South Dakota for the First Time

Published: August 16th 2017
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After having a light breakfast from the limited offerings at the hotel buffet, we checked out to start the drive northward again. A small coffee shop, Scooters Coffee, with drive through service across the street from the hotel looked open so we stopped there first and then gassed up at the convenience store on the same corner. The highway out of Scottsbluff was almost deserted. Driving along, I felt like the road was built just for me.

We did encounter another one-lane construction zone with a pilot vehicle to lead the short string of cars and trucks safely through it. This time it took a little longer than it did yesterday to wait until it was safe to proceed. After that one spot though, the rest of the drive was easy. We saw lots of motorcycles on the road as we got closer and closer to Rapid City. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is this week, and they expect hundreds of thousands of bikers to attend. When this trip was still in the early planning stages, I was unaware of the timing or the size of the rally. After making about half of our hotel reservations, I finally decided to look up events taking place in the areas we were going through looking for something that might be interesting for us to attend while we are there. One of the events I came across was the motorcycle rally. With the trip already about half planned, we decided to go ahead with the route and schedule we had created knowing that the roads would surely be busier than usual.

This is the first time that Philip and I have been to South Dakota. We were on such a small road when we crossed the state line that we thought it had no “Welcome to South Dakota” sign. There was a State Line Casino, but we missed the state sign. Looking through the photos Philip took while I was driving, I did find one with the sign though. He got it with pure luck.

We planned on driving about four hours today up to Rapid City, but we stopped by to see Mount Rushmore on the way. It was pretty busy with all kinds of people visiting, but they were set up especially for the influx of bikers with two lanes at the gate marked off for them. Once we paid the discounted senior rate to park, we were directed in to park on the top level. That turned out to be ideal since the visitors’ center and viewing area are on that level, too. The monument is impressive and can be seen up fairly close at the center as well as from the highway nearby.

The usual rate for parking would have been ten dollars. We received the senior discount and were charged only five. I don’t know if the discount was because I showed my National Parks Senior Pass or if any senior would get it without the pass. Yesterday we used the pass for free admission at Scottsbluff National Monument and for a discount of one dollar off the usual three dollar price at Chimney Rock. The pass has paid for itself already.

It didn’t take very long to see all we wanted to at Mount Rushmore, and we left to drive to Rapid City and the supposedly haunted Hotel Alex Johnson for the night. It is one of Hilton’s Curio properties and the third one we have stayed at. Of those, we really liked one and didn’t like the other so we didn’t know what to expect here. So far it is fine. The services of the valet and desk clerk when we arrived were gracious and helpful. We decided to self-park, but the valet showed us that we could leave the car in front of the hotel while we checked in and took the luggage upstairs even though it was double parked in front of a row of motorcycles.

We decided to have an early dinner in the pub in the hotel, but didn’t have any luck there. Even though the pub was almost empty, we waited about ten minutes and no one offered us a greeting or a menu. The two waiters we saw were busy talking and laughing and not working. We decided to leave and try something else and found the Firehouse Brewing Co. around the corner from the hotel. It was a good choice with quick, friendly service and tasty food and drink.

After dinner, we came back to the hotel so Philip could get some teaching done. Around sunset we went outside for a walk around town then went upstairs to try the other restaurant on the property, the Vertex Sky Bar and Restaurant. We sat outside on the roof enjoying a drink as the sun disappeared and the lights of the city came on. There are multiple fire pits on the roof that the waiter lit when the air became a bit chilly. It was quite pleasant sitting outside tonight.

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