Black Hills History and Culture Tour
Immerse yourself in the culture of the Black Hills. Steep yourself in Black Hills history. Discover its contemporary art scene. Seek out the finest in dining experiences. Visit the museums, historic homes, and art galleries. Here’s an itinerary for those travelers who enjoy maximizing a sense of place wherever they go.
Spend the day in Rapid City, starting with the Journey Museum, where European and Native American culture intersect in a world of exploration, mining, and military expeditions. Discover the history of the region through the lives of Jim Bridger, General Custer, Wild Bill Hickok, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse. Other specialties of the museum include regional geology, archaeology and space exploration.
Follow up with a visit to the Prairie Edge Trading Company and Galleries, a showcase of the finest in Native American historic and contemporary art. Other downtown galleries in close proximity include the Dahl Arts Center, the James Van Nuys Gallery, and the Reflections of South Dakota Gallery of photographic images of the hills. Enjoy an evening of fine dining at the Corn Exchange.
Go back 78 million years with a visit to the geological wonderland of Badlands National Park. Take I-90 east to Wall and drive the winding Loop Road through the park. Walk the 20-minute Fossil Exhibit Trail. Stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center for the park exhibits. Leave the park via Highway 240. Two short trails are quite close to the visitors center off this highway: the Door Trail and the Window Trail.
Continue along Highway 240 for a dramatic change in era. Experience the Cold War and the arms race of the 1950s and ’60s with a visit to the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, home to the missile silo Launch Site Delta-09. It’s both fascinating and chilling.
Continue on to Wall Drug, a roadside attraction combining the best and worst of the West: a fine collection of Western art; a bookstore with a great selection of regional titles; and a backyard full of marvelously tacky smoking dinosaurs, jackalopes, and other equally intriguing exhibits. Return to Rapid City via I-90.
Continue on, driving south along the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway to Lead, home of the Homestake Mine, the most productive and longest-running gold mine in the Black Hills. The first stop here should be the visitors center, which sits on the edge of the “open cut,” a frighteningly deep gash in the earth. To learn more about mining history in the region, visit the Black Hills Mining Museum.
Three miles away is the National Historic District of Deadwood. It was at the height of the Victorian era when gold was discovered in the region and the lives of successful miners and businessmen reflected the high society of the times.
Stop by the Adams House and the Adams Museum to get a feel for the era and for the contrast between Victorian elegance and the Wild West days of this mining town. Don’t miss the Bullock Hotel. Return to Rapid City via I-90.
Travel to Hill City for a ride on the 1880 Train. Take an early morning train out, and return in time for lunch at the Alpine Inn. Spend the afternoon visiting the art galleries in town. Of particular interest, don’t miss the Jon Crane Gallery, the Sandy Swallow Gallery, and the Warrior’s Work & Ben West Gallery.
Continue on to Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the late afternoon. The Lincoln Borglum Museum is downstairs from the terrace and presents a graphic timeline of the Civil War, westward expansion, and the Indian Wars. Plan to stay for the evening program at the outdoor amphitheater, which includes a presentation by a park ranger and a film, and finishes with the lighting of the memorial.
Return to Rapid City or spend the night in Keystone at the Powder House Lodge.
Head south on Highway 79 to Hot Springs, designated a “Distinctive Destination” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2009. (If leaving from Keystone, exit town via Highway 40 and travel east until the junction with Highway 79.) Visit the Pioneer Museum and admire the more than 35 historic sandstone buildings in the downtown area. Prehistoric history has its place here as well. The Mammoth Site is an active paleontology dig site where the fossilized remains of Ice Age fauna, including 57 mammoths are displayed in situ.
Hot Springs is unique in that its history is not founded on the discovery of gold, but is based instead on the healing powers of the warm mineral springs that flow through town. Enjoy fine dining at the Blue Vervain or family dining at the All Star Sports Grill and spend the night.
In the morning, head north to Wind Cave National Park. The plains were once home to vast herds of bison, but wasteful hunting and trading brought them close to extinction. When the population dwindled to 1,000 animals, alarmed citizens selected Wind Cave as one of the first places to restore bison populations in the wild. Pronghorn and elk were reintroduced to the region at this park as well.
Visit the [node"100318 link park headquarters] and check the roster of daily interpretive programs. Enjoy one of the cave tours. Leave the park via I-87 destined for Custer State Park. Take a right onto the Wildlife Loop (with carrots in hand for the wild burros) and end your day near the State Game Lodge, the most historic of the park’s lodges and summer home to President Calvin Coolidge. Spend the night at the lodge, or in one of the nearby cabins.
Leave the park in the morning by traveling west from the State Game Lodge to Highway 87. Turn north on 87, the start of the scenic Needles Highway. Stop at Sylvan Lake and take time to hike the short trail around the lake.
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition