Pit Stop in Rapid City, South Dakota

Alex Johnson Hotel, Rapid City, SD
Warm, welcoming lobby of the Alex Johnson Hotel in Rapid City, SD

Mid-day we make a pit stop in Rapid City looking for wireless service, lunch, a natural foods store… and architecturally interesting buildings.

Right downtown and an easy drive from the Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore, The Hotel Alex Johnson is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The structural design is a blend of two spirits: the heritage of the Plains Indians and the Germanic Tudor architecture representing German immigration to the Dakotas. Construction began on the hotel in 1927, the day before work began on Mount Rushmore. Alex Johnson, Vice President of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, was founder of this grand hotel that bears his name. An admirer of Native Americans, he spoke of a shrine and tribute to the Sioux Indian Nation.

After admiring the lobby and buying a few postcards in the gift shop, we walk into Seattle’s Best Cafe, which is conveniently connected to the hotel. Good coffee, hot tea, comfy leather chairs for postcard writing, and complimentary high speed wireless take care of all our needs.

Tally's Silver Spoon, Rapid City, SD
Tally's Silver Spoon fine diner is just across the street from the hotel.

Tally’s Silver Spoon, dubbed the Fine Diner by Chef Benjamin Klinkel, and located across the street from the hotel, is what drew us to the town after an internet search. The diner is abuzz with happy eaters and we are pleased to land a booth by the window. The menu reflects the chef’s philosophy of seeking out the best ingredients available, local whenever possible and specialty imports from small producers all over the world.

Healthy choices are created daily in the form of the Silver Spoon Lunch Special made with lettuces and produce grown specifically for Tally’s Silver Spoon by a local farm. Jay orders today’s lunch special – a Tuscan Bread salad with seared Ahi Tuna on top. I order a Wild Idea Buffalo burger a plate they happily modify to be gluten-free – omitting the bun and coated fries and adding a delicious green salad. Both are delicious. Wild Idea, a Rapid City company, lets their bison mature on native grass pastures which are are loaded with Omegs-3’s and are found in abundance in grass-fed buffalo.

Fully fed and satisfied we locate a natural foods store. I find it interesting to go into natural food markets in different places. Often we will be restocking on nuts and fruit and I like to see what gluten-free brands they carry that are new to me. Today we check out Staple and Spice Market at 601 Mount Rushmore Road. My discovery is a new line of gluten-free baking mixes from Stonewall KitchenGF Chocolate Chunk Cookie Mix, GF Chocolate Cupcake Mix, GF Vanilla Cupcake Mix, GF Pancake & Waffle Mix, and a GF Chocolate Brownie Mix. I purchased one of the brownie mixes and look forward to baking it soon. If anyone has tried the Stonewall gluten-free mixes, please let us know what you think.

Yellowstone National Park

We enter Yellowstone National Park through the western gate, and we are immediately entranced. Wild elk graze beside a pristine creek. This park is nature’s church. It is a holy place that is sacred to all who visit. Though the park is visited by millions, there is no sign of litter that abounds in many tourist destinations. Visitors know they are guests in this spectacular natural place.

Yellowstone National Park volcanic pool
Yellowstone National Park volcanic pool

Yellowstone is America’s first national park. Located mostly in Wyoming, with edges that peak in to Montana and Idaho, it has inspired the creation of parks throughout the world. Named by indians that inhabited the region, the yellow stone mountains that rise throughout the park cradle wondrous sights.

Formed by an upwelling of magma, a mountain-rimmed caldera provides curious hints of the tremendous heat below. Though the Old Faithful geyser is the iconic symbol of the park, there are many other signature signs of the Yellowstone’s volcanic legacy – mud pots, bubbling mineral pools, steaming mineral springs surrounded by rainbow colored calcium deposits, built up over millennia…

The National Park Service says it well:

Yellowstone National Park volcanic geyser
Yellowstone National Park volcanic geyser

“Rather than to preserve bears, wolves, bison or its myriad of streams, valleys and mountains, Yellowstone was designated as a National Park in 1872 to preserve and protect its more than 10,000 unique thermal features, the largest collection on the planet, spread throughout the park’s 2.2 million acres.”

“With half of the earth’s geothermal features, Yellowstone holds the planet’s most diverse and intact collection of geysers, hot springs, mudpots, and fumaroles. Its more than 300 geysers make up two thirds of all those found on earth. Combine this with more than 10,000 thermal features comprised of brilliantly colored hot springs, bubbling mudpots, and steaming fumaroles, and you have a place like no other. Geyserland, fairyland, wonderland–through the years, all have been used to describe the natural wonder and magic of this unique park that contains more geothermal features than any other place on earth.”

Yellowstone National Park volcanic mud
Yellowstone National Park volcanic mud pot

Hearing that temperatures are dipping into the 30’s at night, we decide to book a room at the Old Faithful Inn. Built in the winter of 1903 -1904, the Inn is one of a few remaining log hotels in the country. Designed by the architect Robert Reamer (also designed the Martin Woldson Theater in Spokane) who wanted the asymmetry of the building to reflect the chaos of nature, the Old Faithful Inn is an outstanding work of rustic architecture. The building is a rustic log and wood-frame structure of huge proportions – almost 700 feet in length and seven stories high. Entering into the lobby we feel like we are stepping back in time. Our room is in a section built in the 1920s – probably remodeled since then – simple, clean and comfortable. The Inn has a full service restaurant where we dine for dinner and breakfast.

Old Faithful Inn touring car
Vintage touring car outside the Old Faithful Inn
Old Faithful Inn
Old Faithful Inn - view from the lobby
Old Faithful Inn lobby door
Old Faithful Inn lobby door

Next day we enjoy a hike up to Trout Lake in the northeast section of the park. A steep 1/2 mile trail leads to the beautiful lake. As we step across a stream feeding the lake, a large trout glides through the crystal clear water, glistening in the high country sun.

Trout Lake in Yellowstone National Park
Trout Lake in Yellowstone National Park

Here are some of the best rated trail guides for Yellowstone and the Grand Teton range:

Yellowstone National Park buffalo
Our close encounter with a buffalo as we drive to the northeast exit of the park

Butte, Montana

Mine frames, Butte, MT
Mine "head frames" dot the landscape in Butte, Montana
Butte, MT garage door
Old garage door

In its heyday, from the late 19th century to about 1920, Butte was one of the largest and most notorious copper boomtowns in the West, with a maze of over 10,000 miles of mines beneath it’s surface. As was common in the early wild west, Butte was home to hundreds of saloons and a famous red-light district. The documentary Butte, America depicts its history as a copper producer and the issues of labor unionism, economic rise and decline, and environmental degradation that resulted from the activity.

During the mining boom, Butte’s population rose to over 100,000, as it became the largest city west of the Mississippi. Now, while most American cities have gown, Butte’s population has contracted to less than 35,000.

Copper King Mansion
Copper King Mansion is under renovation.
Butte, Montana historic house
Historic home across from the Copper King Mansion

Strolling around the town, the streets are wide, roomy, and curiously quiet. In Butte’s lovely historic neighborhoods, you could put a couch out in the middle of the street and sit there for a couple days and get a good nap in. Which is exactly what was depicted in Wim Winder’s excellent film – Don’t Come Knocking – starring Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange. In a humorous touching moment, Shepard pulls a discarded couch out into the street, sits down, and for many hours, simply sits and contemplates his life. All the while, Wender’s keen-eyed Director of Photography, Franz Lustig, captures the beauty of Butte as the scene unwinds through morning, to evening, to night. It is a seminal moment in the film, and beautifully captures the quiet of Butte, as the city takes a rest from all that went before.

Curtis Music Hall building, Butte, MT
The old Curtis Music Hall building
Piccadilly Museum of Transportation, Butte, Montana
Piccadilly Museum of Transportation
Arts Chateau, Butte, MT
Arts Chateau

Our stay in Butte is brief. Arriving late, we find a room at the Hampton Inn – very comfortable, clean, and spacious. The next morning, before hitting the highway to Yellowstone, we do a driving tour of downtown Butte.

When you visit Butte and it’s older sections, much of its history can be seen in the buildings – the ornate stone architecture and fading old fashioned billboards on the stone-walled businesses.

We center ourselves in the historic heart of the city and begin to stroll. This is a great walking town. Traffic is light, and the layout is easy to navigate. Every block holds something of interest – old banks, butcher, bookstores, restaurants, pubs, music venues – all of it built from stone mined beneath Butte.

As we walk, we keep a lookout for the art gallery where Jessica Lange slugged Sam Shepard with her purse in the movie in Don’t Come Knocking.

Looking for an iced tea, we ask a local, who suggests The Venus Rising Espresso House. Turns out this is the local coffee house owned and operated by the Butte Silver Bow Arts Foundation. Good tea, good cause.

Preparing for our camping trip to Yellow Stone National Park in Wyoming, and Bear Butte in South Dakota, we pick up some supplies at the well-stocked Bob Ward’s sporting goods store. I could spend an hour in this place, squeezing between tightly packed rows of clothing, fly fishing gear, boating, camping furniture, shoes, … Finding what we need, at a good price, we set out for Yellow Stone National Park.