March 16, 2020
We were regularly knocking off the number of states we had visited until we hit # 48. And it stopped at 48 for about ten years.
So after “standing still” for a decade, we decided to make the Dakotas disappear from our list.
The trip to Rapid City, SD is easy with good air service and a nice airport when you arrive. We opted to stay at the Hotel Alex Johnson in downtown. It’s a Hilton property and very comfortable with a lounge on the top floor where the visitors are friendly and the conversation lively. Most guests are tourist and all of them agree that South Dakota is indeed a beautiful and interesting state.
The unique feature of the hotel is that it is haunted. Many guests over the years have had encounters. So at check-in, the unusual question is asked, “Do you prefer haunted or non-haunted?” (Finally got rid of that stupid smoking question. Now this!) We opted for the latter and had great sleep every night we stayed there.
There is a lot to do in area. Go east about 40 miles and visit Wall Drugs. Who hasn’t seen a bumper sticker “We’ve been to Wall Drugs?” They are reported to have been seen in every state and supposedly, several countries in Europe. It is funky; a “must see” and after lunch we think it is also a “must eat” with good home cooking.
After lunch it is off the Black Hills–heading south from I-90. They are not rolling hills covered with green grass or wildflowers but instead a variety of rugged geological formations of various shapes and sizes (PGG 6269 & 6270) that when combined, result in a range of mini-mountains. They are stark, rugged but as a total experience there is a real beauty to them. The further you drive the more variety you experience and the more you appreciate the beauty of this geological wonder that stretches westerly into Wyoming.
Back in Rapid City the town has a unique feature. Each downtown block is enhanced with a life size bronze statue of a past President. Imagine the thrill of having your photo taken with Millard Filllmore! They are one-of-a-kind, very well done and a pleasant surprise for a downtown.
Next day we took a short drive to Mount Rushmore to see the faces of four Presidents carved (with dynamite) on the side of a mountain. Very impressive. Well organized. Convenient. Something to check off the bucket list. We were somewhat surprised to learn that Teddy Roosevelt has a chip on his shoulder.
Then it was off to a work in progress, Crazy Horse Memorial (PGG 6263 & 6264), 17 miles from Mount Rush more. “Carving” started in 1948, so chances are that none of us will see the finished product but you can see how far they have gotten in 72 years. When you are attempting to create the second largest sculpture in the world, you can’t expect it to be done overnight even with overtime.
So the next stop was Custer State Park, about 30 miles from Rapid City. It is home to a huge herd of bison (PGG 6265) and other native animals including deer, goats, elk and many others. But bison dominate. The lodge is comfortable and the restaurant quite good. It’s an unusual, great side trip.
Then we moved toward our next destination, Deadwood. It is about 40 miles from Rapid City and absolutely breathtaking on the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway (US 4A). Deadwood, is a town marketed as “full of dead trees and a creek full gold.” It is a fun place for a night or two especially if you like to gamble.
Finally, on to Sturgis, home of the annual Harley Festival, this year in its 80th year. From Sturgis, it’s back to the airport for a flight to visit our 50th state. But as we sat back and thought about the South Dakota experience, we both asked, “What took us so long? That place was really fun. An exceptional experience.”
Fargo, the movie was released in 1998. Fargo, the town still bears the image. (How much wood would a wood chop chop, if a wood chop would chop wood instead of….)
It is a nice, clean city on the eastern border of North Dakota with a population of 125,000–17% of the state population. Rush hour has little road rage.
Best part of the stay was staying at the Hotel Donaldson or as the locals say, “The HoDo.” Story is that a downtown real estate developer gave a vacant building to his wife to develop as a hotel. She built out and painted each of the 17 rooms in a flat white paint, then offered the rooms to local artists as a blank canvas to finish as they saw fit. The result is an array of eclectic rooms, each more unique than the last. If some of the rooms are still not occupied when you check in you can view them-sorta like a trip to a contemporary art museum. The restaurant is equally creative and offers a great menu fulfilled with outstanding dishes. End the day or evening in the rooftop “sky” lounge on the fourth floor. While the elevation won’t likely give you starburn, the folks who frequent it are friendly and fun and you can almost guarantee a great experience. As mentioned on the home page, I have thousands of room nights in hundreds of different hotels and the HoDo is one of the most memorable. You’ll be sorry if you stay anywhere else in Fargo.
Or eat anywhere besides Toscana, a block from the HoDo. It is one of the few places I have ever enjoyed two meals in the same place on the same day on my own. Sure, there are those “captive” dining experiences where you have no choice, but I’ll bet that you too will multi-visit Toscana. It’s that good.
So now we’re members of the 50 State Club, referenced on the home page, after a delightful trip to the Dakotas. Don’t wait as long as we did to make the visit.