Touring In and Around Rapid City, SD

September 5, 2020

We had problems trying to find a place to stay over the Labor Day Weekend. Originally we were to visit Pierre, SD during that period but every and I mean every place to lay our heads was booked solid. OK now going to Plan B- we’ll just stay here at Custer’s Gulch Campground! So sorry, we’re booked…..drats!

Alrighty then, on to Plan C- find any place where we could possibly spend four days and still have some fun. Happy Holiday RV Park just south of Rapid City (75,400 souls) has room for us, we’ve heard there’s a lot to see and do in that city, so that’s where we are.

Every once in a while everyone suffers from a little absentmindedness. Lessons learned today. Lesson 1) do not turn on the kitchen faucet with the stoppers in the sink and walk away. Lesson 2) The clothes drier is not the clothes washer! Do not put dirty clothes in the drier and add liquid detergent! All came out well, the sink did not overflow all over the floor and the clothes were placed in the washer and the drier wiped out. No biggie!

A little smokey looking down towards downtown Rapid City from Dinosaur Park

Excerpt from Wikipedia; Rapid City (Lakota: Mni Lúzahaŋ Otȟúŋwahe;[7] “Swift Water City”) is the second most populous city in South Dakota and the county seat of Pennington County.[8] Named after Rapid Creek, where the settlement developed, it is in the western part of the state, located on the eastern slope of the Black Hills mountain range. The population was 67,956 souls as of the 2010 census.

Known as the “Gateway to the Black Hills” due to its location and the “City of Presidents” because of the life-size bronze president statues located downtown, Rapid City is split by a low mountain ridge that divides the western and eastern parts of the city. Ellsworth Air Force Base is located on the outskirts of the city. Camp Rapid, a part of the South Dakota Army National Guard, is located in the western part of the city.

Rapid City is home to such popular attractions as Art Alley, Dinosaur Park, the City of Presidents walking tour, Chapel in the Hills, Storybook Island, Main Street Square, and more. The historic “Old West” town of Deadwood is nearby. In the neighboring Black Hills are the tourist attractions of Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse MemorialCuster State ParkWind Cave National ParkJewel Cave National Monument, the museum at the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, and to the east of the city is Badlands National Park.

The public discovery of gold in 1874 by the Black Hills Expedition, led by George Armstrong Custer, brought a mass influx of European-American miners and eventual settlers into this region of the Dakota Territory. Rapid City was founded in 1876 by a group of unsuccessful miners trying to create other chances; they promoted their new city as the “Gateway to the Black Hills”; it was originally known as “Hay Camp.” In February 1876 John Richard Brennan and Samuel Scott, with a small group of men, laid out the site of the present Rapid City. It was eventually named for the spring-fed Rapid Creek that flows through it.

The city’s location on the edge of the Plains and Hills and its large river valley made it a natural hub for the railroads that were constructed in the late 1880s from both the south and east. By 1900, Rapid City had survived a boom and bust and was developing as an important regional trade center for the upper Midwest. (end Wikipedia)

Construction of Mt. Rushmore began in 1927. In 1930, the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce sent a letter inviting Al Capone to live in the Black Hills. South Dakota’s governor did not support the idea, and Capone declined the offer. In the 1940’s the Rapid City Army Air Base, now Ellsworth Air force Base opened, greatly benefiting the city and the population exploded from 14,000 to neary 27,000 souls.

During the Cold War the government constructed missile installations in the area. Nike Air Defense sites were built around Ellsworth AFB in the 1950’s, then three Titan Missle launch sites containing a total of nine Titan 1 missiles were built in the general vicinity in the early ’60’s. In late 1963 the land for 100 miles on three sides of Rapid City was dotted with the construction of 150 Minuteman Missile silos and 15 launch command centers. All were deactivated in the early 1990’s.

More Wiki: Following the worst natural disaster in South Dakota history, the Black Hills Flood of 1972, a building boom took place over the following decade to replace damaged structures. On June 9, 1972, heavy rains caused massive flash flooding along the course of Rapid Creek through the city. The toll- 238 people dead, 3057 injured including 118 hospitalized, 770 homes and 565 mobile homes destroyed, 2035 home and 785 mobile homes damaged, 36 businesses destroyed and 236 damaged, 5000 vehicles destroyed. The financial loss was $165 million. Debris along Rapid Creek after 1972 flood. Ya would think that since the Lakota named the place Swift Water City the White Eyes might take notice………….

In response to the devastation the city received an outpouring of private donations and millions of dollars of federal aide. It was able complete a part of its 1949 master plan by clearing the area around the creek and making the floodplain a park. Homes were rebuilt and Rushmore Plaza Civic Center as well as a new high school were constructed.

More Wiki: In 1980 in United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Federal government of the United States had illegally stolen the Black Hills from the Sioux people when the government unilaterally broke the treaty that guaranteed the Black Hills belonged to the Sioux. As a result of this ruling, the federal government offered a financial settlement, but the Lakota Sioux declined on principle: that the theft of their land should not be validated. They still demand the return of the land. The settlement funds accrue interest.[12] This land includes Rapid City, which is by far the largest modern settlement in the Black Hills. As of 2019, the dispute has not been settled.

In the 1980s, tourism increased again, as the city hosted the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Places of interest include Dinosaur Park, Hart Ranch, Reptile Gardens, Bear Country USA, Storybook Island, Watiki Waterpark, as well as Canyon Lake Park and the Berlin Wall in Memorial Park. Rapid City is just a short drive to Custer, Custer State Park, Mt. Rushmore, Hill City and numerous lakes that provide water sports, fishing and swimming to boot! Today, Rapid City is South Dakota’s primary city for tourism and recreation. Oh, I forgot to mention Badlands National Park and the infamous Wall Drug Store, located about an hour south of town. Geez, there’s just so much to see and do here…..

The 1880 Train

We took a ride to Hill City (948 souls). We had passed through the town on our way to Rapid City and it’s downtown looked interesting. The town, established in 1876, is the oldest existing city in Pennington County. As mining waned tourism and timber became increasingly important industries. Now a tourist attraction, the 1880 Train carries passengers from Hill City to Keystone on the old Central Line.

From Hill City we completed the loop driving Highway 385 and 44, stopping at two lakes- Sheridan, then Pactola. It’s 9:30 in the morning and both already have a lot of people set up to enjoy this Saturday of Labor Day Weekend. Sheridan Lake had a really nice picnic area on its south shore. Pactola was packed (pun intended) with power boats and pontoon boats, and families with a lot of small children.

We’ve seen more than a few banners, flags and shops in Wyoming and now South Dakota promoting a candidate for the Presidency of the United States. I thought I’d share a couple of photos with y’all so you can ponder which candidate might be most preferred in these two Plains states.

Tomorrow is Labor Day and Get Away Day. We are heading east, weather permitting. Rain in the lower elevations, snow in the upper and the temps are going to drop 50 degrees. Yikes!

Today is Sunday so I’d like to share this cross located on a hill overlooking Canyon Lake Park

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