Soooooo how’s everyone doing? It’s been an awfully long time since we last spoke. Anything new? I assume you’ve been anxiously awaiting a new Crapitols update since *checks notes* December 2019! Wow.
Obviously this silly little quest of mine had to be put on hold for the past year and a half, and although we’re not quite out of this global health emergency just yet, things have finally quieted down enough for me to feel comfortable returning to the habit of utterly frivolous air travel. So let me tell you a little about Pierre, South Dakota.
Pierre had presented a bit of a conundrum on my Crapitols quest. It's only two states away - technically close to Colorado - but it's tiny and remote. With a population of 13,646, it is the second least-populous state capital, ahead of only Montpelier, Vermont. Pierre is also one of the four state capitals with no Interstate highway running through it (guess what the other three are!). Basically, it’s tough to get to. Luckily, United Airlines and it’s little buddy, Denver Air Connection came to my rescue. I found a dirt cheap summer fare and two weeks later I was wheels-down at the tiny Pierre airport.
I experienced a bit of trepidation while planning this trip. Would I fail? Would I remember what to do? Would I drag my feet and procrastinate on writing the blog post for two months afterward? (The answers to these questions: I wouldn’t, I would, I would).
I had to go back to the basic principles I’ve learned so far in my journey: find lodging within walking distance of the capitol; give myself a window of a few days to ensure success; book a hotel with free breakfast (or at the very least, free coffee). Luckily Pierre’s Super 8 checked all these boxes. They even had biscuits and gravy at their continental breakfast. After a decent night’s sleep I made my way to the capitol first thing in the morning.
I wandered the capitol grounds for a bit before making my way into the building. The aptly-named Capitol Lake sits next to the capitol. The lake is fed by a warm-water artesian well that keeps it from freezing over, making it the winter home of hundreds of cobra chickens too lazy to fly further south.
The Fighting Stallions Memorial commemorates Governor George S. Mickelson and the seven other South Dakotans who perished in a tragic plane crash near Dubuque, Iowa in April of 1993.
I finally made my way into the building through the newly-completed (and rather supererogatory) security checkpoint, where a very friendly state trooper gave me the rundown on where to go and what to see. I signed the guestbook, stamped my state capitol passport and immediately set upon finding the restroom.
I found my way through a surprising number of doors that seemed like they should have been locked into the well-air-conditioned hall of Senate offices in the 1932 annex portion of the building. The bathroom was an elegantly updated blend of classic and contemporary, and I was easily able to accomplish my task.
With that out of the way I was free to explore the building. Sadly, no docents were available for a weekend guided tour. The South Dakota State Capitol was built between 1905 and 1910 for just under $1 million. Architects C.E. Bell and M.S. Detweiler out of Minneapolis won the contract with their design, which was apparently just a scaled-down knock-off version of the Montana capitol.
One of the most unique features of the building is the colorful terrazzo tile floors. Legend has it that 66 Italian artists laid the tiles, and each was given a single blue tile to lay wherever he chose as his personal signature on the vast work of floor art. Only 55 blue tiles have ever been located, however, so either the other 11 are under carpeting or walls, or legend just has it wrong. By the mid-1980s there were cracks all over the tile floors, and contractors were hired to repair them. They marked their repairs with special heart-shaped tiles. I did an inordinate amount of staring at the floors so I could share these photographs with you. You're welcome.
A fun feature of both the House and Senate chambers is the clearly-marked lobby for each. The lobby is where hired professionals hang out in hopes of scoring some face-time with elected representatives to plead for all manner of special interest groups. Hence the term... you know.
After seeing all there was to see I was on my merry way. I had over 24 hours left to kill in Pierre, and a whooooole lot of daylight left. First stop was ice cream. Zesto is an adorable little American Graffiti-era soft-serve joint. I had the Missouri Mud malt with Oreos and coffee ice cream.
I returned to the Super 8 to take refuge from the midday heat, or more specifically, the humidity. After 16 years in Denver I am far too acclimatized to the dry heat of the high plains to have even the slightest tolerance for any humidity. The sun was to set at the ridiculously late hour of 9:30 PM, so I decided to wait out the hottest hours of the day in my room watching Reservoir Dogs on HBO.
In researching things to do in Pierre I came across a designated nature area called LaFramboise Island in the middle of the Missouri River, just a short walk from my motel. Apparently there was a network of hiking trails, so I set out for a late afternoon/dusk ramble in the woods. Named for Joseph LaFramboise who had once built a fort nearby, framboise is also the French word for ‘raspberry.’
I passed a few folks fishing along the causeway that connected the shore to the island, and to my pleasant surprise, they were the only people I would see for the next three hours. I had the whole place to myself! Just me, thousands of grasshoppers, dozens of robins, a few bunnies, a deer or three, several ticks, and one grumpy toad.
Colorado is an increasingly crowded place, so this solo ramble on Raspberry Island was idyllic. No trail runners to watch out for. No Instagrammers to avoid. No one. I felt like the 12-year-old protagonist of a children’s novel who lives on his own island and befriends a wolf or something.
No wolves, but I did encounter a toad. Despite my best intentions, he was not befriended.
I walked almost every inch of the island – through the wooded trails, to the grassy meadows with the old windmill, to the marshy reeds at the very tip of the island. The scenery and solitude were magnificent. My Fitbit tracked 28,000 steps that day – over 14 miles.
I headed back to the mainland to seek out some dinner. Luckily, the South Dakota capitol is the only state capitol within sight of a Taco Johns (at least to my knowledge). I celebrated another Crapitol checked off the list with some Potato Oles.
The next day I bid farewell to the Super 8 and headed to the diminutive Pierre Airport, where the ticket counter agent is also the gate agent. There were only 5 people on my flight home to Denver. A delightful return flight highlighted by the most generous snack offerings of any airline I'm aware of. I did my best to play it cool when the flight attendant came around with two giant baskets full of chips, nuts, full sized candy bars, and cookies. It was like when you were trick-or-treating and you came to a house where they just held out a big bowl full of candy and let you take several handfuls. Those were the days. HIGHLY recommend Denver Air Connection for this amenity alone.
And then I was home. Then I took two months to post a blog about it. It feels good to be back at it. Special thanks to Pfizer for making this trip possible. I have no idea where or when my next Crapitol journey will be, so stay tuned. And stay safe.
p.s. The four state capitals without an interstate highway are Juneau, Dover, Jefferson City, and Pierre!