. If you want to do more, the wild caving tour takes you along a 2/3 mile route, but you will have to belly crawl through a passage 8 1/2 inches high by 24 inches wide.

Jewel Cave Visitors

Tickets are only available on a first come first served basis and, except for the wild caving tour, must be purchased the day of the tour. My advice – get there early to choose the time of your tour. The entrance to Jewel Cave is located 13 miles west of the city of Custer, South Dakota.

Jewel Cave National Monument

Trip taken July 2013.

World’s Largest Sculpture: It’s Not What (or Where) You Might Think

So you thought Mount Rushmore was big! Well, wait until you see Crazy Horse Memorial. This memorial, paid for by private donations, not public ones, is worth more than a drive by. Not only is there a sculpted monument in progress to observe (you can take a bus to get near the site), there are museums and gift shops as well.

Crazy Horse Memorial

How big is the carving? Imagine a 35-foot tall hand or a 219-foot tall horse’s head. Crazy Horse’s head is 87 feet 6 inches high. When complete, the entire carving will be 641 feet long by 563 feet high! (The faces of Mount Rushmore are just 60 feet high.)

And why is it there? Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear asked Korczak Ziolkowski, a sculptor who assisted Gutzon Borglum on Mount Rushmore, to create a monument “to honor the culture, tradition, and living heritage of North American Indians.” According to the website, “Native American leaders chose Crazy Horse for the Mountain Carving because he was a great and patriotic hero. Crazy Horse’s tenacity of purpose, his modest life, his unfailing courage, and his tragic death set him apart and above the others.”

Crazy Horse Model

Work on the world’s largest mountain sculpture officially began on June 3, 1948 and continues. In 1976, the Indian Museum of North America opened which includes artifacts and art from a variety of American Indian cultures. In 1996, the Native American Educational and Cultural Center was added. It includes artifact collections and Native American vendors and artisans.

Cost of admission is $11 or $28 per carload. It’s an extra $4 to take the bus up close to the bottom of the mountain. Crazy Horse Memorial is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) foundation.

Trip taken July 2013.