Rapid City Memories

Plans are underway for my 2022 Western Adventure so I have been thinking a lot about past western trips. Of all the places I’ve been, Rapid City, South Dakota is one of the most visually pleasing small cities and one I wouldn’t mind revisiting someday.

It is packed with things to to do, cute shops, amazing restaurants and public art galore.

We had some terrific meals, including dinner at Firehouse Brewing Company which is located in a 1915 era firehouse. Today it has the distinction of being the city’s first brew pub and it exists because a group of investors saw an opportunity, formed a partnership and went for it.

There are great old buildings and terrific vintage signage still in use today.

Plus, there’s an alley where local artists can apply for permits to practice their graffiti art. Some of the work is fun or cute while others deliver a message.

When it comes to public art, the city is actually best known for its trail of life sized bronze statues that represent each of our nation’s former presidents. There’s a reason why their nickname is “City of Presidents” and it isn’t just because Mount Rushmore is down the road.

Most of these statues are impressive and some are surprisingly moving like this one of John F. Kennedy with his toddler son.

They are all privately funded and it’s a non-partisan project all the way around.

Rapid City is close to Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, the Badlands and a host of other regional attractions. That area is well worth your time whether you stop on your way somewhere else or are spending a chunk of time.

If you’re interested, type South Dakota into the search box here and you’ll find several pieces from my visit a few years ago!

Alley Views

Yesterday blogger Jim Grey shared some terrific photos of alley views. I mentioned to him that I like alleys for a couple of reasons.

Sure, they tend to be dingy and contain dumpsters and junk. Plus, it’s best not to go venturing down one where you might encounter danger. But just step a few feet inside an alley and look around you.

First of all, you can watch people go by and they rarely even know you’re there. As a lifelong people watcher this is a pretty neat vantage point because you just catch a glimpse as they go by and you have to be quick with your assessment. It also illustrates how little most people observe about the world around them. They don’t look up or down and certainly not to the side or back. Most human beings are are full steam ahead to whatever is before them.

What a pity that is. Personally, I find the most interesting things simply by looking around.

More importantly, alleys often frame the world in a way you wouldn’t have thought to do on your own. This is the Lawrence County Courthouse in Ironton, Ohio.

There’s a lot of visual clutter here but I still like the way the dome is framed. If you want to be philosophical about it, this image also illustrates the grime and the utilitarian stuff that lurks in the shadows of our halls of justice and politics.

Plus, you occasionally find something truly beautiful and unexpected like Umbrella Alley in Lancaster. I think the umbrellas are gone now but I was glad to see them a few years ago.

Rapid City, South Dakota turned some of their downtown alleys into a canvas for street art like this scene.

The humble alley can be grungy and gross but there’s great potential for creativity and found treasures as well. You just have to pay attention and train your brain to seek the unexpected.

Be sure to check out Jim’s blog. He has been influential in my own blogging journey and writes one of my favorite blogs.

Chapel In The Hills

The best things in life when out adventuring are often the things you really didn’t expect. This can come in many forms – a great meal from a greasy spoon, a meaningful conversation with a shop owner, a stunning sunset or a building that is so interesting you have to stop and explore.

Before any trip, I always do some reconnaissance work looking for off the beaten path stuff and prioritizing how to spend my time. In the process of preparing for our South Dakota adventure, I read about the Chapel in the Hills in Rapid City.

Even though I planned for it, this turned out to be one of those unexpected places, one of those special places that defy convention and become a defining memory of the trip.

It looks like someone transported an ancient Norwegian church through the ages and across the sea to the Black Hills.

Truth is, Lutherans built this incredibly ornate wooden church in 1969. It’s a replica of a stave church in Norway that dates to around the year 1200.

It’s in town but on some acreage so it feels peaceful, isolated, rustic and other worldly. It looks and feels like it doesn’t belong and yet being there is so calming it seems perfectly natural.

It’s built almost entirely with wood, including wooden dowels rather than nails to hold it together. Intricate wood carvings were created by local artists and a Norwegian expert brought in to make sure it recreates the themes found on the original Norwegian church.

The floor and foundation are stone. The sanctuary is simple. The benches look uncomfortable.

There’s a covered passageway known as an ambulatory that covers the entire exterior. This provides shelter to the foundation which is especially helpful in harsh climates and causes the sanctuary to feel somehow more isolated from the outside world.

As a person who spends much time studying churches from the outside, it was not lost on me this symbolism of providing shelter to those who don’t quite make it inside.

My adventure pal isn’t as oddly enamored with churches as I am. So she wandered off to give me a few minutes to absorb my surroundings and I was grateful for these stolen moments.

There’s a meditation trail and visitors are welcome to dwell. They host weddings and have evening services during the warm season – the casual dress of a vacationer is perfectly fine.

There’s a log cabin museum and a visitors center complete with gift shop on the property. The log cabin was built in the nineteenth century by a Norwegian prospector who came to the Black Hills during the gold rush. The visitor center is a grass roofed structure known as a Stabbur, another interesting Norwegian architectural style.

If you are ever in Rapid City, I hope you will make time to go and dwell. Stop and smell the lavender and find some inner peace. You can read more about the history and architecture at their website by clicking here.

Street Art

There’s an amazing alley in Rapid City, South Dakota where graffiti artists can legally leave their mark.

It’s a brilliant method to tamping down on graffiti around the city and one of those most surreal places I’ve seen.

There were several pieces that caught my eye. Here’s just one.

Incidentally, I don’t recall reading about this in any brochures. We found it because we parked the car and walked around. When you visit a new place, get out and explore. You never know what you’ll find!

People Watching

Sometimes I wish that it was socially acceptable to just walk up to a stranger and ask what their story is. “Hello sir. You look like an interesting human being and we’re stuck in this airport for a while. Would you mind telling me where you’re from and a little about your life philosophy?”

Since I wasn’t brave enough to do that, I’ll have to settle for making up my own tale. But really, friends – doesn’t he look like he’s been on some adventures?

Once In A While…

Stockgrowers Association sign

Once in a while a road warrior will turn a corner and find themselves looking up at the coolest thing they’ve ever seen. For me, that coolest thing is often a barn, a bend in the road, an old building or a sign. That’s exactly what happened to me while walking around Rapid City, South Dakota with my pal Johnna last summer.

The building is a little nondescript but the sign is amazing. We just don’t make advertising signs with this kind of character anymore. And in case you’re wondering, it does light up. We went back after dark and it looked stunning.