Rapid City lies west of the Missouri River at the heart of a landscape of prairies, pine forests, and desolate, rocky outcroppings. South Dakota’s second-largest city is a great place from which to explore the well-known Black Hills. Founded only two years after the gold boom in the Black Hills, Rapid City is a boomtown that has truly made a name for itself.
This land was once dominated by the proud and mighty Sioux nation. Today, there are nine Native American reservations in South Dakota. The Sioux influence in Rapid City can be seen in the shops and museums that display and sell Native American art and artifacts.
The vast Black Hills National forest covers 1.3 million acres on the state’s western edge. Known for its magnificent forests, mountain scenery and ghost towns, the region is home to the natural splendors of bison, deer, coyotes, elk, mountain goats, and big horn sheep. It is among these hills that sculptor Gutzon Borglum labored for more than 14 years sculpting the granite cliff which displays the faces of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt are carved. Also, in the Black Hills region the largest sculpture in the world, the Crazy Horse Memorial, is being created. When finished, it will depict the Dakota warrior who defeated General Custer at Little Bighorn.
The Black Hills were the backdrop for the Academy Award-winning film “Dances With Wolves.” Formal gardens, at Halley Park, Sioux Park, Memorial Park and on Canyon Lake Drive, are all places in which to relax and gain a new perspective on the majesty and beauty of the West.
Black Hills gold is sold to tourists at countless roadside jewelry shops and factory outlets, while mines continue to produce millions of dollars worth of it every year. Several historic mines offer tours.
One popular tour is found in the mile-high town of Lead at the Black Hills Mining Museum. The tour winds through re-created mining tunnels lined with figures posed to display old-fashioned and modern mining equipment. The museum is on Lead’s narrow Main Street, which is bordered by neatly restored early 20th-century commercial buildings. Even more authentic, however, is the carefully restored gambling mecca of Deadwood, just three miles away.
Set in a narrow valley, the entire town of Deadwood is one large historic district with a Victorian-era Main Street anchored at one end by the landmark Franklin Hotel. The hotel’s white-columned portico along with Main Street’s ornate cast-iron lamps and renovated storefronts make it easy to picture what life in the Black Hills was like in the early 1900s.
The transformation came not too many years ago when hard economic times reduced funds for historic preservation and Deadwood was in danger of a serious decline. The turnaround began in 1989 when casino gaming in Deadwood was legalized. Today a portion of every dollar made from gambling goes toward preserving Deadwood’s architectural heritage, resulting in its current well-kept and historically accurate appearance.
The casino restaurants offer a wide variety of excellent cuisine. Steaks are featured, beef as well as bison. There is also locally caught trout and pheasant on many menus.
All in all, Rapid City’s heartland hospitality amid a backdrop of some of the most attractive scenery in America, makes Rapid City a sure bet for a memorable trip.