Lisa and I first visited South Dakota’s Black Hills together in the late 1990s. We thought it was about time for a follow-up visit. Since we were going to be in the area, it made sense to include Rapid City and the area as part of our northern plains trip.
We had about a day and a half to visit the area, so we thought we’d try something different. We’ve never seen downtown Rapid, so that made sense to us to focus our visit there. We saw some sites outside of town – Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore, Wall and the Badlands, but we wanted to check out downtown.
We’ve seen photos of the “City of Presidents” sculpture walk, with all previous presidents scattered around a 12-block area. Once President Obama leaves office, a new sculpture will be added to the walk.
The walk is pretty cool. The presidents are located on street corners, so people have easy access to viewing them.
Main Street Square gives the downtown an excellent area for outdoor concerts and festivals. More than 200 events are hosted here, including beer and wine festivals, civic walks and family events. The square has a fountain area that shoots water from underground jets. Kids of all ages can be seen playing in the water during summer.
The square has an ongoing art project for the Main Square. “Passage of Wind and Water” is a five-year plan to have granite art sculptures represent Spearfish (with its waterfalls and streams) and the Badlands (with its wind-blown stone beauty).
The project will transform 21 pieces of stone into works of art by 2017. Masayuki Nagase – a Berkeley, CA-based artist – finished his third year in Rapid City, working on the project. He works mainly by hand, with a chisel and hammer. He uses an electrical grinder to carve lines.
A water fountain is located between two spires. The waterfall design gives the appearance that you could be standing next to some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world.
The other stones in the park give the image of things you could find in the Badlands, such as fossils of sea life and other creatures that once called the area home.
A mural was painted on a nearby building to add to the sculpture project. It gives the impression of the Badlands in the distance, eventually connecting to the pieces in the project.
Nearby is an outstanding store that should be a must-see when in town – Prairie Edge. The store is part retail and part museum, in my view. The owner has an amazing collection of Native American-created art for sale. But, it’s almost like stepping into an art gallery or museum.
The handmade quilts are beautiful. My grandma used to make them. I love quilts, especially Native ones.
The store has one of the world’s largest – if not THE largest – collection of beads. An entire section of a floor has the beads separated by color and style. If you’ve ever wondered why people charge so much for authentic Native art or clothing, they spend a lot of time, energy and money on preparing the pieces.
Perhaps the best item in the store is a paper-made sculpture of a great buffalo hunt. The artists make their own paper for their work. The buffalo hunt piece is very authentic and detailed. The piece would center a wall for arrangement. It can be yours if you have a spare $55,000 lying around. I saw the price tag, and slowly backed away, ensuring nothing I did could cause it to fall.
Next to it is a smaller piece, featuring two female jingle dancers. The price was still a bit steep for my taste, being north of $3,000.
Downtown is home to the Hotel Alex Johnson. Johnson was a railroad executive in the early days. The hotel features his love for all things Americana and Native American.
The hotel, which is joining the Hilton family, is preparing for a major renovation for an upgrade to a four-star level. However, the storied lobby area is not to be touched. The lobby area features dark wood trim with a lot of Native American-themed art and patterns.
Speaking of Native Americans, Rapid City recognizes its roots with a couple of sculptures. One shows a mother and daughter together. A second piece offers a look at why people should get along with each other.
Rapid City has a great street art scene. Murals dominate “Art Alley.” It’s a block of some impressive art. It ranges from graffiti-looking paintings to more mainstream art designs to political statements. A small section of an area had a lot to offer.
Lisa, of course, loved the white tiger at the bottom of a stairwell.
As we took our stroll through the downtown area, we enjoyed a latte from Alternative Fuel. The coffee house, located inside the Shops at Main, makes an excellent coffee.
We took a walk through Memorial Park. The park was built following a 1972 flood that killed about 200 people. A massive storm system came through dumping a lot of rain in the hills. Creeks flooded quickly. There was little warning of the flood hitting Rapid City. A marker honors the people who died during that time.
The park has been developed since then as a place where people can gather and enjoy themselves, while also honoring the fallen near the rose garden.
The park is home to a piece of the Berlin Wall. City leaders thought it was an appropriate place to share the memory of a dangerous period in world history with the memories of locals. Unfortunately, someone vandalized the wall pieces, and they had to be sandblasted clean. So, the art work that was on the Berlin Wall was blown away because someone couldn’t play nice.
Memorial Park has new play equipment. The million-dollar project has different areas designed for various age groups. There are even items for grown-ups to work with.
A memorial honoring South Dakota’s veterans is located near the park entrance. I liked its design, with an eagle on top and the flag standing behind it.
It was too early for lunch, but we had to check out Firehouse Brewing Company. It’s located at the original Rapid City fire department building. The artwork is amazing on the patio. A firefighter extending his hand looks almost 3-D.
On the opposite wall is the American flag with firefighters in its background.
We loved our visit to downtown Rapid City and have more places to check out on our next visit.
While we visited Rapid City, we enjoyed a great stay at the Comfort Suites. The hotel – all suites – is located about a 10-minute drive from downtown, on the east side of town. It was perfect for us to relax. The hotel would be a good base of operations for a visit to the area. I can see families taking advantage of the suites’ sizes and amenities, such as the pool.
We had a suite that included a kitchen area with a dining table, a living room and then the bedroom.
The living room was very nice. After uploading photos at the work station, we relaxed with a late night dinner of Hawaiian pizza from Pauly’s Pizzeria. It was nice having some time to kick back, enjoy a nice dinner and watch TV.
The hotel had an excellent complimentary breakfast the next morning.
So, next time you plan a trip to the Black Hills, ensure you take time out for a visit downtown. You will be happy you did. The Comfort Suites would be an excellent place to stay and use as your base of operations during a visit. That is our plan on the next trip there.
For more information on Rapid City attractions, please visit www.visitrapidcity.com.
Disclaimer: Thank you to the Rapid City visitors bureau for the coffee and the complimentary hotel accommodations. However, all opinions and views are ours.