Rapid City is a city with a population of close to 70,000. It's located in the western part of the state not far from the Wyoming border. There are a lot of attractions within a 50 mile radius of this small city. First of all, there is the South Dakota Air & Space Museum which is located adjacent to Ellsworth Air Force Base. This facility is located a few miles to the northeast of the city. This museum has over two dozen aircraft sitting outside and they date from the second world war through the cold war era. There are additional exhibits inside along with a gift shop.
The small town of Wall is located about fifty miles east of Rapid City on Interstate 90. It is best known for the famous Wall Drug. This place has an interesting history and was started in 1931 at the beginning of the Great Depression. It was founded by Pharmacist Ted Hustead and his wife. Through hard work and perseverance, the Husteads built their store into the place that it is today. It covers a huge section of downtown Wall and is actually a collection of stores. It is the predecessor of WalMart
and the other super sized stores that one is used to today. Together with the other businesses of Wall, this place has made the downtown section a colorful and vibrant tourist attraction.
The Wounded Knee Museum is also located in Wall and is over a hundred miles from the actual site of the Wounded Knee Massacre. This event took place in 1890 during which U.S. Army troops massacred a large number of Lakota Indians, many of them women and children. For those interested in history, this is a great place to spend a couple of hours because there is a lot here to digest. It covers the history of American Indians from the time the Europeans came to the Americas through to the present. Many of the items and the photos in the museum are from the late nineteenth century. The soft music playing in the background at the museum lends a touch of serenity to the visit.
Just a few miles south of Wall is the entrance to Badlands National Park. The drive through the park on Badlands Loop Road is about 20 miles or so. There are many places in which to pull over and enjoy
the rugged scenery and take photos. This place obtained its name centuries ago from the explorers who found the terrain to be rough in which to travel. Visit the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and enjoy a short film which explains the history of the Badlands. There are also exhibits in the center and the park rangers there conduct short educational tours during the day.
About 50 miles south of Rapid City is located the Mammoth Site. This is an enclosed site where the excavation of various types of mammoths takes place. Other animals such as the pygmy elephant and short faced bear have been excavated here. There is a guided tour and, following that, the visitor is free to browse and look at the exhibits and take photos. It is an educational place to visit.
North of the Mammoth Site is Custer State Park. We entered from the southwest and drove along the scenic route which curves over to the northeast. We saw various types of animals from our car such as prairie dogs and deer. However, at one point we encountered several burros and stopped the car in order to take some photos. The likable animals were
looking for something to eat and would poke their heads inside the cars looking for food. After leaving these friendly creatures, we continued driving and came upon a heard over over a hundred bison. Cars were pulling over and people were getting out in order to snap photos so we did likewise. These huge creatures were in the intersection blocking traffic.
Another day we drove south to Mount Rushmore to view that attraction. The visitor center has a film and there is an interesting exhibit on the background of this national monument. It was built over a period of time and explosives were used. This was back during the Depression and the job was quite dangerous. The exhibit has some of the machinery that was used in the project. Just 15 miles from there is located the Crazy Horse Memorial. This project has been going on for several decades and will take some more time to finish. The visitor center is quite extensive. It contains exhibits relating to native Americans and covers more than one building. There is even a restaurant and snack bar as well as a building where Indian artwork and handicrafts are located.
USA serves as the unofficial zoo for Rapid City. It is located just a few miles south of the city but north of Mount Rushmore. One can drive through the place where black bears and wolves roam free. A person has to slow down and stop his car in order to let the bears cross the road. At the end of the drive is another area which has a number of animals in a zoo like area. A grizzly bear is included with these animals.
Reptile Gardens is located close to Bear Country USA on the same highway. This place has a variety of animals which includes birds, snakes, alligators, crocodiles, giant tortoises, komodo dragons, and others. One of the attractions is a crocodile from Australia named Maniac which weighs well over a thousand pounds. We enjoyed the alligator/crocodile show in which the attendant was in an enclosure with over two dozen of these creatures. He fed them, picked them up by their tails, and sat on them with his hands over their mouths. Prior to that, in another section, he gave a talk on snakes and displayed all types of them including a cobra and a rattlesnake. There
was also a bird show. This attraction has a large gift shop and restaurant.
The 1880 Steam Train runs from Hill City to Keystone and back and the round trip takes about two hours. It is a pleasant ride and there is some nice scenery along the way. An employee comes through the train selling snacks and cold drinks to the passengers. After making this ride we drove over to Keystone and toured the Big Thunder gold mine. The tour guide takes the visitors several hundred yards into an actual mine and explains the history of the place. The mine is narrow, wet, and damp and tall people have to bend over in parts of it in order to pass through. Towards the end of the tour you are taken into another room which contains a lot of mining equipment and the tour guide explains the use of all of this machinery.
The Journey Museum in Rapid City is a museum which covers the history of the area. It is basically a walk through time and covers the age of the dinosaurs, mammoths, and early people. There are a lot of exhibits and things to view. Then it
shifts to the coming of the Europeans and the conflicts associated with the differences in cultures. This was an extremely interesting and educational place to visit.
Deadwood is less than an hour's drive from Rapid City and there are several interesting attractions in that area. The cemetery, Mt. Moriah, is a tourist attraction because Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are both buried there. Adams House & Museum are located several blocks apart and are both worth visiting. The historic Adams House was built in 1892 by Harris and Anna Franklin who immigrated there from Eastern Europe. This elegant Queen Anne-style house heralded a wealthy and socially prominent new age for Deadwood which had been a former rough and tumble gold mining town. In 1905, the Franklins sold the house to their son Nathan. In 1920 Nathan sold the place to W.E. and Alice Adams. Adams' wife passed away and he remarried. Two years after Adams' death, his second wife, Mary, closed up the house in 1936 and left the contents and furnishings intact. In 1987 she sold the mansion to a couple who renovated it and operated the house as a bed and breakfast. In 1992 they sold
the home to the City of Deadwood's Historic Preservation Commission. In 2000 the house opened to the public as a museum. Tours are conducted hourly throughout the week. Mr. Adams funded the museum before his death. It consists of three floors and has quite a few exhibits depicting Deadwood in the times in which he lived.
The Black Hills Mining Museum is located in the small picturesque town of Lead which is located a few miles from Deadwood. It has a small locomotive sitting outside of the museum along with some mining equipment. The inside of the museum is quite extensive and has a lot of exhibits dating back to the nineteenth century. Tours of the mine are conducted throughout the day. This is a very good mining museum and is well worth a visit.
The Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary is located about fifteen miles from Deadwood in the town of Spearfish. This sanctuary takes in mistreated and abused animals, many from private owners, and allows them to live out their lives in peace and solitude. It contains lions, tigers, mountain lions, and other large cats. There are also emus, wolves, and bison. There is a
room filled with small cats and, next to that, an area filled with dogs. The dogs are being held by the sanctuary for personnel in the military who have been transferred overseas and have no place to leave them. Tours are conducted in the morning at certain hours and each tour lasts about ninety minutes.
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