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.


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.

10 Reasons to Visit South Dakota

Growing up in California, my friends could never understand why I wanted to go to South Dakota. As far as they were concerned, it was in the middle of the country where there was nothing to do. But I knew they were wrong. Besides the fact that my grandparents lived there, I loved it. South Dakota offered things my hometown and home state didn’t: prairies of undulating grasses, buffalo, real cowboys, Native Americans, and lots of space.

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In South Dakota, I could ride horseback on my uncle’s horses, pick choke cherries along the Missouri River, go swimming in the Oahe Dam, eat buffalo burgers, go to a rodeo, and visit a palace made of corn.

So, here’s a list of 10 places to go and things to do in South Dakota, listed from east to west across the state. Written by someone who’s got roots in South Dakota. Stay tuned for more details in future blog posts.

  • The Corn Palace: Over 275,000 ears of corn are used each year to create a mural on the exterior of the Corn Palace located in Mitchell. The palace is open year round and is free to visit.
  • Pierre and Fort Pierre: With its two lakes, the Missouri River, and over 2,200 miles of shoreline, the area offers plenty of swimming, boating, fishing. Learn about South Dakota’s history at the South Dakota Heritage Museum or the Casey Tibbs Museum and be sure to visit the Fort Pierre Rodeo on the 4th of July.Pierre
  • Wall Drug Store: Originally just a drug store, this rambling place now sells everything from laminated placemats to cowboy boots. If you’re hungry, you can get a buffalo burger or ice cream along with a free glass of water and a 5 cent cup of coffee.
  • Badlands National Park: Visit this expanse of mixed grass prairie and geologic deposits, where ancient animals once roamed. Here you can see buffalo and prairie dogs. You might even see archaelogists at work in one of the world’s richest fossil beds.
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial: One of the more famous sculptures in the world, Mount Rushmore includes the faces of four American presidents in its granite face.IMG_0110
  • Crazy Horse Memorial: In addition, to the actual sculpture of Crazy Horse, the memorial includes museums and collections of Native American art and artifacts.
  • Deadwood: In this national historic landmark, you can see a reenactment of the shooting of Wild Bill Hickok, visit the grave of Calamity Jane, gamble in its gaming halls, and visit Tatanka, Kevin Costner’s tribute to the buffalo.
  • Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument: If you like spelunking, South Dakota has two easily accessible caves worth a visit. Both offer a variety of ranger led tours, some more adventurous and more strenuous than others.Jewel Cave
  • Custer State Park: Located in the Black Hills near Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park has 1,300 buffalo on its 71,000 acres. You can camp or stay at a lodge, swim in Sylvan Lake, drive the twisty Needles Highway, or hike the state’s highest peak (Harney Peak).
  • The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, SD: The Mammoth Site is an active paleontological dig site and includes the largest concentration of mammoth remains in the world. On your visit, you can see real paleontologists at work, dig for fossil replicas, learn proper excavation techniques, or learn an ancient paleo Native American hunting technique.

Enjoy your trip to South Dakota!

Multiple trips taken, most recently in 2013.