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A Summer in the Blackhills of South Dakota

Growing up in Laramie WY Katarina and her family made an annual summer trip to her grandmother’s home in Minnesota. Along the route they would pass through the Black hills and Rapid City South Dakota and young Katarina would tell her dad that “One day I will live in Rapid City!” Well one day finally came and we had the opportunity to spend 1 month living near RapidCity in the Blackhills outside of Keystone SD.

Having traveled and lived in many of the more famous forests around the United States we found the Blackhills to rank up there as one of the most spectacular. With the heavy rainfalls of the previous winter and spring and healthy management of the eco-system by the US Forest Service the Blackhills are a cornucopia of forest delight. In our travels around the hills we spotted hundreds of long tail deer, a handful of elk, marmots, skunks, snakes, Bison, pronghorn, and countless other forest animals. Combined with the vibrant green of the trees and grasses, colors of wild flowers, flowing streams, and hidden lakes the Blackhills are simply spectacular.

From our home base in Keystone we were 4 miles from the Mt Rushmore National Memorial that we visited several times to hike the Presidential Trail, eat at their excellent cafeteria, and enjoy ice cream on the patio. Keystone itself is a touristy locale with a number of gift shops selling the same junk and tourist traps promising visitors “A Life Changing Experience”; we checked it all out but kept our wallets well into our pockets.

As it happened our location in Keystone provided easy cycling access to some of the more beautiful paved roads in the Blackhills including Iron Mountain Rd, Needles Highway, and the Old Keystone Hill City Road. With the low speed-limits and expansive views these routes created some amazing and memorable rides for us on the tandem. Iron Mountain Rd is famous for its corkscrew turns and tiny tunnels with views of Rushmore. Needles Highway is famous for the jagged Needle like stones near the top. Keystone/ Hill City Rd follows the 1880s Train Track through a magnificent canyon gradually climbing to Hill City with the reward of a gradual descent all the way back.

What we found interesting of the Blackhills, probably a result of distance from major population centers, is that the various neighbors we met all were in a rush. They had 1-3 days to see everything in the Blackhills and they were on a mission to see it. At Mt Rushmore, for example, people would drive up, pay the $11 parking fee, walk up to the observation point, pose for some pictures, and then turn around and leave; total time about 30 minutes on site. The net result of all this rushing around by the other visitors meant that we often found ourselves all alone in the more off-the-beaten-path locations including the hiking trails and mountain bike rides.

As mentioned at the top Katarina had always told her dad that she would one day live in Rapid City. Well living there for a month would not be complete without enjoying their free Thursday evening concerts on Main Street. Dressing up we drove down to down town, found easy parking, and enjoyed an evening of music in the historic down town center. A neat little side trip took us down the cities famous “Art Alley” where local taggers are allowed to coat everything and anything with spray paint; an interesting mix of urban style and paint art within this rural city. Spotting a nearing thunderstorm we took cover at the Firehouse Brew Pub Restaurant inside the original Rapid City firehouse to enjoy a tasty dinner of Salad and Bison Burgers.

With only a few days remaining on our stay in the area we took a side trip down to Hot Springs SD, a location we visited earlier in our trip to swim at the famous Evan’s Plunge, this time to visit the Mammoth Site. The location of the largest in situ fossil collection found to date the Mammoth site is a Paleontologist dream. Found in the 70’s while a company was grading for a housing project the historic and cultural value of the location was preserved by a not-for-profit trust that runs the site. 30 years later they have dug 30 or so feet into the pit to unearth literally hundreds of fossils from various species and a number of complete Mammoth skeletons. Worth the trip and reasonably priced it was a fun conclusion to our stay in the Blackhills.

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