We weren’t expecting much from Rapid City. It was intended solely as a take-off point for a tour of some of South Western South Dakota’s parks—Badlands National Park and Custer State Park, which includes sites including the Black Hills, two of North America’s largest cave systems (Jewel Cave and Wind Cave), Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Monument and the historic town of Deadwood (all of which are discussed in forthcoming blogs).
Rapid City itself is not all that much to see. It is a relatively small, quiet city of 125,000 people, where “historic” buildings are from the 1930’s. Main Street does, however, have a lovely park which, during the day, is filled with children playing in the interactive fountains and, in the evening, serves as a site of community concerts, movies and all types of other events.
Another nearby park, Memorial Park, is also pretty and people-friendly. Built around a small lake, it has dozens of small rose gardens and a section that houses two segments of the Berlin Wall, along with tank traps (that were used to prevent incursions into the neutral zone) and panels describing the post-war Berlin situation and its resolution.
One of the city’s citizens, looking for his own way of honoring the presidents (including but not limited to those on nearby Mount Rushmore) funded the commission of sculptures to create life-size bronze statues of the presidents. Today, statutes of 38 of the country’s 44 presidents have been completed and are now placed, along with statutes of a number of local Indian chiefs, on city street corners.
The city shows its edgier side in Art Alley, next to the historic Hotel Alex Johnson. The alley is the home of murals and graffiti that covers virtually every wall–some messy and amateurish, some very funny and almost professional. All interesting.
Rapid City Lodging and Sustenance
Since we stayed at the Alex Johnson, the entire downtown area was within short walking distance. The hotel, with its Indian-themed lobby and its Vertex rooftop restaurant and lounge, was inviting, the room spacious and comfortable and the service friendly and helpful. The view from the top-floor restaurant and lounge (which is accessible only by guests and members) was nice, and our first night’s food (in our case, a grilled Alaskan salmon and sirloin steak) good. While the service could be more proactive, we would, overall, recommend the hotel and, at least for Rapid City, the restaurant. But even if you choose not to eat there, the lounge and rooftop deck are wonderful places for drinks.
Our last night’s dinner, before our flight home, was a couple doors away, at The Wine Bar. Our dining experience began with high expectations. The menu was interesting, atmosphere inviting and server knowledgeable and engaging. The problem began when they were out of the first two dishes we ordered. When we did find a combination of dishes that were available, the buffalo tender skewer and wild forest mushroom appetizers were both good.
Unfortunately, after our third attempt to find a shared entrée, we were so happy to find something the restaurant had, that we forgot to ask what type of salmon the restaurant offered, and whether it was fresh or frozen. That was a mistake. While most other restaurants at which we had looked had fresh Alaskan Coho or king salmon, the Wine Bar’s was a light-bodied farmed salmon that had little taste. That being said, the vegetables were not overcooked and the rice was done perfectly. Thank goodness for small favors!