Sunset behind the Pipestone National Monument visitor center.

Roadtrip Day 6: Kasson, Pipestone, and Sioux Falls

Wednesday, September 20, 2023
Kasson, Minnesota
Pipestone National Monument, Pipestone, South Dakota
Sioux Falls, South Dakota

My first thought upon waking up in Rochester, MN was that I couldn’t wait to get out of town. There weren’t really even any non-chain coffee shops that I could find in the city, so I did a quick drivethrough pass of “downtown” Rochester just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything cool in the light of day (I wasn’t), then I drove West.

Photo of the author sitting in a coffee shop in Kasson.
The owner was kind enough to capture the moment for me.

Thankfully, just a few miles outside of Rochester were plenty of pleasant small towns that did in fact have comfy coffee shops, so I stopped in the first one that looked nice according to Google—Smiling Moose Coffee and Gifts in Kasson, MN. Lavender latte and berry turnover in hand, I sat there and worked for a while, getting most of the Day 3 post done while also curiously listening to conversation taking place around me. Smiling Moose had a nice gift shop as well as the coffee shop, so it seemed to draw both regular locals as well as the occasional wanderer like me. The owner’s daughter stopped in during a break during her schoolday, and was sharing some funny TikToks and YouTubes with her mother—who apologized for the background noise (I didn’t mind) and to which her daughter replied “sharing videos is my love language, mom!” Fair enough!

At one point the owner asked if I liked beer. Whatever the impetus for asking the question was, I couldn’t help but smile at the question, so she suggested I check out a local microbrewery which was opening soon and where I could get some lunch. Sounded good to me!

The Chaotic Good Brewing Company was immediately a friendly place to be. The beer was good, but more than that, the atmosphere was super friendly. They throw tons of different game nights, and had some d10 dice at the bar which a local was rolling to check what beer on the list of 10 taps to get next. Great system! The food they served was frozen pizzas—not something you see too often on the East Coast but (I’ve come to learn) something fairly common in local bars in the bulk of the country. It’s a great idea, since the only extra infrastructure you need is a freezer and a small oven and suddenly you can offer a variety of quickly heated snacks.

As I ate my deluxe frozen pizza lunch over some tasters of Chaotic Good brews, I finished writing for the day, and joined in with the conversations going on at the bar. At one point the conversation turned to someone a regular knew who made it big starting a business making penis-shaped bingo daubers. The topic waxed philosophical regarding who would be in the market for such a tool. It couldn’t just be bachelorette parties, right? Ultimately those of us at the bar agreed that it doesn’t take mass-appeal to be successful, as with today’s global reach, even a very niche idea can be a huge hit. I mention this story since it was an inspiring reminder for me. Ultimately, I’m writing and recording this journey for my own purposes, as a digital scrapbook for myself. But if even a fraction of a percent of people out there find it interesting or entertaining or useful (you, my readers!), then perhaps I can have an impact and ultimately generate some income by eventually publishing as well. We’ll see.

But as engaging and fun the conversations were in Kasson, I had to move on, so back on the road it was. Things were flat out there in Southwestern Minnesota, but not Kansas-flat (from what I hear). There was still variety in the landscape, with curves in roads and gently rolling hills. I was never bored, and in fact I found scenes of beauty and fascination all over.

Even when I got into flatter and more uniform corn-land as I got closer to South Dakota, there were still gorgeous vistas and curiosities such as clouds of chaff. I had to pull over a number of times to take in and try to capture the feel. But I didn’t pull over too often because the day was waning and I had a site still to see.

Down in the Southwestern corner of Minnesota, right next to South Dakota, is Pipestone National Monument. It’s a relatively small, sacred Native American site unfortunately in the midst of industry and farmland, making it feel lonely and depressing, despite clear natural beauty. The local farm runoff has made the one stream through the area polluted enough for the Park Service to put up signs warning visitors not to get in or even touch the water—despite it being a watering hole for Native miners and tribes to refresh themselves in a long time ago.

The site exists because said stream long ago exposed a seam of pipestone—a rosy, soft, easily shaped stone—not too far underground. The stone was used to shape ceremonial pipes by a number of Native nations. The water from the stream itself, not to mention the bison and other wildlife it used to attract, made the location a convenient meeting place as well.

It’s still possible for Native people to obtain a permit to mine the pipestone veins, although over time it will get more and more difficult, as the shelf of pipestone is slanted downward under the prairie from the shallow line it was originally exposed.

All of the above I’d gathered from the informative signage along a short (~1.5 miles) paved path through the Monument. The Visitor Center was unfortunately closed by the time I arrived, but thankfully the short walk around the site was pleasant and informative even without any extra exhibits or Ranger input. One Parks passport cancellation I missed though. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Leaving Pipestone, I was in, not a somber mood, but definitely a more introspective one. There is so much Native history—which is necessarily history of our own nation and the land it lies on—that we’re never taught, and barely ever hear about. What else has been lost?

Pipestone is also a small town that lies just outside the National Monument (or rather, the monument lies within the town), with many buildings made from local stones. But, fairly dead and in the middle of nowhere otherwise.

Onward, I crossed into South Dakota, and actually saw some of the only police cars that I’d seen since before Rockford, IL. I also saw the farmlands get flatter, and bigger, with accompanying machinery and infrastructure getting bigger as well. But even out here there is beauty and I continued to drive, if anything, slower than the speed limit so I could savor the sunset-painted panoramas as I drove.

About and hour and a half from Pipestone, I finally made it to Sioux Falls, SD. In my mind, I thought of Sioux Falls in a mythological way, thanks to the Supernatural TV show, and imagined it as small, rural, grizzly, and isolated. In reality, it’s just another medium-sized city, a bit more sprawling than most given its location in the country. One of the first sights I remember from Sioux Falls was a massive factory for wind turbines (and apparently many other things) on the Eastern outskirts of the city.

But as I drove further into the city, its charm became more and more apparent. Rolling hills of residential areas, with some modest skyscrapers in the downtown business district, and plenty of friendly bars, restaurants, cafes, and businesses all over. The Airbnb host I was staying with had a house in a pleasant residential neighborhood easily walkable to downtown. My host was a character—an older woman from Sioux Falls but who had tried living on both the East and West coasts for decades before returning to South Dakota and its friendliness. She lives with her adult (50-something?) daughter, who has hobbies of armature and fake flower arranging. Fascinating interpersonal dynamics between mother and daughter, but otherwise quite easygoing and friendly hosts.

Downtown I went as soon as I settled in. I’d snacked and eaten dinner on the road, but figured I’d find some appetizers at local breweries as well. The bartender at the first one I stopped in, WoodGrain Brewing, indeed offered me some free pretzels from a local artisan pretzelry to go along with my flight of tasters. The bartender, Kayla, was from Orgeon and had fallen in love with the friendliness of Sioux Falls when passing through once, so has made it her home. The bartenders Jeff and Maya at Remedy Brewing had similar things to say, with Sioux Falls being community-driven and fun. And it all tallied with my gut—that this is quite a friendly, low-key, livable city. …With excellent beer, by the way.

Good call Bobby Singer!

Day 6 Distance: 273 mi (439 km)
Total Trip Distance: 1,552 mi (2,498 km)
(Approximate since I forgot to record exactly today)

Next Up: Minuteman National Historical Site, Badlands National Park, Wall Drug Store, and Rapid City, South Dakota.