When we left Miles City, Montana, we traveled south on Highway 59 and east on Hwy 212 until we hit I-90 to the west of Rapid City. It was an easy drive because the roads were practically deserted. The view of vast brown grassy plains and the wide open sky remained a constant for most of the drive. The highlight of the excursion was seeing the antelope. We must have seen 100 or more pronghorn antelope near the road and across the lands through which we drove.
We stayed at the KOA in Rapid City, which is on the northeast part of town. It was a fairly large campground and it stayed very busy. Most of the guests were travelers just making overnight stops. There were only a few campers like us who were there for extended stays. In our case we were in Rapid City for a total of two weeks. The reason Mike selected this campground for us was because they also had deluxe cabins and we had reserved one for his parents!
A few months ago, Mike had coordinated schedules with his folks and they had planned a trip to fly out to South Dakota and visit us for a week. It was time to get settled in and complete some final preparations for our family reunion! We spent a couple of days doing some deep cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, and outfitting their cabin with sheets, towels, pillows, and treats for the kitchenette. We finally picked up my in-laws at the airport on Thursday evening.
The Martins had actually lived in Rapid City when they were freshly married and new parents. Mike was a tiny baby. His brother, Pat, was born in Rapid City. They moved here because my father-in-law had gotten a job working with the Minute Man Missile Project near Ellsworth AFB. On several occasions during our visit, they both remarked that Rapid City was the favorite place they lived in all of their years together. It was so much fun to spend time with them in a place that held so many fond memories for them.
Our week together was jam packed with road trips, FOOD, football, and relaxing. We packed a ton of action into those 7 days, and enjoyed every second of them. Since the Martins made the effort to come out and see us on The Lower 48 in 48 Tour, it just might be one of my favorite stops on the entire trip! I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story.
This is what our drive from Montana to South Dakota looked like.
This was a very busy KOA. The lines for afternoon check-in were pretty long on some days.
The Martin’s cabin was directly across the street from our rig. It was the perfect set up!
A view of our spot at the KOA in Rapid City. We were in #120.
The Farmer’s Market in Rapid City had a little bit of everything: produce, jellies, jams, salsas, flowers and food trucks! For breakfast I had a sandwich of brie, apples and nuts melted between two slices of cranberry bread from the melted cheese sandwich truck.
This eagle sculpture is at Founder’s Park in Rapid City. It is dedicated to two fallen officers. I thought it was very beautiful.
Inside the cute little cabin where Mike’s folks stayed during their visit.
Cessna helped my mother-in-law and me keep a lookout for pretty vistas to photograph during our drive through the Black Hills.
We asked my father-in-law to name the first thing he wanted to do after they got to Rapid City. The answer: hit the casinos in Deadwood! We started at Cadillac Jacks and then moved the car to the middle of downtown. After stopping into some of the local shops, we finished gambling at the Silverado. Before driving home we enjoyed the crab and prime rib at the Silverado Grant Buffet.
The historic city of Deadwood is in the middle of the Black Hills National Forest. The natural beauty of mountains and trees provide a wonderful backdrop for the historic buildings and colorful characters up and down Main Street.
Deadwood was a prosperous mining town in the late 1870’s… until the gold played out. The population of the town had dwindled from 20,000 at its peak to 2,035 residents by the end of the 19th century. To add insult to injury, a devastating fire nearly destroyed what was left of the local economy in 1959. The entire city was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961, but the community was still on the brink of extinction. By the 1980’s Deadwood could not generate enough tax revenue to maintain basic city services. When South Dakota passed a constitutional amendment to allow limited -stakes gambling in Deadwood in 1989, everything changed. Now gaming revenue has allowed the community to transform itself into an old-west entertainment mecca.
I’ll let you fill in your own caption for this photo.
Custer State Park has driving trails, hiking trails, lodges, camping areas, and cabins. Visitors can see the park on foot, from a car, from a canoe, from a bicycle, or while on a guided tour. Several of the lodges even have shopping and dining. It would be a wonderful place for a family vacation… during the warmer months of the year.
Custer State Park is 71,000 acres big. The four of us drove Wildlife Loop Road looking for buffalo, pronghorn and prairie dogs. I’m happy to report spot all three!
Antelope posing for the tourist cameras in Custer State Park.
Burros in Custer State Park.
Another view from Mt. Coolidge. It is hard to see, but if you look just to the right of the middle of this photo, you will see a mountain top that has less trees than any other. That is actually the Crazy Horse Memorial. The mission of the sculpture is to protect and preserve the culture, tradition and living heritage of the North American Indians. It is so gigantic, one can see it from miles away!
A park ranger at Custer State Park suggested we drive to the top of Mount Coolidge and see the views from the firetower. We were really happy he gave us that advice because we would not have known to turn left at the base of the mountain without his help. The steep single lane gravel road was not too much fun to traverse, but I wasn’t driving, and the outcome was amazing!
A lone bison grazing in Custer State Park.
When I snapped this photo, we didn’t realized we would actually be driving in the middle of those crazy rocks within about 15 minutes.
Do you see what I mean when I say these rocks look like drizzled sand castles?
One of the most spectacular sections of Custer State Park was the Cathedral Spires area. From a distance the rock formations looked like wet sand had been drizzled into shape with no regard to form or pattern. Up close it looked like the surface of another planet. I kept expecting Captain James T. Kirk to jump out from behind a rock and rescue our car for a safe return back to our own home galaxy.
Making our way through a “tunnel” in the Needles Eye section of Custer State Park.
On the way to the best viewing platform at the base of Mount Rushmore, visitors get to walk through an archway of all of the state flags. Very festive.
I cannot talk about this stop on the Lower 48 in 48 Tour without posting a photograph of this iconic American sculpture.
Family picture at Mount Rushmore.
We had a great time exploring this region of South Dakota, but when the weekend arrived, it was time for football!
Our KOA campground sat high up on a bluff, so we had a nice view of the Rapid City area.
The four of us spent one day driving through Badlands National Park. Paleontologist Thaddeus Culbertson has this reaction to the mysterious region, “Fancy yourself on the hottest day in summer in the hottest spot of such a place without water – without an animal and scarce an insect astir – without a single flower to speak pleasant things to you and you will have some idea of the utter loneliness of the Bad Lands”.
The Badlands Visitor Center near Interior, SD has a wonderful exhibit that focuses on the cultural history, prairie ecology, and paleontology of the White River Badlands. They also have a book store, a theater featuring the film “Land of Stone and Light”, and a gift shop.
Of the rock formations in the Badlands, early explorer Dr. John Evans once described them as “some magnificent city of the dead, where the labor and genius of forgotten nations had left behind them a multitude of monuments of art and skill”.
The South Dakota Badlands. Wow. For the Lakota the place was ‘mako sica’. Early French trappers called the area ‘les mauvaises terres a traverser’. “Bad Lands”.
Wall Drug Store is an icon of the South Dakota Badlands. The place is so big it comes with its own map! Albeit it was in the middle of nowhere, a young pharmacist and his wife purchased the business in 1931. When business was slow, his wife had the idea of offering free water and coffee to travelers on the nearby highway. Once she gave passersby something to stop for, their business took off. Now, almost 85 years later, the business is a bona fide tourist attraction.
Inside the world famous Wall Drug Store.
Stained glass above the entrance to Wall Drug Store. I love stained glass.
Mike and his dad spotted a few turkeys on their route to the fishing lake.
Some of downtown Rapid City’s skyline.
The four of us took a nice stroll through downtown before dinner at Delmonico Grille one evening. My father-in-law treated us to dinner and each of us enjoyed our selections immensely!
My favorite store in Rapid City. Several stories of art, jewelry, blankets, clothes, pottery, beads, furniture, and more.
Two beautiful historic buildings and the second mural at Firehouse Brewing Company.
Rapid City had a downtown alley where graffiti ruled.
We spotted an unlucky elk on the way home from dinner.
We got so lucky when we visited the South Dakota Air and Space Museum! The B1B Lancer was doing ‘touch-and-goes’. The Air Force Runway was very close to the museum building. It raced by us jetting into the sky so fast, it was almost impossible to get a good photograph. And loud. It was incredibly loud. The power of the whole machine at full throttle erupted through my core and I shuddered when it was nothing but a speck in the clouds.
B1B Lancer. Big. Loud. Fast. The wings sweep back for ‘cruise flight’. They also extend out for take offs and landings.
When Mike’s parents lived in Rapid City about 53 years ago, it was because W.D. was working on the Minute Man Missile project. He really got a kick out of being back to see about it all over again.
The four of us visited the South Dakota Air and Space Museum outside the gate of Ellsworth AFB, to the northeast of Rapid City. Admission was free! Mike and his Dad especially enjoyed this outing. The exhibits were very informative and they had several aircraft parked outside the museum for display.
The KOA where we stayed had a very nice pool and hot tub. Unfortunately we only got use it once. They drained it to prepare for winter about mid-way through our stay there.
Mikey gathers wood for the fire.
What is a camping trip without a campfire? And yes… we DID have s’mores for dessert.
An eagle that Mike spotted while fishing one morning.
Mike and his dad went fishing at a nearby lake one morning. They returned to camp to report there were no fish in the lake.
Rapid Creek runs through the middle of Rapid City. The city has created a wonderful walking trail that runs parallel to the creek. There are many relaxing green spaces all over the community.
There were two beautiful murals on the walls of an outside patio at Firehouse Brewing Company in downtown Rapid City. This one was the most vibrant.
Selfie on the rooftop.
We had a few extra days in Rapid City after Mike’s folks flew back to Dallas, so we went on a Friday evening pub crawl in downtown Rapid City. We found this rooftop bar at Que Pasa Mexican Cantina and decide to have dinner while we watched the big moon rise over the other rooftops in the Central Business District. We were surprised to find the Mexican food to be pretty good too! (Let’s just say I have never had an enchilada prepared in a flour tortilla, pan grilled and then served with no sauce… but it was pretty tasty)!
Rapid City has a Scandinavian Chapel in the Hills that is an exact replica of the Borgund Stavkirke built about 1150 and located near Laerdal, Norway. The Rapid City Chapel was built with the permission of and architectural drawings supplied by the Norwegian government. The intricate woodwork was carved by a master carver in Norway and shipped here. It was completed and opened in 1969, and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Its original purpose was as the home of the “Lutheran Vespers” radio program.
When the American Lutheran Church moved the radio program to Minneapolis in 1975, the building and grounds were left with no support, and its future was uncertain. A Non-Profit organization was established to protect the chapel. The Chapel in the Hills has no congregation and receives no funding from local, synod, or national church organizations. Funding for the operation comes exclusively from donations, wedding fees (wouldn’t THAT be a beautiful place for a wedding), and gift shop sales revenue.
I found the church and the surrounding gardens to be a beautiful and tranquil spot tucked into a quiet neighborhood. I’m glad I stopped by, but couldn’t linger too long because a wedding was scheduled for 1PM. I didn’t see the bride, but all the guys wore tuxes that had camo fabric on the lapels and cuffs of their suits! Their ‘look’ was quite the juxtaposition against this ancient and intricate backdrop!
I understand this is not a good photo (the iphone camera can only do so much), but we had a nice skyline view of Rapid City from our campground at night. Lots of lights twinkling off in the distance.
Rapid City is known as the City of Presidents. On each corner in their downtown sits a bronze statue of one of our U.S. Presidents. I thought it would be fun to find the statues of the presidents who were in office when we were born and take our pictures with them. Here I am with fellow Texan LBJ.
We found JFK, but Mike thought it was a stupid idea.