Dine in Bette’s Kitchen—Literally

Dine in Bette’s Kitchen—Literally

If not for the sign out front, you might think you were pulling up to someone’s home. Actually, you are. The family dog may greet you and escort you to the door of the manufactured home set on a hill overlooking a lush pine valley.

Bettes exteriorInside, you may be seated next to the fireplace in the dining room. Family photos fill the walls, including photos of Nicolas Black Elk, medicine man and warrior of the Native American Oglala Lakota tribe, who was restaurant owner Betty O’Rourke’s great-grandfather.

Bettes Kitchen fireplaceFamily photosBette’s Kitchen’s menu includes fare like fried chicken, burgers, BLTs, chef’s salad and soup. However, for our group that Betty hosted, she put out a huge spread of chicken, beef, chicken noodle soup, salads, baked beans, fresh watermelon and cupcakes frosted in vivid colors, punctuated with colorful sprinkles. The meal was served buffet style with paper plates from a folding table in Betty’s kitchen, an experience much like a family picnic.

Bettes Kithen saladsBettes Kitchen Cupcakes

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In fact, you can savor your meal picnic-style while enjoying the beauty of the South Dakota scenery in the tented outdoor seating area if you prefer.

Bettes outdoor seatingView from BettesBetty’s cooking is like that of your aunt or grandmother, down-home deliciousness. The soup was chock full of thick noodles, the chicken crispy and juicy, the beef tender and flavorful. It’s no wonder that Betty served over 2,000 people last summer. Besides local regulars, it isn’t uncommon for Betty to serve busloads that stop in for lunch in the remote location.

BetteChicken Noodle SoupBette’s Kitchen is located at 111 Black Elk Road, one mile north of Manderson in western South Dakota. Phone (605) 867-1739.

Disclosure: My visit to Bette’s Kitchen was hosted by the South Dakota Department of Tourism and Bette’s Kitchen. However, all opinions in this article are my own.

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Mount Rushmore at Sunrise: A Spectacular Show

I finally made it to Mount Rushmore. For 40 years I’d wanted to see the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt carved into the mountain’s granite, or “the heads,” as my daughter referred to them. For one reason and then another, I never made it there until last fall. It was well worth the wait, and getting up before dawn to see the sunrise was a small price to pay for the spectacular show our presidents put on for us.

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Our group arrived at dawn, just as the skies were beginning to lighten from black to gray, a late September chill in the air. Only a few others besides our group were there that early, before the rush of tourists, allowing us to position ourselves for the best photo shots of the monument.

Mt Rushmore 2

As the sun began to come up, the stone took on a peach cast against the powder blue sky.

Mt Rushmore 3

The coloring became more vibrant as the sun peeked higher above the horizon …

Mt Rushmore 4

… until the mountain was seemingly on fire and the sky a bright azure.

Mt Rushmore 5

As the sun rose higher, the faces softened.

Mt Rushmore 6

Mt Rushmore 7

With the breathtaking sunrise over, it was time to explore a little more. The Presidential Trail allows you to get up closer to the monument and presents some great angles, including from between trees and rocks.

Mt Rushmore 11

Mt Rushmore 8

Mt Rushmore 10

Later I noticed another great view from the windows in the café.

Mt Rushmore 12

I know it isn’t every day that the sky is as blue as it was on that September morning, not a cloud in the sky. I’m just glad that after waiting over 40 years to see “the heads,” we were blessed with perfect weather and a perfect sunrise.

Mount Rushmore is located in Keystone, South Dakota, about a half hour southwest of Rapid City. Check the web site for directions, operating hours and other details.

Disclosure: My visit to Mount Rushmore was hosted by the South Dakota Department of Tourism. However, all opinions in this article are my own.

Other posts you may enjoy:

Prehistoric History Uncovered at Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota

Exploring Native American Heritage in South Dakota

The Journey Museum, Rapid City: Black Hills History and Culture

Chapel in the Hills, Rapid City: Norwegian Serenity

Thank you for reading Midwest Wanderer. Don’t miss a post. Enter your e-mail address below and click Subscribe to be notified whenever I publish another post. Subscription is FREE. After subscribing, be sure to click the link when you get the e-mail asking you to confirm.   – Connie


 

Wall Drug: From Free Ice Water to Free Fun

Wall Drug: From Free Ice Water to Free Fun

SD_Wall_Drug-0905It’s a restaurant. It’s an art gallery. It’s a souvenir shop. It’s a western town. Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota, is all of those things, plus more, rolled into one. Most of all, it’s a tourist attraction not to miss. It wasn’t always that way, though.

Ted and Dorothy Hustead bought the drug store in Wall, South Dakota in 1931 during the midst of the Great Depression. They curtained off the back 20 feet of the 24 foot by 60 foot building for living space and gave themselves five years to succeed. Times were tough, and the store wasn’t on the main highway through town.

With six months left to the five year mark, during the heat of the summer back when there was no air conditioning, Dorothy suggested they put up signs along the highway advertising free ice water. Ted thought it was a silly idea but went along with it. He and a high school student painted and put up signs, Burma Shave style. Before Ted got back to the store, the first customer showed up. Ted put up 19 more signs, the customers kept coming, and the store kept growing. Today the store is across the street from the original, takes up 76,000 square feet and offers a whole lot more than free ice water.

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The group I traveled with had dinner at Wall Drug’s Western Art Gallery Restaurant, its walls lined with the largest privately owned western and illustration art in the United States.

RestaurantWe dined on a comfort meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes and green beans. Wall Drug serves 30,000 pounds of roast beef every season. The buffalo burger is popular, too. Wall is famous for their doughnuts, as well. I tasted one and understand why.

Roast_beefAfter dinner we roamed what seemed like a labyrinth of stores, one connected to another, going this way and that, shops selling souvenirs, western wear, specialty foods, pottery, and lots more.

storehoneypotteryThere is even a traveler’s chapel.

chapelIn the open-air backyard picnic area, you can pose for photo ops on the many photo props, like this giant jackalope.

JackalopeThe Back Yard Mall has even more attractions, including an arcade, gem mining, a pizza parlor, and a ferocious dinosaur that comes to life, roaring and smoking, every few minutes.

DinosaurToday, over eighty years after the first signs were posted, more than 200 signs in South Dakota, Wyoming and North Dakota invite you to visit Wall Drug. Signs have even been posted in London and Paris subways, attracting an international crowd. Run now by the third generation Hustead family, Wall Drug still stands by their original offer: free ice water. They’ll even fill your jug.

Wall Drug is located at 510 Main Street in Wall, South Dakota, off of I-90 Exit 110. You can’t miss it—just follow the signs. Check the web site for hours and more details.

Disclosure: My visit to the Wall Drug was hosted by the South Dakota Department of Tourism and Wall Drug. However, all opinions in this article are my own.

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Other articles you may enjoy:

Prehistoric History Uncovered at Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota

Exploring Native American Heritage in South Dakota

The Journey Museum, Rapid City: Black Hills History and Culture

Chapel in the Hills, Rapid City: Norwegian Serenity

Mammoth Site of Hot Springs: Prehistoric History Uncovered

Mammoth Site of Hot Springs: Prehistoric History Uncovered

Once upon a time, in a prehistoric land not so far away, giant creatures roamed the earth. One day, over sixty male Columbian and wooly mammoths left home never to be seen again. Stories about the disappearance were passed down through generations of mammoths until the stories became legend. Males claimed females drove them away, to a mass suicide. Females claimed the males went on a hunting trip, got lost, and refused to ask for directions. The species eventually became extinct, and of course, the legend became extinct along with the mammoths. Read more

Top 2014 Midwest Wanderer Travel Experiences

Top 2014 Midwest Wanderer Travel Experiences

As another year comes to a close, we reflect on all that we’ve accomplished over the past twelve months and plan new goals for the coming year. For me, 2014 brought lots of opportunities to explore the Midwest, discovering more attractions, events and restaurants to share with you. It’s always amazing how much there is to do right here in the Midwest, from the Great Lakes to the Black Hills, from small towns to big cities. Today I’m sharing with you some of my personal “firsts” and also my top ten blog posts of the year, the ones most popular with you, my readers.

2014 New Experiences:

In March I discovered that anyone can paint—even no-artistic-talent me. At the Art Party Studio in Champaign, Illinois, bring your own wine, if you’d like, follow the step-by-step painting instructions, and every painting turns out well. If, on the slim chance it doesn’t, you can always blame it on the wine.

Art_Party_StudioI tried my hand at glassblowing for the first time at The Glass Park in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Okay, so my turn lasted only a minute or so, since I was on a group tour and we just had a sampling. It would be fun to go back and create a “work of art” of my own.

The_Glass_ParkI joined the Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau dragon boat team in the Kenosha Area Dragon Boat Festival in July. As hard as our team tried, we came in last place, but we had a great time.

Dragon_Boat_RacesTwo new states were added to my list this year, Nebraska and South Dakota. I spent a couple of days exploring Omaha, including gardens, museums and shop. If you like zoos, you have to see Henry Doorly Zoo, my favorite zoo of all I’ve ever been to.

Henry Doorly ZooBesides the national monuments, national parks and so many other things western South Dakota has to offer, I took my first helicopter ride with the Black Hills Aerial Adventures, where I saw the Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments at eye level and the Needles Highway from a bird’s eye view.

Mount Rushmore from HelicopterAs great as everything else was in South Dakota, the highlight was the Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park, where I bumped along in the back of a pickup truck right in the midst of the cowboys and cowgirls on horseback rounding up around 1,100 head of bison for their annual vaccines and pregnancy tests.

Buffalo RoundupThe year concluded with my second helicopter tour, this time in the evening with Chicago Helicopter Experience, along the Chicago lakeshore, with a great view of the Lincoln Park Zoo and Michigan Avenue Christmas lights.

Chicago Helicopter Experience
Top 10 Posts of 2014

  1. Haunted DeSoto House Hotel, Galena IL was published in 2013 but continued to be the most popular throughout 2014.
  2. Ghost stories are apparently popular. Bowers Harbor Inn, Traverse City: Two Restaurants and a Ghost created quite a controversy among Traverse City locals, some believing the legend and others not.
  3. I don’t know whether it’s because of the location on Route 66 or if people are interested in car museums, but the Number 3 most popular post was Pontiac Oakland Museum, Pontiac, Illinois: Auto Nostalgia along Route 66.
  4. Frank Lloyd Wright architecture is always popular, so I’m not surprised that Historic Park Inn: Last Remaining Frank Lloyd Wright Hotel made the list.
  5. Billed as the biggest biker destination in Illinois and along the Great River Road, Poopy’s Pub n’ Grub, Savanna IL; Popular Even with Non-bikers, came in at Number 5.
  6. Downtown shops in towns in southwest Michigan resort towns are always fun to explore, and Traverse City foodie fans especially liked Traverse City Shops: A Culinary Delight.
  7. Green County, Wisconsin, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Cheese Days in 2014. In June I attended a press preview of the big September event and wrote about it in Cheese Days 100th Anniversary Preview, Monroe, Wisc. The event is held every two years, so plan ahead to attend in 2016.
  8. Published just in time for Halloween, another Traverse City supposedly haunted location came in at Number 8, Tour a Former Asylum at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, Traverse City.
  9. Eating at a tiny ten-seat diner is fun, especially when the delicious food is served by a magician, like it is at the Suzie Q Café, Mason City Iowa: A Meal with a Dash of Magic.
  10. Old lighthouses are fun to explore. The stories behind them are always fascinating. Another Traverse City attraction, Tour Mission Point Lighthouse, Traverse City, Michigan made the list at Number 10.

I’m looking forward to sharing more fun and interesting attractions, events and restaurants in Midwest destinations throughout 2015. If you have suggestions on Midwest places to see and things to do, don’t hesitate to share them at info@midwestwanderer.com, and I’ll help spread the word.

Thank you for reading Midwest Wanderer. Don’t miss a post. Enter your e-mail address below and click Subscribe to be notified whenever I publish another post. Subscription is FREE. After subscribing, be sure to click the link when you get the e-mail asking you to confirm.   – Connie


 

Exploring Native American Heritage in South Dakota

Exploring Native American Heritage in South Dakota

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, over 82,000 people, 12.5% of South Dakota’s population, are of Native American descent, either fully or in combination with other nationalities or ethnicity. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota, at 2.8 million acres, is larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Not surprising, several of the places I visited during my September South Dakota trip emphasized Native American heritage, including Lakota Ways in Wall and several stops on the reservation. Read more

The Journey Museum, Rapid City: Black Hills History and Culture

The Journey Museum, Rapid City: Black Hills History and Culture

'Tic-tac-toeYou won’t find a combination of mountains, dinosaur remains, Native American culture and the Wild West in most Midwest states. The Black Hills in South Dakota is an exception. At the Journey Museum in Rapid City, you’ll find collections of all those things under one roof. Centrally located in western South Dakota, the museum is within a half day of five national parks plus Custer State Park. Visit the museum before you do anything else in South Dakota, and you’ll have a good orientation to the area history and culture. Read more

Chapel in the Hills, Rapid City: Norwegian Serenity

Chapel in the Hills, Rapid City: Norwegian Serenity

Chapel in the Hills Tucked away at the end of a drive through a residential neighborhood, the Chapel in the Hills, like the ponderosa pine that surround it on three sides, rises to the sky, growing narrower as it grows taller. Built completely of Douglas fir, the chapel blends with the natural beauty of South Dakota’s hills and is worth a visit on your Rapid City trip, if not for the spiritual aspect, then for the serenity of the grounds and architecture of the chapel. Read more

Weathering this Midwest Winter

Weathering this Midwest Winter

“I’m tired of this winter.”  I’ve heard it over and over again for the past month.  And I agree.  It seems that every day, at least here in the Chicago area, we’ve been getting either more snow, making roads dangerous to navigate, or single-digit to sub-zero temperatures, so we can’t go out and enjoy snow activities.  Of course, the obvious remedy is to go somewhere warm, and if you can do that, great.  But for many, a vacation to a warm climate is impractical or even impossible.  Besides, a week later, you’ll be back home in the snow and cold again.  So aside from hibernating and counting the days until spring, here are a couple of ways to counter the cabin fever that has hit the Midwest hard:

Go to indoor events and attractions.  On the days that are cold but the roads okay to drive on, go to a local museum that you haven’t been to in a long time.  (Call first to make sure they haven’t closed due to the cold.)  Or go to one of the many travel, RV, boat, auto, or home shows going on in cities all over the Midwest.  You’ll find links to information on lots of them on the Midwest Festivals & Fairs page.

Plan your summer travel.  Now is the time to plan your summer getaways.  Get them on the calendar before your calendar fills up with other obligations.  If you’re planning to go to a popular seasonal destination, you should make your accommodation reservations as soon as possible, too, for the best selection.  Need help in deciding where to go?  Turn to the convention and visitors bureaus of the states you are thinking about.  On the Internet, search “[state name] tourism” to find the state’s official tourism site, which will have listings of attractions, accommodations, dining options, and events.  You can order free hard copy travel guides for the states or regions you are considering for your getaways, too.  I personally like to peruse the hard copy guides from the cozy comfort of a sofa and then use the Internet to get further details on places that interest me.  To get you started, I’ve included links below to order tourism guides for the Midwest states.

Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Michigan
Minnesota
Missouri
Nebraska
North Dakota
Ohio
South Dakota
Wisconsin

Just thinking about and planning your summer getaways will do wonders to counter the winter doldrums.  Do you have other suggestions for cabin fever remedies?  Answer in the Comments box below.

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Other attractions you may enjoy this winter:

Peoria Riverfront Museum: Interactive Exhibits, Planetarium and Giant Screen Theater

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, Springfield IL: Museum Meets Disney

Frank Lloyd Wright Dana-Thomas House: 12,000 Square Feet of Phenomenal

Visit Jelly Belly, Pleasant Prairie WI: Take the Tour, Taste the Candy

Tour Stone Hill Winery, Hermann, MO: Most Historic and Awarded Winery in the State