Western South Dakota Dazzles Our Travel Writer

RAPID CITY, S.D.– I hate to be the one to spill the unfortunate beans but there’s a stretch of landscape out here, nearly a quarter- mile or so– well maybe a hundred yards, actually — that is merely awesome, almost not so spectacularly, amazingly beautiful as is all the rest. I’m sure, though, that they’ll make that as wonderful as the rest soon enough.

They’ve done a good job keeping the secret of the grand beauty of western South Dakota and environs.

I’d been to South Dakota and it was pretty enough, the eastern part. But out here, in the evergreen mountains, the trail twists to vistas more astonishing than the last; rocky mountain tops loom above the roadway like mysterious artless old castles; valleys yawn out in dozens of shades of green — every detail in high def crispness in the brilliantly raw air.

Oh, and by the way, there’s Mount Rushmore.

Photo by Denis’s son, Timothy Horgan/Bluefoot

I didn’t know what to truly expect from Mount Rushmore, fearing that it might be overexposed, the way some people find Niagara.(Not me, I love Niagara and never tire of its majesty.) Might the towering scratchings disappoint? Haven’t we seen so many renderings of the presidential bridge game that it would, well, bore?

Fat chance.

Taking advice of our son, Timothy, who came through a few days earlier, we arrived very early after the short drive from nifty Rapid City. the prezes face west, so you want the early light from the east to best reflect their strong, steady, stoney visages. At shortly after 7 a.m., we had Abe and Teddy and Tom and George largely to ourselves in the lovely morning clearness. The carvings are humbling in the engineering, artistry and vision. The surroundings, under the federal government’s careful care, are fittingly respectful. The presidential noggins are bigger than I’d imagined and perfectly set in their frames of green, gray and the achingly blue skies above.

The drive through the region is something to behold — from the feisty mountain-cutting roads, the millions of slender sentinel trees, the occasional small towns which show up like postal album pages, historic, colorful and fascinating.

We hit the region when the annual migration of motorcyclists arrive, like swallows to Capistrano or the movement of the beasts of the Serengeti. Each year they arrive in the hundreds of thousands for the revelries at Sturges.

It is quite a sight in itself, the Sturges stampede. It would be wrong and merely wise-acred to point that they all seem to be overweight, gray, out for a lark from their duties at the white-collar assignments elsewhere. My wife insists she saw one who was under 50, and there were plenty of them who truly looked totally tattoo’d and rough and tumble. But this was no Hells Angels confab. Nor Marlon Brando as the Wild One (a reference one needs to be as old as the bikers seem, to get.) This was a huge collection of people having a wonderful time for themselves, sharing gossip and motorcycle lore in happy abundance. Good for them. And good for the communities here who welcome them.

Not that being welcomed is a surprise out here, where everyone is so pleasant and open and friendly — and actually seems to mean it.

Timothy Horgan/Bluefoot

Rapid City was another surprise, a clean and interesting and historic and personality’d place. We stayed at the historic Alex Johnson Hotel, smack in the middle of everything downtown and just minutes from the rural beauties which begin inches away from Main and Sixth.

There are museums and shops featuring Native American and western craft. The restaurants are good and more diverse than you might expect; more than I expected, anyway.

it’s a lively place, with statues of the American presidents on so many corners as to confirm the local brand as the City of Presidents.

The humans have done very well by this place, but the grandest accomplishment is to have respectfully protected the natural beauties which the ravagers of greedy industry would despoil in a flash otherwise.

As a down payment on the American Wilds, this a terrific way to begin the trip.

NEXT: cowboy Up.


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