Kickin’ it in South Dakota: the journey begins!

Two events got me to thinking about what to write next: 1) National Travel & Tourism Week 2020 and 2) our coronavirus shelter-in-place mandates. If Bert and I go anywhere right now, it will be within the continental U. S. and probably near a national park. So, with that in mind, I’m sharing a trip through South Dakota that we took last May when the Grasslands were green and the Badlands were good. Really good.

We flew from our hometown of Knoxville, TN to Rapid City, SD, a city that takes pride in displaying statues of every president of the U. S. standing proudly on street corners.

Found him: Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States — from Tennessee!

Historic Hotel Alex Johnson Rapid City, built in 1927 and known for Native American art, became our home for three days. In addition to its resort club feel, excellent beds, and posh amenities, the Alex Johnson boasts one of the finest gift shops in the area where you can find handmade items for the folks back home.

The well-appointed lobby of Hotel Alex Johnson, Rapid City, SD

For breakfast, we indulged (well, gorged might be a more accurate term) on a bountiful repast at Tally’s Silver Spoon: three-egg omelet with all the fixin’s and a plate of fluffy but packed-with-blueberries pancakes.

After breakfast, we headed to a site we’d heard repeatedly as “the place you gotta see” — Wall Drug Store — but we were waylaid by a glimpse of kids on horses when we stopped to fill up our rental car with gas.

I knew when I saw those kids on horses that we had to pull over. (A little travel serendipity never hurts, and, after all, I’d never seen a small-town rodeo for kids ever.) This, I thought, could be fun. And it was.

As they paraded around for judges, young kids and teens dressed in Western attire followed protocol for good showmanship. And we could tell this wasn’t their first rodeo! (But it was mine!)

Some even stopped to talk to us about the event, what it takes to keep and train their horses, and what they like about the hard work of showmanship.

His first competition — a little shy, but happy to bring his own horse to the event.

We stood on the sidelines watching the calf roping event and talked to two ladies who waited for the next round of competition that somehow was going to involve their goats. Although we didn’t have time to watch, we appreciated the friendliness of the adults who could tell we weren’t from “these here parts,” and then we snapped a few more pictures.

It occurred to us that parents who give up their Saturdays (willingly, of course) to provide and assist with rodeos for kids in South Dakota are similar to our folks who pitch softballs to elementary kids or coach basketball, soccer, and Little League baseball in our neck of the woods. It was good to see.

Then on to Wall Drug Store where up to 20,000 visitors per day pick up South Dakota souvenirs, admire the grand art collection in the dining room, or pose with a hand-carved likeness of Wild Bill Hickok. If you’re there in the summer, take advantage of Wall’s offer of free ice water to each and every one of you!

Wall Drug Store — takes up at least three city blocks!
The dining room doubles as a respected art gallery at Wall Drug Store in Wall, SD.
Shopping for souvenirs (lots of ’em) in room settings at Wall Drugs.

To get there, drive west from Rapid City along Interstate 90 and exit at Mile Marker 109 or 110. Right now, according to the information on their website, they’re closed temporarily due to coronavirus concerns. Please check before driving to see Wall Drug — but keep it on your must-see list. It’s Americana at its best.

We hope you’ll join us as we post more of scenic South Dakota. The Badlands, Custer State Park, Mt. Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse monument just might be in your future!

Don’t miss a chance to have your picture taken with Wild Bill Hickok at Wall Drug Store.
As they say on Travel South Dakota: Great Faces, Great Places!

Rusha Sams

8 thoughts on “Kickin’ it in South Dakota: the journey begins!

  1. The Wandering RVer

    It’s been many years since I visited SD. I absolutely loved it when I was there. We’re hoping to head that way next summer. We are going to end up spending most of this summer in FL, it definitely wasn’t our plan, but….I don’t think too many people’s plans this year are going to happen.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      My goal is to write several more posts. Hopefully you will find some places to visit. And May 2019 was gorgeous in the Badlands. Unseasonably heavy rains turned the place greener than it had been years, according to locals.

  2. Curt Mekemson

    Who would have thought that free water could turn into a major marketing gimmick? Fu post, Rusha. I am looking forward to more. Hope you come upon some of the huge buffalo in your journey. –Curt

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      Wall Drugs may not pass out much free water now, but I’m thinking years ago when they started that, they did. Glad you’re aboard on the SD trail. And we were trapped in Custer State Park by a herd of mommas and babies — buffalo, of course!

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