I lead a one-man war pretty near all the time and my battlefield is the world and my enemies are mainly fools.” —Gutzon Borglum, the creator of Mt. Rushmore. It’s an unusually beautiful Presidents Day weekend as Gizmo (my dog/sidekick) and I ride through the “eye” of the “Needles Highway.” A weird and beautiful road that gets its name from granite uplifts shaped like needles as if God could use them to sew the world together. We’re close to the faces of the stone-carved presidents in the Black Hills of South Dakota. To the Lakota, this place is as sacred as the Garden of Eden. To the settlers in the 19th century, it was a place of dreams, gold, and adventure. As Gizmo and I tour this beautiful landscape, we slowly make our way to the Grand Gateway Hotel to write our article. I find my curiosity and love deepening into the tales of Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull, all the famous characters, events and stories that help define the American West in all its glory and fascination. And yet I must acknowledge the eternal questions of Mt. Rushmore. Who are these four men carved into the mountain that will last thousands of years? What message will they send eons after civilizations read, ponder, and imagine all the possibilities with awestruck wonder?
Gizmo and I pull into the
Grand Gateway Hotel and the parking lot is packed full of beautiful hot rods, street rods &
rodders. Walking into the front lobby, the sound of cheers and laughter funnel from
the bar while screams of excited children echo past the glass enclosure and fill
the area. As I stroll up to the window peering through the glass of the
pavilion, rambunctious children are jumping, swimming and ripping down a
130-foot waterslide. A safe distance from water and splashes are families with
grandparents lounging around patio tables peacefully enjoying the fun
atmosphere. Looking off to my left, the hotel bar called "Cheers" is
alive with the chatters of car enthusiasts cheerfully engaged in anything,
everything about cars. Curiously, I wonder what type of event is going on in
town as I approach the front desk agent. “What’s going on?” I ask.
The agent welcomes me. “Happy Presidents Day
weekend, sir. The Counts of the cobblestone car club’s NSRA 61st anniversary.”
Wow, looks like I found the party.
“Please book me a room where I can relax and
work in peace”.
“No problem, sir. We have four floors and two
elevators. We got you entirely taken care of and if you need anything, let us
know, we want you to experience a wholly satisfactory stay with us.”
As I swipe the keycard on the door of room
421, I feel a strange mix of hope and dreadful anticipation. It's easy to write
an excellent blog when the hotel is professionally operated and the rooms are
thoughtfully updated, otherwise, it gets
complicated. Gizmo and I check the room for housekeeping errors. Clean mirrors
& windows with views of the Black Hills, debris removed under the bed (my
personal pet peeve) and all trash removed from drawers. Gizmo barks, “Pretty clean
room.” After that, we check the towels and pull back the sheets. Nothing better
than staying in a hotel with clean sheets, fluffy pillows, and soft bath towels.
To our surprise, we’re well accommodated, so I
hop on my computer and check the Wi-Fi speed. 4.1 Mbps? “We have a problem,
Gizmo barks, “That is frustrating slow.”
“I won't be able to do any work.” Picking up the phone, dialing 0, “ring ring.”
“Hi. This is Judd in room 421, and my internet
is pretty slow, do you have another room?”
“Thank you for calling, Mr. Uhre. No need to
disrupt your stay by moving rooms we have a WiFi extender. Would you like us to
plug it in for you?”
“Perfect, thank you.”
GRAND GATEWAY HOTEL
Resting on exit 59 off interstate 90 in Rapid City, South Dakota. The
Grand Gateway has a unique virtue of being operated by the same family for three
generations, existing as a place for comfort and relaxation for millions of
travelers and tourists. The hotel is honored to be a pillar of employment and an
oasis for the community and the patrons of Rapid City.
To the west, the Grand Gateway offers easy
access to majestic granite spires and beautiful lakes surrounded by pine
covered hills. To the east is a wonderland of bizarre fossils, massive buttes,
colorful pinnacles and deep gorges. An hour’s drive between Black Hills and
Badlands National Park, the Grand Gateway is in the middle of seven state
parks, recreations areas, national monuments and historic small towns.
Custer State Park.
Angostura State Recreation Area
George S. Mickelson Trail
Bear Butte State Park
Rocky Point State Recreation Area
Sheps Canyon State Recreation Area
Roughlock Falls State Recreation Area.
THE SMALL TOURIST TOWNS
DEADWOOD A HISTORY RESTORED:
It was 1986 in a room
filled with elected officials and community stakeholders attending a forum of economic
revitalization and historic restoration to the infrastructure of Deadwood. As the
townspeople chattered a guy named Patrick Straub, a well-known writer in the area, spoke up. “Don't reinvent yourself. Work
with what you already have.” It struck a chord in the hearts of the people
whose town has a rich history in America. By 1989, Deadwood was the first mining
community to re-legalize and regulate
gambling. Today, Deadwood brings its reputation as the wildest and wooliest
town in the west back to life with staged gunfights, and personalities such as Wild
Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane and Jack McCall.
WALL DRUG – ADVERTISING PHENOMENON
Somewhere in London, England, I saw my first
Wall Drug sign. It said something like “10,000 miles to Wall Drug.” Once I
found myself in South Dakota, Wall Drug signs seemed like they were every
quarter mile: “500 Miles to wall drug” “Wall Drug ahead only 4 hours away” “Hot
Coffee 5 Cents-Wall Drug” “Free Ice Water at Wall Drug” etc. I would love to
tell what’s remarkable about this town literally in the middle of nowhere, but
honestly, this is a place words can’t describe and it might be better to leave
it a mystery.
STURGIS – “ALL ROADS LEAD TO STURGIS”
Sturgis is home to arguably the most famous
and iconic motorcycle rally in the world with a plethora of scenic routes,
concerts, events and breathtaking landmarks to visit. The Sturgis Rally got its
mantra by making other competing rallies look like backyard picnics. In August
each year, Sturgis overflows with 700,000+ Bikers spilling into the entire
HOT SPRINGS – HEALING SPRINGS
According to Indian history, contact with the
beautiful warm springs which had been blessed by the great spirit would heal
diseases. They were known to the Indians as Wi-wi-la-ka-ta (Springs - hot) The
springs were so valuable that the native tribes would wage war to have
exclusive use. And in 1841, the Sioux Indians had a victorious battle against
the Cheyenne on what is now called Battle Mountain. Today, Hot Springs has the
relaxing feel of a small town. It inspires visitors with a vast underground
cave system known as Wind Cave, a live archaeology dig of prehistoric mammals
called Mammoth Site. And all-year-round
swimming and fun in the hot springs at Evens Plunge.
Named after the famous general who lost his
life in the battle of Little Bighorn. Custer is a pitstop before visiting all
the major attractions of the Black Hills like Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer
State Park, and Mount Rushmore.
Other small tourist towns worth mentioning is
Hill City – 1888 Train, Keystone – Borglum Museum.
As Gizmo and I finish our stay at the Grand
Gateway Hotel, I can’t help but appreciate the hospitality and gorgeous
surroundings we’ve enjoyed. It’s apparent that we could spend extensive time
here enjoying all the activities we’ve not yet mentioned. It’s been a
remarkable journey learning the history of the Wild West. Before leaving this
wonderland of creativity and creation, I stop at Tally’s Silver Spoon for a
delicious Bison Burger with avocados and peppers. While eating, I am brought
back to the enormous sculptures erected from the mountaintops from Mt. Rushmore
to the Crazy Horse Memorial. What will the civilizations thousands of years to
come learn from this place? Perhaps expansion and preservation are not only
paradoxical but also diabolical in our quest to interpret the human experience?
The history of the Black Hills and the events of yesterday will be mythical
tales in the far future, interpreted as stories of a pivotal experience in the
meaning of our existence.