South Dakota is one of my favorite states. Maybe it always has been. I just didn’t know it until a few months ago.
I was born and now live in Oregon where I host and produce a talk show that’s built into a bicycle. For the past five years, I’ve been riding that bicycle around Oregon along with my crew to interview interesting people in unique locations all around the state. A few months ago I saw an ad for South Dakota in a magazine and I got an idea. I thought it might be fun to take my Pedal Powered Talk Show out of the Pacific Northwest to explore the great state of South Dakota. Below, you can read about and watch episodes from our journey.
The crew and I arrived in early October. I was told that that time of year could be warm and summery or cold and wintery, but we lucked out with sunny skies and pleasant temperatures. Not long after landing in Rapid City, we were headed 50 miles north to film our first interview with Duane Reichert, a veteran rodeo clown who still lives on the ranch he grew up on. We were struck by the expansiveness of the state on our drive. The road seemed to extend on in front of us forever. As soon as we arrived, Duane was ready to put on a show. His horse, Little Richie, showed off some dance moves, balanced on barrels and sat in a giant chair. Next, Duane got into his clown makeup and made a goat appear! We had to head towards Custer that night, so we said farewell and headed south.
The next morning we enjoyed breakfast at the Bavarian Inn, a cozy motel near the middle of town, before we drove to Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave was the first cave to be designated a National Park way back in 1903, though they’re not even close to mapping out the entire cave network. In fact, they speculate that they may only know about 10% of it! We interviewed Marc Ohms, a physical science technician at the park, who’s personally discovered many new sections of the cave. He told us all about the intricate and rare boxwork formations in the cave as well as the camel and horse fossils they’ve been excavating in a nearby cave he recently discovered.
We caught a few glimpses of Wind Cave’s bison herd as we set off for our next stop, probably the most iconic filming location of our trip. We were excited as we pulled up to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. I’d never been before and I was thrilled as the monument appeared between the trees. The superintendent of the park, Cheryl Schreier, sat down with us for an interview and told us all about the history of the park and the many visitor questions she’s answered over the years. She also suggested that we try the vanilla ice cream they sell at the park. It’s based on a recipe that was created by none other than Thomas Jefferson! Minutes later, we were enjoying the ice cream and chatting with tourists from all over the world as we marvelled at those four presidents.
The next morning we met up with Chad Kremer, the bison herd manager at Custer State Park. Fittingly, we interviewed him smack dab in the middle of the bison herd. As we learned from Chad, bison are powerful animals and can be incredibly dangerous, so we had a few folks keeping tabs on them to make sure we were always keeping a safe distance. Chad’s had some wild encounters with the animals and shared an incredible story about one bison who thought he was a dog. We were also treated to some sightings of the beautiful pronghorn antelope as they grazed around the park.
Next we headed north to Historic Deadwood, the wildest town in South Dakota, where we met up with historian Darrel Nelson at the Historic Adams House. Darrel seemed to know everything about the area and regaled us with stories of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and other Old West characters that used to fill the streets of Deadwood. We walked together through downtown as he pointed out former brothels, current casinos and the spot where some people say that Wild Bill was shot. It was a charming downtown full of fun shops and restaurants, though it wasn’t hard to imagine a cowboy shootout happening on those streets.
And then it was time to turn our attention from cowboys to opera. We headed to nearby Spearfish where we interviewed Johanna Meier, world famous opera singer, who grew up in the area and has now retired to her childhood home. She first appeared onstage when she was a few weeks old and, since then, her opera career has taken her across the country and around the world. Although she doesn’t perform anymore, she keeps busy with a number of other projects. A few years ago, she helped found the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary (now closed) right outside of town and she’s currently remodeling the doll museum she runs next door to her home.
Johanna recommended Killian’s Tavern for dinner and we were glad we took her suggestion. The staff was friendly, the burgers were tasty and the beer was plentiful! After dinner, we drove back south to Rapid City where we’d be spending our last night at The Rushmore Hotel & Suites.
The next morning we were off to our most anticipated location, Badlands National Park. We met up with Chief Ranger, Casey Osbeck, at the Pinnacles Overlook (a scenic pull-out along Badlands Loop Road), where we got our first dramatic view of the incredible landscape. I’d never seen anything like it in my life. It was like we had somehow traveled all the way to another planet. I think we could have stared at that landscape forever. Casey told us about how the Badlands were formed and he shared some of the close calls he’d had with rattlesnakes. We checked out a few other scenic vistas in the park, before it was time to head to the very last stop of our trip.
We’d seen so many natural wonders of South Dakota and now we were going to see one of its amazing manmade wonders: Wall Drug. I’ve actually had a Wall Drug sticker on a piece of luggage for a decade, although I’d never seen the actual store. I’m not even sure if you can call it a store. It’s a collection of many stores selling knick knacks and cowboy boots and paintings and books. There are restaurants and a giant roaring dinosaur and piano-playing gorillas and singing raccoons and museums and games. And, as all the billboards around the state remind you, there’s free ice water and 5-cent coffee, too! We interviewed Rick Hustead, grandson of the founders of Wall Drug, in front of the giant jackalope. He shared stories from growing up in the store and walked us through some of his favorite parts. And, although Rick may be the boss now, he’s still not afraid to get his hands dirty. During a lunch rush we saw him jump behind the counter to serve up some burgers and fries in one of the cafes.
Sadly, it was time to pack up our gear for the last time and head back to the airport. As our plane took off from Rapid City, we took one last aerial look at the state we had quickly learned to love. Even though our adventure was over, we were now armed with hours of amazing footage that showcased the wonderful people and incredible sights of the state. We couldn’t wait to share it with all our friends and fans back home.