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Summer Vacation Rapid City, South Dakota

Updated on September 16, 2012

Vacation Destination: South Dakota

Each summer, the kids and I hit the road as soon as possible. We've been all over the western states, including a wonderful trip down the Pacific Coast in 2011. I wasn't sure how to top this amazing vacation, but with gas prices so dauntingly high, I decided to take a vacation closer to home. As we live in Montana, South Dakota is pretty "close to home." My youngest daughter had never been to Mount Rushmore, so it was an exciting destination especially for her.

I loaded up my Blazer, my daughters (age 27 and 9!) plus my faithful Labrador, and off we drove. From my corner of Montana (NE) we drove to Glendive, MT and hit the Interstate until Belfield, ND....turned south and followed Highway 85 (two-lane) the rest of the way. The thing about driving on two-lane highways is that you slow down for each town, seeing things you'd never see on the Interstate as you fly by the exits.

In one such town, which touted their fame as being the "smallest county seat in the nation" we noticed the speed limit was pretty slow, despite the tiny size of the town. I slowed down....pretty close to the speed, then was startled to see a "cop car" parked in the shade of a tree, the policeman pointing his radar right at us! After a second look, we realized it wasn't a real cop -- it was a stuffed "dummy" sitting in an old police car, scaring the daylights out of anyone venturing through the sleepy town! On the way home, we stopped there and took pictures of it...and me having a "conversation" with the dummy! On those off-interstate roads, we entertain ourselves with quirky events just like that. :)

The temperatures this summer hovered near 100 for weeks at a time, and this four-day vacation to South Dakota was no exception. Having a dog in the car, we had to be sure we went to places where dogs were welcome. Not so many of those, actually, but we managed. When we arrived in Rapid City, the first thing we did was go downtown to find my son who was performing at the Hotel Alex Johnson, their featured singer-songwriter, Eden Parker. He called us to be sure we enjoyed the downtown SummerFest activities which occur every Thursday night. We walked around and enjoyed the vendors, people-watching, historic buildings (the Alex Johnson Hotel - the highest building there -- definitely one of those historic -- and also haunted--buildings that was very cool to see). We listened to an absolutely fantastic band doing cover-songs that had the whole downtown rockin'! We also loved seeing the Presidential life-size statues all over downtown. Some of those Presidents weren't very tall....!

After meeting with my son during a break in his show, we made our way to the KOA in Rapid City and set up our tents. We stayed there three nights and met so many interesting people. This is the only kind of camping I do! I need my shower, I like having a pool -- and this one had all-you-can-eat pancakes every morning with such friendly staff greeting us like old friends when we arrived for breakfast. The best place to meet new friends is in the restroom, as we all put on our makeup, curl our hair, wash faces, brush teeth, etc. Same with the evening, as we trundle down to the restroom in our pajamas, to wash OFF the makeup, and go through the whole nighttime routine. We met two beautiful girls from Denmark who gave us a pass for Mount Rushmore that they didn't need anymore. (Saved me $11). At the pool, I met a mom from France, whose daughter was sweet and friendly to mine. We saw each other every day, and everytime she saw me, she said jokingly, "You again!" We never introduced ourselves by name....just by where we came from. Walking our dog every morning, we said good morning to tenters with Harleys, RV's, and campers. Camping is a friendly experience, and we love the comradery with the people we meet from all over the U.S. and the world.

Mount Rushmore was everything my daughter hoped it would be. We walked down under the carvings, stopped at a teepee and asked questions of the Rangers. It was there that I was attacked by an angry butterfly! Monarch, that is! My kids still tease me about it....but, hey....I heard this clicking sound and looked up and there was this huge butterfly and he swooped straight at my face. I shrieked (which echoed, by the way). The rangers and my kids looked at me in astonishment, realizing it was just a butterfly. However, the next day...another Monarch swooped at me, too! Am I so sweet they thought I was a flower? It was pretty funny and I had to laugh at myself, too! :D

We enjoyed Keystone, which is a little town next to Mount Rushmore. My son and his little sister had an adventure on the Keystone "Rushmore Tram and Alpine Slide." They rode a chairlift to the top of the mountain, then mounted slides and slid down on a long slide all the way from the top. Exciting and a memorable adventure for my little 9-year-old shy girl. I bought her a T-shirt that said "I Survived Rushmore Tram and Alpine Slide" in hot pink! We strolled down the historic town, bought homemade ice cream in one vintage shop, and pulled taffy in another. After our snack, we drove through the town and found a rock-shop....with huge containers of rocks from all over the world. We found just the size we wanted (and cheap, too).... my youngest daughter found a Zebra-rock from matches her cute Zebra shirt. Walking back to the Blazer with our finds, a car pulled up to us and asked in an accent (Russian?) for directions to a nearby gold mine tour. I told them which way to turn, watched as they took a U-turn and made it to the correct turn-off. I love meeting new people, listening to the different languages, and the friendly feeling of helping another tourist.

The next day (still over 100) we tried to find somewhere our faithful dog could go and not be so hot. So we went to Bear Country USA., a drive-through game reserve, full of bears and many other wildlife. It was awesome! Our dog, Mya, was alert and curious, making many nose prints on our closed windows, watching the dozens and dozens of bears, the wolves, the elk, and the otherwildlife we enjoyed seeing. They were all so hot, most of them lying in the shade of the expansive refuge. Cattle-guards and fences kept the different species apart. Bears ambled around, some looking curiously as us through the windows. One of them sat down in front of a car, holding up about 15 cars. He seemed to have no intention of moving, sitting on his haunches lazily. Finally, he got up and walked on. But no complaints -- that's why we were all see the bears!

After the last gate, "Babyland" was open for all of us. No dogs, however. So my older daughter and I took turns sitting on the shady porch with the dog. My youngest daughter got to go twice, to look at the "babies." All different species - badgers, coyotes, wolves, skunks, and of course lots and lots of baby bears (3 months or more). One little boy threw (or dropped) his shoe in the baby bear area. The lady Ranger went into retrieve it and the baby bears rushed over to her, happily. She entertianed the crowd as she hugged the little bears, then took one or two and swung them by their paws (much to their delight) and tossed them into the pond for a cool dip. They ran back to her for her to do it again and again. Photo ops galore!

On the way back to Montana, we drove through Deadwood and spent a few hours there. Our dog was in a nice cool covered parking garage (with fresh water, of course) and slept while we toured the town. We ate lunch at a hotel brought to fame by the HBO series "Deadwood", The Chrystal Palace, after walking around on an upper floor studying the photographs of the local well-known characters of Deadwood's past. Poker Alice, with her wrinkled, tough scowl, a cigar hanging out of her mouth -- Wildbill Hickock and Calamity Jane of course, and so many more. My oldest daughter teased her little sister about insulting Poker Alice and calling her ugly....that it would make her mad...and this was a haunted town. Lots of hysterical giggling and a few goose bumps, too!

We sauntered around the town, visiting with the Burlesque girls outside yet another historic venue. A gray-bearded banjo player wearing a hat that has seen better days, entertained us with his wit and his amazing music. We gathered with the crowd as they were about to re-enact the murder of Wild Bill Hickock, but my youngest daughter had no interest in seeing someone get shot. Years ago, my older kids and I did watch it, and then got Wild Bill's autograph after the show. So, we left the crowd, and went our own way. We stopped in the Bannack Hotel and listened while the lady behind the desk told us of instances where she was tapped on the shoulder by the legendary ghost who haunted the hotel. More goosebumps! We wished we could stay another day there, as it felt we just didn't have enough time in Deadwood. Maybe next time, maybe we can stay in the Bannack and see if the ghost taps US on the shoulder or brushes past in a cool rush of air. :)

We made it home in about 8 hours. A wonderful vacation, close to home, within our budget. Great memories and stories to tell for years to come.

The Lady Ranger with the baby bears.
The Lady Ranger with the baby bears.
Photo op in Keystone. :)
Photo op in Keystone. :)
My daughter and her big brother perched on a rock on our Mount Rushmore hike.
My daughter and her big brother perched on a rock on our Mount Rushmore hike.
Burlesque girls in Deadwood and my daughters.
Burlesque girls in Deadwood and my daughters.
Having a chat with the "dummy" cop! Lol
Having a chat with the "dummy" cop! Lol


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