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Impressions of Hills, Prairie, and People

Updated: May 24, 2021

May 15 – 21 – Rapid City and surrounding area, Part 1


I am writing this entry from the back porch of my friends’ cabin near Hill City – there is no internet, cable, or TV access, so it is a chance to completely disconnect from everything and I am trying to make the most of it. The fact that it is a beautiful day (highs in the 70s and sunny) only adds to the atmosphere and opportunity to reflect. One of my favorite sounds is listening to the wind blow through the ponderosa pine trees – it is such a distinctive sound and always takes me back to my childhood when we went camping. The hill behind the cabin is a mixture of ponderosa pine and Black Hills spruce, with a few birch trees thrown in for good measure. Have seen four deer in the back and a wild turkey on the hill.

Rather than provide a day-by-day summary, this entry will include some random experiences from my days so far. It is so good to be “home” again – truly the culminating event from the entire trip up here.


On Saturday, May 15 I drove up to Hill City to continue the Augustana reunion tour! Lynn and Perry invited me up to their cabin for dinner (same one where I am staying). It was so great to see them and their son, Michael. The container of Legos I had in my car from Des Moines were delivered to Michael and well received.


I got to spend some more time with Lynn, Perry, Michael, and Lynn’s Mom, Mary Jo, at Michael’s baseball game on Monday afternoon – what a hoot that was! Michael (6) hit a good line drive on his first at bat. After the game we went out to dinner and had a chance to visit.


I have spent a good bit of time with Mom, and it has been good to catch up in person. Sunday, May 16, Mom and Jill came up to Kay’s for lunch, so that was a lot of fun. After we took Mom back to Edgewood, we departed for a drive up to Spearfish Canyon – one of my most favorite places in the world. We took I-90 up to Sturgis and then went up Boulder Canyon to Deadwood. From there we went by the winter sports areas of Terry Peak and Deer Mountain and through Icebox Canyon to Cheyenne Crossing. Part of the reason we went up the canyon from south to north is because Kay and Bill wanted to show me the damage from the devastating tornadoes that ravaged the lower part of the canyon. Trees were snapped off like matchsticks, and in some areas there was not a tree standing – just piles of wood on the ground. The amazing thing is that few of the houses appeared to be damaged, even when all the trees around them had been snapped off or uprooted. Once we passed Savoy (where you can pick up the road to Roughlock Falls) there was less damage. It is early spring here, as most of the deciduous trees had no or few leaves, especially in the deepest parts of the canyon. I guess that makes my third spring this year! We stopped at Bridal Veil Falls and then exited the canyon and returned to Rapid City via I-90. Despite the destruction, Spearfish Canyon remains one of the most awe-inspiring and spectacular places I have ever been.


I spent one morning walking around downtown Rapid City. They have done a lot to revitalize the area and are in the process of installing new LED lights on Main and St. Joe, the two primary streets downtown. I walked through the lobby of the Hotel Alex Johnson (as featured in the Hitchkock movie, “North by Northwest”), and enjoyed poking around Prairie Edge, a store featuring lots of Native American art. I always enjoy wandering around and looking at the art. One surprising find was a section devoted to “Sticks” – a store I visited with Beth in Des Moines that features interesting art made from wood. That was a pleasant and unexpected surprise!


I spent a little time at the Dahl Fine Arts Center, and they featured three interesting exhibits. First was art created by students at the four area high schools (Central, Stevens, St. Thomas More, and Douglas) – I’m always amazed by what young people can create. Next came an exhibit of work by the art majors at Black Hills State in Spearfish. Their art was thought provoking and well done. Finally, the third exhibit featured local artists and works they have produced during the pandemic.


I had lunch at one of several Indian/Nepalese restaurants in town – who knew?! I think many of them have connections with South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and/or with Ellsworth AFB. They liked the area and stayed. The food was great. Some graduates have created this amazing building at Main and East Boulevard that is a makerspace/innovation lab. It is without a doubt the most beautiful new building in town.


After visiting Mom that day, I went to Suzie Cappa Art Center to visit Karla, as it is her last week to work at the gallery where Jill creates her artwork. Karla has been so good to Jill and to all of us, so I wanted to be sure and give her my regards. Jill’s artwork continues to amaze and evolve.


Kay, Bill, and I went down to Custer State Park on Tuesday, May 18, hoping to see the buffalo calves (called “cinnamons” because of their tan coloring) and whatever other wildlife we might see. Well, I have never been on the Wildlife Loop road and seen so few bison – we only saw 6 or so bulls. The cows and calves had all disappeared! At one point Bill and I walked up a hill that provided a wide view of the surrounding area, and we still saw no bison. We did get to see some antelope up close and some deer but missed out on seeing the stars of the show! After the Wildlife Loop road, we drove up Iron Mountain Road, which features wooden pigtail bridges and tunnels that provide incredible views of Mount Rushmore. The road was designed by Peter Norbeck, who rode on horseback to determine the route for this one-of-a-kind scenic byway. From there we drove through Keystone and went by Sheridan Lake to see all the construction there, as well as Pactola Lake. Both lakes are among the most beautiful in the Black Hills. We took Rimrock Highway (SD44) back to Rapid City and went up Cleghorn Canyon to see where the forest fire was this past March. The land rebounds quickly and there was a lot of fresh grass, but you could see char marks on many of the pine trees.


Wednesday, May 19 was a big day. I picked up Mom at Edgewood and we headed east onto the prairie. Our first stop was to visit my brother, Keith, and his wife, Sharon. They live in New Underwood, which is about 20 miles east of Rapid City. From there we went along I-90 to the Interior exit (Badlands Loop Road) and took a gravel road up to Cottonwood and then drove on US14 into Philip, which is where Mom grew up and where she and Dad met (population less than 800). Shortly before getting to town, we stopped and picked up one of Mom’s classmates, Rita. We entered town and took a street-by-street tour so Mom and Rita could determine who lives where and what has changed.


After our tour of town, we headed north to have lunch at the Frein ranch, which means driving 10 miles north on SD73, 8 miles west past Grindstone Butte, and 1 mile south from Philip. We always have such a good time at the ranch! After a fantastic lunch of roast beef (naturally from one of their cows), we spent the afternoon reminiscing and telling stories. There was much laughter involved as well.


We drove back to Philip and dropped Rita off at her house west of town and then continued back to Rapid City. Mom did not take a nap the entire day because she was enjoying herself so much. There really is something special about the prairie. It has a subtle beauty, and the wide-open spaces cannot be matched. If you can get beyond the seemingly barren landscape and look a bit more closely, it is full of life and variety.


Another fun food event has been visiting Colonial House restaurant to indulge in their caramel rolls. There is nothing quite like them and it is certainly something you cannot find in the South. I ate there both Wednesday and Thursday (May 19 and 20) and the waitress both days was Janice Fisk. Our dads were big hunting buddies for years, so it was great to have that connection again. Hal Fisk passed away right before the pandemic, so I often wonder if he and Dad are hunting or at least reliving some of their experiences.


So now back to Thursday, May 20. After having some lunch, I walked along Gertie Road (near the cabin) until it ended. The round trip must have been slightly over 4 miles because it took about 70 minutes. I so enjoyed the sound of the wind through the pines, the granite formations, and views of Black Elk Peak (highest point east of the Rocky Mountains). Two wild turkeys poked all around the back yard and I had a simple supper on the back porch with things I picked up at Krull’s Grocery in Hill City.


Friday, May 21 has been the only marginal weather day to date. It has been foggy all day, and there was a big rainstorm early in the morning. And it’s also about 30 degrees cooler than Thursday, but that’s OK. It has given me the chance to have a quiet day.


Gallery photos:

Top row (L to R): Whitetail Campground at Deerfield Reservoir; Deerfield Reservoir; Smokey the Bear in Hill City

2nd row (L to R): Frein ranch; Mom and Rita; Lloyd and Marianne Frein

3rd row (L to R): Mount Coolidge; Tunnel on Iron Mtn. Road; Antelope

4th row (L to R): Lynn and Perry; Michael and Perry; Lynn and David

5th row (L to R): Spearfish Canyon: Home surrounded by downed trees; trees; Bridal Veil Falls




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