Roadtrip 2015 – Big Sky Country

A return trip to explore more of Wyoming was always near the top of our travel list since our first cross-country adventure.  This was the year! Denny and I mapped out a fly-and-drive adventure with Wyoming smack in the middle of our journey. First stop – Rapid City, South Dakota. Air travel choices were limited – just to give you a perspective, we live in the Phoenix metropolitan area, and the actual city boasts a population of approximately 1.4 million people.  This is more than the combined population of  the ENTIRE states of South Dakota (at 853,175) and Wyoming (at 584,200). The entire state of Montana holds 1.02 million people – less than the total of Phoenix. Sparse flights fill up fast. Mesa to Rapid City takes less than two hours in the air, overall it was an easy navigation to get to our destination.

We arrived just around 6PM. By the time we checked into our hotel on the outskirts, Rapid City downtown was still hopping as we explored for eats. July being the height of the summer season, the tourist pull is as strong as a magnetic closure on a purse. A quick cruise on Main Street confirmed the Firehouse Brewing Company as a top hot spot. Located on Main Street near the main city square, it occupies the old fire station, and has a huge patio (with live entertainment), as well as separate wine tasting and souvenir storefronts. All were humming. We knew we had to check it out, so we waited about 40 minutes for seating, which was in the top level of the interior.  Turned out it was the best seat in the house – got to check out the elaborate bar and copper ceiling, as well as all the restaurant traffic. The house-brewed beer makes up for any diversity the standard pub grub menu might lack. We were definitely there for the beer, after all. I really enjoyed my cocoa-nib infused Saison beer – just enough tartness and sweet to balance out without being cloying. Denny enjoyed the Amber.

View from the balcony at the Firehouse Brewery

View from the balcony at the Firehouse Brewery

At 9 PM it was still light – this is unheard of in our part of the world, so we took advantage and strolled the downtown area. It has an old town Pasadena feel to it, but its identity centers on a Presidential theme – you’ll find all past presidents in full size bronze at each street corner.

Nine o’clock must be the magic hour, though, with retail shops shuttering as they swept the last of the killing-time tourists out. Then the street scene gradually made its transition as the baby boomer and family crowds gave way to Millennials and Gen X stragglers.


By a miracle of coincidental planning,  Denny’s niece, Christianne, and her family (husband Andy, son Zachary and daughter Kathryn), drove in from parts east late Wednesday night, and were staying in downtown Rapid City at the Hotel Alex Johnson. It’s a turn of the century hotel, with a grand entrance lobby that is reminiscent of Yellowstone’s architecture – beautifully aged wooden beams and Native American designs.

Coordinating schedules for the next day, we planned an early start that paved the way for a long and fruitful day. Badlands National Park was the focus for the day. We enjoyed a small summer crowd just by being there mid-week. Zachary and Kathryn were both collecting State Parks stamps, so the visitor center was the first stop. Typically that’s the best move to get the skinny on the trails and current events from the Rangers. In no time at all we had maps in hand and plans in place, so off to Saddle Pass trailhead we traipsed.


Saddle Pass is an incredible path. Wind and water carved limestone horizons yield incredible views.  The climb was steep as we huffed and puffed to reach the Castle and Medicine Root Trails.  At this point the humidity and the altitude will hit you, and it seems that there is never enough water to drink – although we had plenty. Once the crest was reached, we were rewarded with a panoramic view of the mountains juxtaposed to the plains – what an incredible experience.  It’s like being caught between two worlds.

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Much of this land was once under water, as can be evidenced by the striations of colors and textures exposed over time. The Sioux are responsible for naming it Mako (land) Sica (bad) because of the difficulties it presented for travel, hunting and living. There’s not too much trouble understanding this derivative – on foot it can be treacherous, without roads vehicular traveling is prohibitive.

Now if you thought that I wouldn’t be getting too detailed about our dining experiences, rest your inquisitive mind.  After a long day, we decided to clean up and then discover what else Rapid City had to offer in the way of eats.  At this point it was later in the evening so there were fewer choices available.  But just down the street from Hotel Alex Johnson there’s a corner restaurant called Tally’s Silver Spoon.  It has a real neighborhood feel, was family friendly without being touristy, and fit the bill perfectly.  My dish, a Carbonara with housemade Linguine, was freshly divine and I managed to make it disappear.  Andy had the Bison Maytag Marsala Mushroom with linguine which I understood was equally good.  Denny tested out the Pulled Pork, which passed with flying colors. Zach and Kathryn ordered a Bison Burger and a chicken sandwich. Christianne loved the French dip sandwich she ordered – I wished I could have had that bread!

Buzz Aldrin was reported to be roaming the streets downtown on a book promotion, but we didn’t run into him. It wasn’t for lack of trying, because after dinner we hunted down our favorite presidential statues and took pictures with them.  Fun!

Me and Ted

The Road to Montana

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