In Jim Cook's Archive


Last week, my wife and I took three of our granddaughters (age 13, 15, 17) to the Black Hills of South Dakota on a vacation for 5 days. We experienced inflation first-hand when our rental car was $2,000 and a nights lodging was $300-$350. We landed in Rapid City just before noon and found a pub downtown for an enjoyable lunch. Our next stop was Reptile Gardens followed by a drive through Bear Country. Both attractions had an amazing array of creatures including a giant alligator and about 50 bears on the loose. Next we drove to the community of Custer and settled into our small, disappointing cabin. Based on the advice of a friend, my wife had booked us into lodging owned by Custer Park which was a government run facility. The kids were jammed into an upstairs loft and when they stood, they risked hitting their heads on the low ceiling. My wife and I had a pull out bed that was so uncomfortable it defied sleep. The springs hurt our back and any movement felt destabilizing. I murmured to my wife that I thought I would sleep on the floor. “It’s too dirty,” she advised. Although we had paid for the cabin for two nights, we decided to move elsewhere for the next night.

In the morning, our travel guide picked us up at 9:30 a.m. and we went straight to the Crazy Horse Monument which has now progressed to the point where his face is complete. That’s taken 73 years, so it could be that long again to complete it. Then we drove through the Iron Mountain road with its switchback turns, bridges and tunnels that afford surprise distant views of Rushmore.  We stopped at Hill City, a small town close to Mount Rushmore and had a lovely lunch at the Alpine Inn. After lunch, our guide took us to Mount Rushmore and we walked close to the base of the amazing sculpture of Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt. Then we did the Cosmos Mystic Shed that was strictly for kids. We then drove a few miles to Keystone and were lucky enough to get two rooms at the Baymont Wyndham Hotel.  The rooms were $360 each, but they were worth it after the previous night’s ordeal. The guide then took us on a drive through the Needles Highway with its spectacular mountain peaks and tight tunnels. Finally after a great day, our guide dropped us off and we thanked him profusely. He was from Black Hills Adventure Tours and he was great. That evening we had a nice dinner at the Powder House just outside Keystone.

The next day we had a different tour company to drive us on their so-called wildlife tour which was disappointing. We saw one buffalo and one antelope. However, we did drive to Mount Coolidge. At 7,400 feet, it is the tallest mountain in the Hills with drop-offs that left us gasping. After a while, I couldn’t look. Our final stop was at the Presidential Wax Museum in Keystone. Unfortunately, that evening we were back in Custer Park at a different lodge. The cabins here were small and we had to call several times to get bedding. It was uncomfortable and poorly managed but, to be fair, they were understaffed.

In the morning we drove to Rapid City for a tour of the northern Black Hills. We went through Spearfish Canyon, saw the diminutive Bridal Falls and had a nice picnic lunch along a babbling brook in the canyon. Then we went to Deadwood to see a reenactment of a wild west shooting. Next came the Homestake Mine Museum and the great excavated pit beside it. On the way back to Rapid City, we went into Sturgis and saw the many successful businesses that were only open for a month or so during the motorcycle rally. This year they are expecting almost a million motorcyclists. The driver told us that at times he would have to wait 20 minutes to cross a blacktop because of the constant motorcycle traffic.

We spent our final night in Rapid City and had a nice dinner downtown at the Del Monico Grill. Large crowds were downtown listening to a music festival so we walked around for awhile before returning to our rooms. In the morning, the kids wanted to return to Bear Country before our flight home. It turned out that once inside, the cars were moving so slowly an hour had elapsed before we had even seen the bears. We started worrying about getting to the airport in time for our flight. My wife had to do some fancy driving to pass cars and get to the highway. In a few hours, we were back in Minneapolis recounting what had been a wonderful trip.

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