Our 2021 Road Trip #16: Rapid City Remainders

Rapid City Native statue!

I couldn’t find a name or artist credit on site or anywhere online for this sculpture of two (Lakota? Sioux?) women, but it sure shows up on a lot of stock photo sites.

IF you’re taking your family on a traditional South Dakota vacation, Rapid City is your target destination. As we found in 2009, its plentiful hotels are a reasonable distance from many tourist attractions — the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park, and more. With a slightly longer hop-skip-jump, it’s also a springboard to Deadwood and Devil’s Tower. Rapid City is no Manhattan, but its tourism game is strong.

But we didn’t want to spend our entire 2021 vacation on do-overs. Among our new activities on the itinerary: taking a look inside Rapid City itself.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. We were each raised in a household that couldn’t afford annual out-of-state family vacations. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. Eventually we tired of some of our self-imposed limitations and figured out how to leave the comforts of home for the chance to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between.

We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

Technically not even 2020 stopped us. We played by the new rules of the interim normal and wandered Indiana in multiple directions as safely as we could. This year the long-awaited vaccines arrived. For 2021 we agreed we had to go big. Our new primary objective was Yellowstone National Park, 1500 miles from Indy…

If you’re driving to Rapid City rather than flying, you’ll know you’re on the right path when you reach the part where the breathtaking scenery is compromised by roughly six thousand Wall Drug signs and billboards. Been there, done that, skipped it this year exactly as we vowed in advance. It’s one part kitschy tourist distraction, three parts Super Dollar General.

Wall Drug sign!

“CAFE SEATS 530”, says one sign, which is cool if you’re driving a chartered party bus or prefer a restaurant with ample social distancing.

Wall Drug signs!

Four signs in one shot. FOUR of them. Miss one while driving and eight more will rise up to take its place in obscuring your vision.

Wall Drug signs and tractor.

Seconds after the previous shot, we passed this man on a tractor who has to look at the signs every single day of his life without going mad.

Not until we arrived at our hotel for the evening did I realize I’d made reservations at the exact same place we stayed in 2009 – same distinctively sloped parking lot, same giant indoor water park next door, same location on a frontage road between I-90 and an actual road that once again took me two tries to find. Outside of our regular comic-con excursions, we never stay at the hotel twice. It’s not a personal rule; it’s just against the odds.

World's Largest Quarter Pounder sculpture.

The closest roadside wonder to our hotel: the official World’s Largest Quarter Pounder, in front of a McDonald’s one block from our hotel.

DAY FOUR: Monday, June 28th.

Same as we’d done on Day Three, that morning we let my son sleep in while the two of us ventured out early to explore our surroundings. A few miles farther west was downtown Rapid City, which has creativity everywhere you look, practically on every single street corner.

Mitakuye Oyasin.

Mitakuye Oyasin (“we are all related” in Lakota), designed by Richard Underbaggage and sculpted by Dale Claude Lamphere, last seen with Dignity.

firefighter mural!

Firefighter tribute on the side of Firehouse Brewing Company by Aaron Pearcy, a local muralist and tattoo artist.

Aaron Pearcy firefighter mural!

The mural on the restaurant’s other side.

Aaron Pearcy nature mural.

Another mural by Mr. Pearcy down the street.

In the Heights in theaters!

Art takes other forms. I saw In the Heights a month before vacation and have been procrastinating writing about it ever since. Fortunately I have no editor or anyone else to hold me accountable.

Trinity Eco Prayer Park at Trinity Lutheran Church.

Also along our walk was Trinity Eco Prayer Park, a little refuge behind a Lutheran church described as “a place to reflect on how we relate to God, one another and the planet”.

purple flowers!

Pretty flowers for value-added prettiness.

Downtown Rapid City’s second-most prevalent medium is electrical box painting. (Or “utility box”, whichever. Check with licensed lingo authorities in your region before referencing.) We’ve seen this practice in other cities (including back home), but Rapid City residents really had a ball with it.

Eagle and frog utility box!

Eagle and toad share a box.

fluorescent woods utility box!

“Stopping by Woods on a Fluorescent Evening”.

fractal utility box!

Fractals, maybe. Remember when those were a thing?

autumn utility box!

Autumn, apropos of now.

shaman utility box!

Indigenous iconography, as one would expect.

happy color utility box!

I just have this in my notes as “happy color lightbox”.

bison trail utility box!

A bison trail, foreshadowing an upcoming chapter.

bison utility box!

Fun trivia: despite Yellowstone expectations, we saw far more bison imagery than bears on this trip.

Badlands utility box!

A Badlands box in front of an arcade bar. Too bad such places aren’t open at 9 a.m.

doggie utlity box!

DOGGIE! And evidence we weren’t the only early birds from out of town.

That’s a lot of electrical boxes, but these weren’t even their most common or noticeable works of art…

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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