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Travels in the Heartland: Exploring Sioux City’s history and culture

Welcome to Sioux City Iowa
Posted at 11:15 AM, Jan 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-10 12:15:20-05

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KMTV) — Gene Autry, Bing Crosby and Willie Nelson sang of her red hair and big, blue eyes. They dreamed of courting “Sioux City Sue.” While their fascination may have been a song, Sioux City actually offers a full weekend of things to do and places to see. Whether it’s a day trip or a weekend stay, Sioux City, 90 minutes north of Omaha on Interstate 29, provides a look at both history and culture, from its role during the Lewis and Clark expedition to being home of one of the nation's top popcorn manufacturers.

Lewis and Clark sculpture

Lewis and Clark

As you approach Sioux City from the south, one of the first things you’ll notice is the tall structure on a bluff, not far from the Missouri River. The Sgt. Floyd Memorial, a 100-foot tall obelisk reminiscent of the Washington Monument in Washington, DC, honors the only person to die during the two-year-long Corps of Discovery expedition – better known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Floyd likely suffered a burst appendix, though technology to diagnose it didn’t exist in 1804. The 23-acre park marks Floyd’s gravesite.

A couple miles north of the Floyd Memorial, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center highlights the expedition’s time in the region, with interactive displays. It was near Sioux City that the Corps saw its first bison. From an exhibit with President Thomas Jefferson deciding to approve the expedition to Floyd’s funeral, the interpretive center offers an informative and interesting look into the expedition. The center also features Native American exhibits, including weapons, tools and games.

Military exhibit at MidAmerica Museum of Aviation and Transportation

MidAmerica Museum of Aviation and Transportation

Located near the Sioux City Airport, known for its three-letter code of SUX, the story of United Flight 232 anchors the MidAmerica Museum of Aviation and Transportation. In 1989, the airplane crashed upon landing at the airport, losing a wing as it somersaulted down the runway. Capt. Al Haynes and his team was credited with saving more lives than lost (185 of 296 passengers and crew). The exhibit respectfully retraces the events of the day, including displays of crew member uniforms, photos and first responders’ equipment.

The museum also features aircraft and classic autos, such as World War I airplanes and a Ghostbusters replica vehicle. Military exhibits include Jeeps, field ambulances, uniforms and a barracks display, complete with a tightly-made soldier’s bed. Veterans may recall the itch those military blankets brought back in the day.

Outside the museum, visitors can check out a former FedEx cargo airplane.

Sioux City's Railroad Museum workshop

Sioux City Railroad Museum

Once one of the largest repair shops for the Milwaukee Railroad, the Sioux City Railroad Museum celebrates the city’s rail history. With old locomotives, rail cars and cabooses in the repair shop, a walk through the building gives a look at the work done in the shop. You’ll find engineers’ uniforms and other train memorabilia throughout the museum, including an engine turnaround in the train yard. Several train car exhibits are located on the grounds, so some of your visit will involve being outdoors. One building houses a large model train display, which can be mesmerizing for train enthusiasts.

Jolly Time Pop Corn Museum exhibit

Jolly Time Pop Corn Museum

It’s the only popcorn spelled with two words, a brilliant marketing decision in its early days. Long one of the nation’s top brands, Jolly Time Pop Corn has called Sioux City home for more than a century. With a small museum display inside the Koated Kernels popcorn store, you can relive the tasty treat’s story with advertising posters featuring 1950s actors Ozzie and Harriett Nelson, the founder’s desk, vintage popcorn machines and packaging. You’ll have a tough time leaving without an armful of Koated Kernels’ flavorful treats.

Sioux City Art Center

Featuring contemporary art from some of the best artists in the Midwest, the Sioux City Art Center includes the works of Thomas Hart Benton, considered one of the top regionalist artists of his time, along with American Gothic painter Grant Wood. With more than 1,000 pieces, the art center also hosts special exhibits, such as photography and abstract art.

With 14 sculptures (seven permanent), the Sculpt Siouxland features unique contemporary art pieces along its downtown sculpture walk. With 12 sculptures available over a seven-block area, and another two near City Hall, the sculpture walk may be a short one, but it’s full of impressive pieces, each created by Midwestern artists.

Riverfront Trail

Enjoy the view of the Missouri River as you walk along the 10-mile-long Riverfront Trail that takes you from the north side of Sioux City to downtown or even farther south along the river. You’ll pass a docked riverboat visitors center, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, as well as a variety of sculptures, monuments and an outdoor amphitheater. At night, the Siouxland Veterans Bridge, which connects the city with South Sioux City across the Missouri River, illuminates with beautiful colors.

Native American toys and games at Lewis and Clark

Sioux City Public Museum

Once part of a prehistoric ocean, fossils of sea creatures such as the Plesiosaurus, a reptile that could grow longer than 60 feet, as well as a children’s “fossil” dig site, are part of a display exploring early life in Siouxland at the Sioux City Public Museum. The museum, with free admission, explores the area’s story through contemporary days, including the city’s stockyards and meatpacking factories.

An exhibit explores the early days of area Native American tribes, such as the Omaha, Winnebago, Ponca and Santee nations. Clothing, housing, tools, weapons and other artifacts are on display to help visitors better understand the history of the region’s original residents.

Pioneers and early farmers aren’t forgotten, as a log cabin exhibit looks at settlers’ lives on the prairies. From French fur traders to Euro-Americans, the Sioux City area has seen its share of western history.

The most popular exhibits may center on the city’s agricultural background, including its stockyards and the meatpacking houses. Dating back to 1884, the Sioux City Stockyards were among the busiest in the United States, with pens full of cattle and hogs on a daily basis. The stockyards helped fuel the area’s economic development, with opening banks, as well as meatpacking plants and stores.

Hiking trail at Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center

Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center

With 1,000 acres of woods, and plenty of trails running through them, the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center is an excellent spot for outdoor fun in the Loess Hills. From spring through fall, you’ll find pollinators working furiously among the wildflowers, plants and flower beds at the center. Inside, check out fish and reptile exhibits, as well as other displays. The nature center also features an outdoor bird viewing area and amphitheater.

Chief War Eagle Monument

Chief War Eagle Monument

Known to non-Native Americans as Chief War Eagle, the man buried atop a bluff overlooking two rivers is better known as Waŋbdí Okíčhize (actually translates to Little Eagle) among the Dakota nation (Santee Sioux). A monument honoring him is located near his burial site, which watches over the confluence of the Missouri and Big Sioux Rivers near Sioux City. The statue of Waŋbdí Okíčhize holding a ceremonial pipe is located near the chief’s actual burial site.

Jesus sculpture at Trinity Heights

Trinity Heights

Located on the campus of a former college, Trinity Heights attracts visitors for spiritual and artistic reasons. Designed as a tribute to Jesus Christ and his mother, Mary, the 14-acre botanical and sculpture garden includes 30-foot tall stainless steel sculptures of both figures. In-between, you’ll find smaller statues of saints, such as Mother Teresa, Peter and Paul, as well as one of Moses. A walk in the garden takes you through the Stations of the Cross. Located inside a chapel, a life-size sculpture of Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” was carved from wood and features the artist’s family and friends as Jesus and the disciples.

Palmer Candy store display

Palmer Candy Old Tyme Candy Shoppe

Known for its classic Bing candy bar featuring cherry nougat in the center of chocolate and nut covering, Palmer Candy has been producing sweets for nearly 150 years. When it first opened, Palmer sold fruit, changing over to hard candy in 1900, and has been a candy stronghold ever since. Besides the Bing, Palmer Candy produces chocolate peanut clusters, peanut brittle, caramel popcorn and chocolate-covered pretzels. Its candy, and a variety of others, can be found at the downtown shop, along with a small exhibit showcasing the company’s history through vintage equipment and other artifacts.

Vietnam Wall replica at Siouxland Freedom Park

Siouxland Freedom Park

Cross the Missouri River to visit Siouxland’s Vietnam War memorial. A half-scale replica of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC, honors the men and women who sacrificed their lives during the country’s second-longest war. The memorial anchors the 55-acre Siouxland Freedom Park, which includes walking trails, dog park and a large flag that’s flown 150 feet above ground. The park plans to add statues recognizing the nation’s military branches.

Guitar exhibit at Hard Rock Casino and Hotel

Hard Rock Casino and Hotel

You don’t have to be a gambler to enjoy visiting the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel. Featuring exhibits highlighting famous musicians, such as Prince, the Beatles, Styxx, Ozzy Osbourne and Fleetwood Mac, as well as local music star Tommy Bolin of Deep Purple, the casino is a rock ‘n’ roll museum. The casino also features outstanding restaurants, including Main + Abbey with its unique American fare.

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