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Trip Report South Dakota Trip Report - Black Hills, Badlands and Devil's Tower WY

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I just returned from a four day visit to South Dakota. This was a solo trip.

June 14 – Nonstop flight into Rapid City was uneventful. I rented a car from Alamo, a Nissan Altima for $145 and it suited me just fine.

I headed to Keystone, stopping in at cute little shop called House of Scandinavia en route. This store is full of imported items from Norway, Sweden and Finland. I didn’t buy anything, but it was fun to check out the inventory.

I arrived in Keystone at lunch time. I parked the car in the city lot and walked down the main drag. I chose to grab a bite at Teddy’s Deli. It was very good and I recommend it as an easy place to have a quick meal ($5 for a grilled cheese with chips).

I was eager to do the alpine slide ($10), so that was the next item on my agenda after window shopping near the deli.

The ski lift up to the top where the slide began was very pleasant. At the top, there are nice views of the area and some pleasant gardens.

The slide down was really fun. If it were cheaper, I’d probably go on it over and over again all afternoon.

After completing my ride, I moved on to Mt. Rushmore. It was so cool when I first got a glimpse of the carvings. Mt. Rushmore has always been on my list of things to see, and I was not disappointed.

$11 gets you into the parking structure. I recommend parking in the covered part of the garage to keep your car cooler.

I took lots of pictures of the carvings before proceeding on the presidential trail. This is a very nice walk and great exercise as well with all the stairs. I confess to huffing and puffing for the ascending flight from the sculptor’s studio. It was a very warm day and I was dressed in black shirt and jeans and was quite hot.

A naturalization ceremony was going on while I was there. What a fantastic place for such an event!

I relaxed in the viewing terrace area and then decided to head to Hill City where I’d be staying for three nights.

I stopped in Krull’s market to pick up bottled water for the weekend. This appears to be the only grocery store in town.

I stayed at the Super 8 on Main Street. This is a hotel in desperate need of investment in things such as new mattresses, pillows and linens. The bed was low to the ground, very old and sagging. The box spring was stained. Stuffing was coming out of one of my pillows. The bedspread was old and worn thin.

The hotel allows smoking, so you can smell cigarettes throughout the hotel. They also have an indoor pool and at the times the chlorine smell was overpowering.

I chose the hotel based on price. I had tried to get a better hotel through Priceline, but had no luck. I’m a budget traveler, so Super 8 was the best I could do. I didn’t get quality sleep for my three nights at this hotel due to the crummy mattress.

Enough complaining about the hotel. After freshening up, I hit the road again, and decided to go to Sylvan Lake and the Needles Highway. The lake is very pretty. There were a couple of people kayaking and others playing in the water.

I hiked around the lake. I took the ravine behind the rocks for a more challenging route. From every angle, the lake shimmered and was very appealing.

Onward to the Needles Highway. This is a beautiful drive and a must do. The single lane tunnels are really cool and the photo opportunities are numerous. It wasn’t super busy, which is good because of the cars that I did encounter on the narrow roads, they often hogged the road and nearly ran me off the road.

At one of the photo stops, I encountered an adorable chipmunk. There are quite a lot in the area and this was to be the first of many.

Upon completion of the Needles Highway, I returned to Hill City, driving by Crazy Horse. I took a few photos with the zoom of my camera, but I didn’t feel inclined to actually enter the property with paid admission.

It was dinner time by the time I returned to my hotel. I parked the car and walked one block down to the Alpine Inn. This place had been mentioned in every travel guide I read and is well know for the filet mignon dinners. It was crazy there, with tons of large parties waiting to be seated. My wait wasn’t as bad I expected, about 30 minutes. The restaurant has wi-fi, so I entertained myself playing games on my I pod.

After all the hype about this place, I was in for disappointment. My steak was lukewarm and tough. The baked potato was microwaved. The only good thing was the dessert. My brownie a la mode was enjoyable. I’d say skip the dinner and just go for dessert. At lunch time, they have a different menu, so maybe they do better there.

I walked along Main Street checking out the shops before calling it a day.

June 15 – Up bright and early! Breakfast is served starting at 6:30 am, so I was there as soon as the door was opened. Choices were cereal, donuts, English muffins and toast along with juices and coffee. My normal breakfast is orange juice and an English muffin, so I was perfectly fine with this selection.

I was on the road by 7 am and the weather was cool and beautiful. First on the agenda was to drive the Iron Mountain Road. I loved this drive even more than the Needles Highway. Given the early hour, it was less busy than the drive the previous day. The tunnels and bridges were really fun.

En route, I saw three mountain goats along the roadway, near Rushmore and was thrilled. One of the three was an adorable baby and I was able to get plenty of pictures of them up close. They were not worried about me and continued snacking while I played paparazzi.

After completing Iron Mountain, I moved on to the Wildlife Loop. The bison were all snoozing near the beginning of the loop near a trailer or camping compound. Much to my disappointment, the “begging burros” were nowhere to be seen during my drive on the loop. I only saw one lonely donkey. When I asked at the wildlife visitor’s center, they speculated the “Jenny” that I saw had left the herd to find a place to die alone as she is very old. How sad is that!?

I did see some wild turkeys, including a brood of babies following their mother across the road. Prairie dogs were aplenty and very amusing with their squeaky voices, wagging tails and curious natures.

After the loop, I headed back to Keystone. I wanted to ride the alpine slide again. I had a burger at the snack shack at the top of the hill. It was very good!

It was busier at the slide this day. The person ahead of me was a young girl who was clearly afraid. Parents: please, if your child is not a daredevil, don’t send them down the fast lane. I told the attendant I wanted to go fast and for him not to send me until she was far enough ahead. Well, wouldn’t you know, halfway down the slide I caught up with her. She was at a crawl and I had to come to a stop and then go at a snail’s pace for the remainder of the ride.

I went into the shop and politely mentioned this to the attendant and she kindly gave me another ticket to do it again. This time, I monitored the track closely and waited until there was a lull before taking my turn. I was not going to take the attendant’s word that it was ok. Hooray, I was able to go fast and had a ball!

I decided to go back to Rushmore to do the presidential trail again since it had been such good exercise the day before. I figured I needed to burn off that burger!

Clouds started coming in out of nowhere and there were warnings of a severe storm heading this way. After completing the trail and visiting the gift shop, I made my way back to my hotel. Fairly heavy rain started about 30 minutes after I got in. I was tired anyways, so it was good downtime.

When there was a break in the weather, I headed next door for dinner at the Slate Creek Grille. The food was horrible! I get really annoyed when I spend good money on crummy food. The chicken had a lot of gristle and was slippery. Yuck! I treated myself to a piece of chocolate at Turtle Town as consolation and called it a night.

June 16 – Up early again. I ate my quick breakfast and was on the road by 7 am, this time heading to Devil’s Tower, WY.

En route, I stopped in Deadwood to visit Mt. Moriah cemetery and see the graves of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane. This graveyard is very pretty, situated on a hill above the town. There’s a nice lookout point where good views of the town below are to be had. I also drove up the Main Street to admire the old buildings. Deadwood is definitely the neatest town in the area.

I saw several lakes throughout my drives, but the prettiest by far was Pactola.

I then proceeded through Spearfish Canyon, a scenic byway. It’s quite beautiful. At the Latchstring Inn, I parked the car and took the short hike to Spearfish Falls. It’s worth the walk because the falls are impressive.

Bridal Veil Falls, further along the route, was not very impressive. The water flow was very weak in comparison to the other falls.

Once on Interstate 90 heading west to Wyoming, it’s a little monotonous. It seemed like I would never reach my destination. The drive is pretty, but it just seemed long, probably because I was by myself. Finally, I could see the tower in distance, yea! Once there, I found it to be a very busy place.

It is an impressive sight. I walked the tower trail, more good exercise, and enjoyed seeing people climbing the walls of the tower. I don’t know how these folks do it. It looks so scary!

Knowing I had a long drive back, once I had my fill, I hit the freeway. It seemed like a forever drive.

I was quite tired from all the driving, so I decided to get dinner to go. The pizza at the Silver Dollar Saloon had been recommended to me, so I placed an order over the phone and went to pick it up. Well, I guess this is a place patronized mostly by locals, because when I walked in, everyone had to stare at me, particularly some really older men at the bar. It was rather uncomfortable and I’m glad I was just in there for a few minutes. I settled in at the hotel and found the pizza to be piping hot and very tasty.

June 17 – Last day. Yet again, I was up early, this time out the door by 6:45. My destination was to be the Badlands. I went via SD 44. It seemed like forever! Finally I got there. It’s an interesting place. I hiked the cliff shelf trail, window trail, door trail and the notch trail. The ladder on the notch trail was a little strange. It started too soon, when you could just walk right up on the ground. Further up, one has to climb it like a ladder. As you near the top, it kind of bounces around. I was really impressed with one gentleman who didn’t use his hands until the last two rungs. I don’t know how he did it. The rungs seem too far apart and that was no small achievement.

I was nervous when it was time to go down, but once on the ladder, it was fine. It’s a mental thing when looking down before starting.

There are signs warning of rattlesnakes, but alas, I didn’t see any. I was hoping to see one (not within striking range of course).

I completed the Badlands loop and made my way to Wall Drug. What a fun madhouse! I call it the Harrod’s of the West, based on the sheer volume of stuff crammed in, so many different rooms, and the volume of tourists.

I had to try one of the donuts and I confirmed what others have said, that they are delicious. With strong resolve, I only had one, even though I could have probably eaten three. I have a real sweet tooth.

I meandered through all the rooms, eventually encountering a fudge shop. I purchased some, which I ate that evening. It was fresh and delicious (which can’t be said for most fudge shops). I think they sell so much; it never gets a chance to go stale.

My favorite thing here was climbing atop the jackalope. I hate bothering people to take my picture when I travel alone, usually I just set my timer, but this was a shot where I had to depend on the kindness of a stranger. The photo amuses me immensely and makes me happy to look at it as it’s so silly.

The drive to Rapid City for my final night was easy and uneventful. I stayed at yes, another Super 8, this one on LaCrosse Street. It was much better than the Hill City location. The most important thing was the bed, which I was pleased to see encased in mattress protectors and it was much more comfortable.

After a short rest, I headed downtown. I walked up and down Main Street and a couple of the other streets. It’s a pleasant destination for just puttering around and people watching. On the main square, there is an area with water jets shooting from the concrete and little kids were running around enjoying themselves. There are lots of shops and some restaurants. I was delighted to find a wonderful little bookstore, Mitzi’s. I had finished the book I had been reading and needed a new book for the plane trip home. Mitzi was very friendly and helpful and I ended up buying two books. Be sure to stop by when in Rapid City.

My next destination was the “Chapel in the Hills.” This is a wooden church that is an exact replica of a 12th century church in Norway. It is a real gem and I highly recommend visiting it. It is in a tranquil setting and is very peaceful.

From there, I went to Canyon Lake, a very nice park next to a pretty lake. There were plenty of people out relaxing, whether picnicking, kayaking, reading on a bench, etc. I parked myself on a bench and just enjoyed the setting, watching the people and water fowl.

Dinner was just a quick fast food meal at Culver’s and then I headed back to the hotel for the night.

June 18 – Goodbye beautiful South Dakota. It’s always hard leaving a pretty place and going back home. I live in a great city, but it’s not a scenic or attractive place, so it’s always a little jarring to return to the land of concrete, billboards and aggressive drivers. Time to figure out where I will go next!

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