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Early morning at the lower falls of the Big Sioux in Sioux Falls. Click to enlarge photos.
Early morning at the lower falls of the Big Sioux in Sioux Falls. Click to enlarge photos.
The falls at dawn.
The falls at dawn.
The Old Courthouse Museum in downtown Sioux Falls is made of Sioux quartzite.
The Old Courthouse Museum in downtown Sioux Falls is made of Sioux quartzite.
Blooming leadplant along the Dells of the Big Sioux near Dell Rapids.
Blooming leadplant along the Dells of the Big Sioux near Dell Rapids.
A close-up of the leadplant flower.
A close-up of the leadplant flower.
Sioux quartzite cliffs in the Dells of the Big Sioux gorge.
Sioux quartzite cliffs in the Dells of the Big Sioux gorge.
Wildflowers along the tops of the Dells cliffs.
Wildflowers along the tops of the Dells cliffs.
Cedar waxwing at the Dells.
Cedar waxwing at the Dells.
A preening Baltimore oriole.
A preening Baltimore oriole.
A wild canary at the Dells.
A wild canary at the Dells.
The bottom of Devil’s Gulch, where Jesse James is said to have escaped a posse of armed men. The bridge at the top marks the spot where his horse jumped.
The bottom of Devil’s Gulch, where Jesse James is said to have escaped a posse of armed men. The bridge at the top marks the spot where his horse jumped.
Logan Nussbam and Matt Bruns explore the stream just above Devil’s Falls just outside of Garretson.
Logan Nussbam and Matt Bruns explore the stream just above Devil’s Falls just outside of Garretson.
Palisades State Park in autumn.
Palisades State Park in autumn.
Balancing Rock along the side of Split Rock Creek at the Palisades.
Balancing Rock along the side of Split Rock Creek at the Palisades.
The view between King and Queen Rock at Palisades State Park.
The view between King and Queen Rock at Palisades State Park.
The last light of an October evening colors the face of Queen Rock.
The last light of an October evening colors the face of Queen Rock.
Winter at the Palisades. To the right is King Rock.
Winter at the Palisades. To the right is King Rock.
Jasper pool at Gitchie Manitou Preserve.
Jasper pool at Gitchie Manitou Preserve.

Sioux Quartzite's Ancient Beauty

Jul 22, 2013

 

Last December I turned 40. I guess I’m supposed to be “old” now (at least to anyone under 40, that is). Other than some achy knees and various aches and pains I don’t feel old — especially now that I’ve done a little research on the landmark that helped shape Sioux Falls and the surrounding area. Sioux quartzite, the hard stone that the Big Sioux tumbles over at Falls Park in Sioux Falls, is ancient. I mean really, really ancient. Those that study rocks say it was formed around 1.5 billion years ago. That is older than old — I mean it is really hard to fathom. The last dinosaurs are supposed to have been around 60 million years ago. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to our Sioux quartzite. This rock formation has been fairly stable and in existence for roughly a quarter of the time Earth has been a planet.

I first visited the falls of the Big Sioux when I was a young teenager. For a West River kid, it was like a whole new world. Back then, the park hadn’t been cleaned up nor was there much for walkways, but nonetheless, I still remember being surprised that such a thing existed in South Dakota. I later learned that Sioux Falls is not the only place to see outcroppings of Sioux quartzite. Palisades State Park just south of Garretson may be small in terms of size, but it packs a large punch in terms of unique and stunning scenery. There, Split Rock Creek cuts through a section of Sioux quartzite, leaving dramatic cliffs and standing stones seemingly in the middle of rolling farm hills.

Just upstream, on the other side of Garretson, is Split Rock Park and Devil’s Gulch. Legend holds that this is where outlaw Jesse James escaped a posse of armed men after fleeing from a botched robbery attempt in Minnesota in 1876. James and his horse supposedly leaped the narrow gorge leaving his pursuers behind. A small walking bridge marks the spot today. Whether the legend is true or not, the area is a great place to hike and see the quartzite formations. 

Another place that shows off the beauty of the quartzite is just south of Dell Rapids. Here the Big Sioux divides into two streams with the smaller channel cutting straight through cliffs of Sioux quartzite called the Dells of the Big Sioux. There is a small park and overlook to check out, or if you have a more adventurous spirit, there is a sort of natural staircase to the north of the picnic area to climb down into the gorge. In visiting the area earlier this spring, I also found it to be a great place to bird watch. Insect catchers swoop through the canyon picking off their prey and the cliffs allow for nests for all sorts of swallows as well. The abundance of trees provide nesting and resting areas for many species too.

This summer I was introduced to a couple of Sioux quartzite areas that were brand new to me and very worth visiting. Arrowhead Park on the east side of Sioux Falls is a great place to take a short hike with family members in around some quarry pools. The waterfowl are used to people and many folks like to take some bread along to feed them on the edges of the pools. Along the South Dakota-Iowa border is another pool in the Gitchie Manitou preserve that is a little more off the beaten track but well worth the visit as well. I went there on a hot July afternoon and basically had the place to myself. My task was to take a portrait or two of ancient beauty over a billion years in the making. Makes me feel young and spry just telling you about it. 

  

Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing our prettiest spots around the state. Follow Begeman on his blog. To view Christian's columns featuring other unique spots in South Dakota's landscape, visit his landmarks page


Comments

09:52 am - Mon, July 22 2013
Michael Swenson said:
There's a good share of Sioux Quartzine in MN too. Besides the obvious Blue Mound, Split Rock Creek S.P., & Pipestone... There are some areas in extreme NW Cottonwood, & extreme SE Brown County. Namely, the Jeffers Petroglyphs, Red Reck Dells, & Mound Creek.

Great article on the SD spots!

We love the 3 miles between Split Rock Creek Campground (Garretson) and the Pallisades. The best whitewater Kayaking around. Anything over 500 CFS is great: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/sd/nwis/uv?site_no=06482610
10:18 am - Mon, July 22 2013
John Andrews said:
You're stealing my thunder CB! We've got a big Sioux quartzite feature coming in the Sept/Oct issue. Looks like you'll be illustrating some of it! Great photos, as usual.
11:13 am - Mon, July 22 2013
Christian Begeman said:
Thanks Michael and sorry John. Michael if you are interested, I'd love to try my hand at some adventure photography of the rapids being run. Feel free to drop me an email if and when that happens next.

John, consider this a small teaser to your future award-winning story in the magazine. Being the skilled wordsmith you are, I'm sure whatever you bring to light on the subject will be worth the read!
06:20 am - Wed, July 24 2013
John Andrews said:
Your photographs will make a tolerable story great.
08:45 am - Wed, July 24 2013
Michael Swenson said:
Chris, We're planning a run on Sat. 8/3 (assuming it rains once between now and then). Shoot me an email if you're intrested. We've got some water safe HD cameras(GoPro/Contour), but still not as HQ as your camera I'm sure. You can rent a kayak at Sun N Fun or Nyberg's Ace for $40. Maybe one of them will hook you up with a deal if you mention the rental option in your story.
11:17 pm - Wed, August 7 2013
Holly Davidson said:
You've beautifully photographed my stomping grounds! My hometown is Garretson and I live in Dells Rapids right next to the Dells. Though I think there is a correction that needs to be made to one of the photos.... that's not a wild canary, that's a gold finch! Great images!

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