Thursday, November 27, 2014

South Dakota Tour Continues from Wall to Hill City

When I woke up in Wall, I was ready for a very full day two in South Dakota.

The rain had not let up all night and it was pouring as I headed into Wall Drug. From the moment I pulled my rental car up I knew this was going to be a place like no other. It seemed to go on for blocks and I soon learned that this was only the front.

I met with Rick Hustead, whose grandparents had started Wall Drug in 1931 as just a drugstore. Ted, a pharmacist, and Dorothy were having trouble getting customers until Dorothy had the idea to put up “Free Ice Water” signs along the highway.

The ice water turned into .05 coffee and both brought in enough customers for Wall Drug to now be 76,000 square feet and one of the biggest attractions in the country.

Rick and I continued to talk in the restaurant over breakfast about Wall Drug and the endless products being sold here.

Breakfast certainly satisfied my sweet tooth, though I did at least add a scrambled egg for a bit of healthy protein. The rest was cherry pie, a maple donut, and s’mores ice cream.

I had asked what their most popular breakfast items were and that’s what I got. I had to agree that they are worth stopping at Wall Drug for – especially the Cherry Pie.

He also showed me the Wall Drug wines, available in the restaurant and for sale in the stores. Then Rick took me to explore some of the complex.

We walked over to the Old Fashion Soda Fountain. It’s a favorite of customers as there isn’t anything like it around here. This is where you can get their homemade ice cream and hand-made sodas.

Next there was the souvenir shop, a window of musical puppets, jewelry store, donut shop, gift store, Rockhound shop, a travelers chapel, and, of course, a pharmacy.

After a while, I left Rick to head out and explore on my own. I knew I couldn’t see everything (that would take a full day), but I wanted to take some photos and look around.

Behind the stores there were alleyways with artwork and additional places, such as the Western Art Gallery, the Print Shop, Western Wear store, leather goods shop, and more.

That wasn’t the end of it either. If you headed outside, you’d find the Wall Drug Backyard, with additional stores and attractions, like the Mining Experience.

I paid for some souvenirs I bought and I walked around the town of Wall for a short while, but I had to get on the road for my next appointment in Hill City.

Fortunately the drive didn’t take too long and I was soon at my next stop, Prairie Berry Winery. I met with Michelle Slott for a tour and tasting of their large selection.

The Red Ass Rhubarb is the most popular wine here, but my favorite was definitely the Pink Slip Moscato and I left with a bottle to take home.

The food at Prairie Berry Winery was also quite impressive. The menu was filled with fresh items and lots of vegetarian. I really enjoyed my meal with Michelle.

It was raining very hard and I decided to skip my visit to Miner Brewing on the other end of the parking lot. It looked like the brewery was quite full.

I drove the 10 minutes to my hotel, a very welcoming Holiday Inn Express. After I got settled and the rain had let up, I headed out to explore.

I walked around downtown Hill City before I headed back to the hotel to change for dinner. The downtown offers shops, restaurants, and a selection of unique places, such as the Black Hills Institute Museum.

There was also Teddy Bear Town, a shop that holds the Guinness World Record for the largest Teddy Bear Collection. They have over 6,500.

Just outside of the entrance to downtown Hill City is the Black Hills Central Railroad. From this depot in Hill City you can take a two hour roundtrip ride on the 1880 Train to Keystone and listen to a narrated history of the area.

It was raining when I headed to High Country Guest Ranch for the Chuckwagon Dinner Show and the Native American Brulee Show. I had been warned that the latter might not take place if the weather didn’t improve. Unfortunately, it did not.

I did get to enjoy the musical cowboy show with a dinner of beef, chicken, potatoes, applesauce, and cowboy beans. I can’t say it was the best meal I had in South Dakota, but I did enjoy the signing and the fun, relaxed atmosphere.

After dinner, I was detoured by construction to downtown, so I took it as a sign and stopped at one of the bars for a nightcap before I headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. Day three in South Dakota was not only full, but it was very special as I was going to see some of the nation’s most treasured sites.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Discovering South Dakota

As a child, I drove with my parents and my brother cross country almost every year. We would stop along the way, sometimes for a few hours and other times overnight if there was a lot to see. By going different routes we managed to see all of the continental United States.

Around the time I was 10, the vacations were by airplane and there were states I would never see again. South Dakota was one of those. 

With my new role in charge of the Midwest Travel section for About.com, I had more reason than ever to get to South Dakota so I was excited when the tourism board invited me on a trip.

The day started with an early morning flight and included a tight connection, so I was pretty tired and hungry by the time I met Julie Jones-Whitcher of Rapid City Tourism

We had planned to meet directly at The Journey Museum, but I had called and asked her if we could meet somewhere for a late lunch first.
We met in Main Street Square and proceeded to Alternative Fuel so I could load up on some energy.

It was a delicious combination of a chicken salad sandwich, barley soup, and a latte that got me ready to explore the downtown with Julie by foot.

I’m not sure what I expected, but Rapid City surprised me on every corner. First, there was the square, complete with a stage and fountain, and an amazing art in progress. 

The Sculpture Project is a privately funded exhibition that is being created by Masayugi Nagase while everyone watching. It’s fascinating to see him sculpt and even more fascinating to watch the faces of the children who stand mesmerized watching him.  

I would be coming back in a few days for an evening downtown so we concentrated on the things I wouldn’t be able to see as well at night. 

We then went down Art Alley, the town’s graffiti project that displays some incredible talent.  From there it was the historic district.

All along the way, Julie pointed out one of the things that makes Rapid City so interesting and unique – the bronze presidents. On every corner, you will see as statue of a president of the United States.

Every presidency is represented and they are already working on a spot for Barack Obama. The sculptures are fascinating as each depicts something personal about the leader.

We drove to our next stop, The Journey Museum. I could easily write a story just on that (and I will for  Go Midwest at About.com). It’s a fascinating place that shows the history of this area of South Dakota through films, exhibits, and demonstrations. I also loved that there were so many hands-on opportunities for children to learn through doing.

I will have to go back to The Journey Museum again someday as I couldn’t stay very long. I wanted to get to The Badlands before dark and it was just over an hour away.

The Badlands were amazing! I was blown away by the rock formations surrounding me.

I asked at the information booth which area would be best for an easy short hike and I was told to go to the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail. 

I enjoyed the walk (with the pavement it was more of a walk than a hike) to get up close with the scenery and vowed to come back and spend an entire day here.

I got back on the road and stopped at Cedar Pass Lodge within the park. I was led her so I could see a beautiful sunset, but it was, unfortunately, too cloudy. I did take Julie’s advice and order the Indian Buffalo Taco. 

It was fantastic, though I wouldn’t have thought it was a taco. The meat and cheese were on a soft, sweet dough, like that of a funnel cake.

It was getting pretty dark so I headed back through The Badlands to the west. I was thankful that there was no one else behind me so I could drive slowly and take in the breathtaking rocks surrounding me before I came out of Badlands Loop Road and onto the highway.


I was in Wall for the night at a small motel. It was a busy week in town and everything else was booked up. It didn’t matter at all to me because I was exhausted and ready for sleep. I had another long day in front of me discovering so much more that South Dakota had to offer.