10 Hidden Gems of Rapid City, South Dakota
A Carved Mountain Sculpture Larger Than Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore honors four iconic American Presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln. However, a group of Native Americans wanted one of their own heroes to be immortalized in stone in the same way, and in 1948 they got their wish when Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski acquired private land in the Black Hills for the Crazy Horse project, with the goal of carving the respected Oglala Lakota war chief out of solid rock. When completed, the sculpture will feature the head and torso of Crazy Horse, and may be one of the largest sculptures in the world. The design encapsulates Crazy Horse’s poignant words, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.” Sadly, Ziolkowski passed away in 1982, but his wife (who died in 2012) carried on with the project, and his children continue it today. The Crazy Horse Memorial features a visitor’s center which displays Native American history and culture.
There’s only one restaurant in South Dakota that cooks its food in a coal-fired oven, and that’s kōl (located at 504 Mt. Rushmore Road), where patrons can watch their pizza and other food items sizzle away at 1200 degrees in the open kitchen. But the pièce de résistance is the pizza they call the Notorious P.I.G., made with sweet potato pudding, bacon, mustard pork belly, pork sausage, and arugula.
The Road to Oz Detours Through Rapid City
The Colonial House Restaurant and Bar at 2315 Mount Rushmore Road is a family-welcoming restaurant with a loyal clientele who love the restaurant’s unique breakfast, lunch, and dinner comfort-food offerings. Signature dinner dishes, for example, include southern-fried chicken breast, grilled pork chops, saloon steak, and St. Louis-cut barbecue pork ribs.
Additionally, if you or your children are fans of the iconic movie The Wizard of Oz, you’ll love the four specially-commissioned paintings on its walls. Each one features a scene or character from the movie — the tornado, the flying monkeys, Dorothy with the Munchkins, and the four friends walking down the Yellow Brick Road toward the Emerald City.
The Secret Ingredient in Wall’s Cake Donuts
Wall is a tiny South Dakota town near Rapid City. In the 1930s, its pharmacy, Wall Drug, owned by the husband-and-wife team of Ted and Dorothy Hustead, was struggling. Ted was ready to give up, but his wife conceived the brilliant idea of putting billboards on the “main drag” offering free ice water at their establishment. Thirsty travelers began to take the nearest exit for Wall and now it’s regionally famous for its cake donuts and hot beef sandwiches. But how do they get their signature donuts so crisp on the outside and so moist on the inside? The crispness comes from a secret ingredient: 7-Up.
Something Big Is Buried Near Rapid City
The first — and so far only — National Park devoted to illustrating the history of the Cold War is the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, located at 24545 Cottonwood Rd in Philip. During the summer, eager tourists start lining up at 7:30 a.m. for spots on the tour, which consists of only six people at a time. After strolling through the visitor’s center and purchasing a few Atomic Fireball cinnamon candies, the small group is taken several miles into the prairie to the remote launch control building Delta 1. Here they will descend 30 feet below the surface to a capsule guarded by a huge blast door. Behind it is a 1960s state-of-the-art missile launch control center, which was manned in 24-hour shifts by two missileers. In addition to the equipment in the launch control room, the group can then drive themselves a few miles away to look through the top of a glass-enclosed silo and view a Minuteman II missile(warhead removed, of course!).
Sorry Texas, but They Do Everything Bigger in South Dakota Too
Most bagels, especially the mass-produced kind you get in grocery stores, weigh 3.5 ounces. At Black Hills Bagels, founded in 1997, customers can enjoy one of 28 varieties of bagels that weigh in at a dominating 5.5 ounces! Black Hills also crafts its own 18 flavors of cream cheese, using ingredients like fresh fruit and vegetables.
There’s Gold in Them-Thar Hills, but Not Like You Might Expect
Jewelry bearing the name of Black Hills Gold doesn’t actually consist of gold mined in the Black Hills; artisans acquire this precious metal on the open market. It’s the design, not the sourcing, that makes this jewelry unique. Black Hills Gold jewelry will always contain a leaf, or, more popularly, a tri-color design with leaves and grapes in the colors of pink, green, and gold. This tradition stems from the work of a French jewelry designer, Henri LeBeau, who came to the Black Hills during the 1870s gold rush, and got lost in the wilderness. He was facing starvation until he found a mass of wild grapes that saved his life. In gratitude, he began creating what he called “good luck” jewelry featuring this grape design.
Visit the Mount Rushmore Black Hills Gold Jewelry Factory at 2707 Mt Rushmore Rd, to take a free tour.
What’s Through That Vault Door?
As you open a rather nondescript door marked “employees entrance,” you will descend some stairs leading to a vault door and a keypad. Enter the secret code, and the door will open into a little piece of the 1920s, a speakeasy called The Blind Lion. Located at 510 9th Street, the bar is a place to order Prohibition-Era cocktails, relax, and listen to live entertainment playing such standards as “Ain’t Misbehavin.”
To get into this secret establishment, simply ask a staff member on the ground floor to give you the code and point you in the right direction.
Which President Crafted the First Ice Cream Recipe in the U.S.?
Third president Thomas Jefferson not only penned the Declaration of Independence, but also the first ice cream recipe in the United States, way back in the 1780s. Today, Pride Dairy churns out a select amount of TJ Ice Cream made with that same recipe, which is sold only at Mount Rushmore and a few other places across the country. TJ Ice Cream is rich, creamy, and laced with tasty strands of Madagascar vanilla beans. The only difference between this ice cream and the kind that Jefferson and his family would have savored is that his eggs and cream were unpasteurized.
Video Arcades (With Booze)!
Video arcades are making their comeback as “arcade bars,” catering to folks who like to drink adult beverages while they rescue Princess Peach or battle Space Invaders.
Press Start barcade, located in the basement of the building that houses kōl, has 200 classic video games and is open from 4 p.m. until midnight, with earlier opening times on Saturdays for kids.
Wondering Where to Stay?
The Rushmore Hotel and Suites (formerly the Adoba Hotel) at 445 Mount Rushmore Road features LED lighting in every room, carbon-nano technology in the wall paint that pulls bacteria from the air, and soft and comfortable bedding made from recycled plastic bottles and other natural materials — to list just a few of its eco-friendly features.
The Comfort Suites Hotel & Convention Center, at 1333 North Elk Vale Road, features luxurious all-suite accommodations, and offers guests a 24-hour fitness room, as well as access to a pool and guest laundry. A deluxe hot breakfast is included!