When you consider America’s most iconic landscapes, the names Mount Rushmore and Badlands are certain to be among them. Yet when you disclose that you’re taking a trip to South Dakota, many of your geographically-challenged friends give you a puzzled looks. In spite of its many treasures, South Dakota maintains a humble simplicity (with one exception being a small town called Wall). From hikes, to monuments, to roadside oddities… South Dakota has everything that makes a great road trip!
After a long drive into Rapid City there was one important order of business that needed to be taken care of… BEER! So, I rounded up my local pal Dan, and in great haste made it to Downtown Rapid City. We settled on a cavernous Main Street pub (with an equally gigantic patio) called Thirsty’s (819 W Main St.). There was no question that I would try the Dakota Buffalo Burger, which was made with locally raised buffalo. I also wanted to try a local beer, however I was disappointed to find there wasn’t any local microbrew selections on the menu. Despite this hurdle, Thirsty’s does offer a wide selection of regional brews, so I settled for the Colorado-based Tommyknocker Maple Nut Brown Ale. The food was great, and the atmosphere at Thirsty’s was festive. During our meal, the patio became swarmed with men all wearing red dresses. This was a sight that I became very used to during my years in San Francisco, but not what I expected in Rapid City. We learned the group was a local running club, and there was speculation that the event may have been for charity. Nevertheless, the show sparked great debate on who-wore-it-best.
Dan insisted on a brief after-dinner walking tour of Downtown Rapid City. I was glad that he did! For an American history buff, I was excited to learn that Rapid City exhibits bronze statues of each former US President at different intersections throughout their downtown. A map of statue locations can be found at downtownrapidcity.com
. After snapping a few photos with some of my favorites – like Bill, Jimmy, and Dwight, I moved on to the shopping. Dakota’s Best
(818 W Main St.
) only sells South Dakota made items, including more items made out of buffalo than you could ever imagine. If you want to explore Native American culture, Prairie Edge
(606 Main St.) may be your best bet. Visiting this store reminded me of my trips to Chinatown back in San Francisco. There were so many interesting items for sale, but I had little knowledge of what to do with the merchandise. Nevertheless, it was an interesting cultural experience which became a reward in itself.
Before the sun started to set, we headed south to Mystery Mountain Campground (13752 US Hwy. 16) to camp for the night. Now, I’m not one to typically choose a private campground, but I have to tell you… this place rocks! Mystery Mountain offers all types of camping for all types of people. We were primitive campers, but the campground offers sites for trailers, and even cabin sites. All of the sites are covered by a pine forest, and are equipped with a concrete fire pit. Mystery Mountain also has a pool, hot tub, extremely nice bathroom and shower facilities, a basketball court, and horseshoe pits. It’s not exactly roughing-it, but you still get the experience of sitting around a campfire and telling stories with your friends. At the end of the day, that’s truly what camping is all about for me.