AAA Traveler - Summer 2021 - 8

Where the Buffalo
The Black Hills wow visitors with
awe-inspiring landscapes, a
storied history - and herds of
roaming buffalo.
By Suzanne Bopp
O
n the western edge of South Dakota, the Black Hills
rise from the great golden expanse of surrounding
prairie like a surprise. They're so densely covered in
evergreen trees that the native Lakota called them " paha sapa "
- hills that are black.
The area holds an important place in America's history. At
one time it was a major hub for explorers and settlers moving
west. Crazy Horse fought here in the Black Hills War; the
discovery of gold led to a gold rush; the town of Deadwood
sprang up and attracted gamblers, outlaws and famous
gunslingers like Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok.
The Black Hills cover an area only 50 miles wide and 120
miles long, but the small area is filled with scenic drives,
opportunities for hiking, biking and horseback riding -
you can even join an annual buffalo roundup -and sights
like Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial. You can
easily spend days exploring, and find something to please
every traveler.
Start in Rapid City
Rapid City, the region's largest city (population 78,000) is
a natural starting point for a Black Hills exploration. It's
actually known as the gateway to the Black Hills. It's also
called the City of Presidents because of the life-size bronze
sculptures of U.S. presidents you'll see throughout the
downtown streets.
When you join the AAA partner AAA Member Choice
Vacations' itinerary, " Spotlight on South Dakota, " your tour
will start off in Rapid City, and you'll get a special
introduction to the region during a welcome dinner featuring
a Native American chronicler who shares stories about the
lives and culture of the Lakota people who lived in the Black
Hills long before the settlers came.
Go back even further in time at the Journey Museum &
Learning Center, from the violent upheaval that formed the
Black Hills 2.5 billion years ago, through the dinosaurs, to the
Lakota, up to the development of the Western frontier towns.
The complete story of the Western Great Plains. Check out the
Museum of Geology for even more regional paleontology facts
and original fossils discovered in South Dakota.
As you head out of town, you won't be able to miss the
many roadside signs for Wall Drug Store. It's been luring in
visitors with its humorous self-promotional messages - along
with the promise of " free ice water " - since 1931. Wall Drug
has evolved into a 76,000-square-foot kitschy extravaganza of
free attractions, an animated T-Rex, along with a game room
and the Western Art Gallery Restaurant, which seats over 500.
You can buy their classic souvenir " jack-a-lope " (a mounted
hare's head with antelope-like antlers), a polished fossil, a
homemade doughnut or a sheriff's badge.
Travel South Dakota

AAA Traveler - Summer 2021

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