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, Houston.”
Gizmo barks, “That is frustrating slow.”
I reply, “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.
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 black hills.
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.