Blog Archives

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

In the spring of 2014, I had the opportunity to travel to Badlands National Park with an old friend. On the way, we ran into “Winter Storm Xenia,” which hit parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and northeast Wyoming. There were 5-6 foot snow drifts in Roseau, Minn and wind gusts of up to 64 mph in Rapid City. The storm cleared up the next day, but left a dusting of snow all over the Badlands.

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Growing up in Illinois, I had no concept of “wide open spaces.” It’s incredible to see golden, unbroken prairie stretching to the horizon under a big blue sky. At the Badlands, the earth just seems to fall away into huge rippling land forms. I got this shot of my friend (a better photographer than I’ll ever be) in action at the canyon edge.

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Badlands National Monument was established on January 25, 1939, and it became a national park in 1978. It consists of 379 square miles of land, offering hiking trails, camping sites, and  educational visitors centers. People even come to find fossils.

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All-American Diner Tour: Doo-Wah Ditty’s in Kimball, South Dakota

At the tail end of March 2014, a friend and I decided to drive out to the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and Devil’s Tower. It was springtime in the Midwest, and thoughts of winter storms were long behind us. About ninety minutes west of Sioux Falls along Interstate 90, however, the temperature began to drop, the wind picked up, and dark clouds formed ominously on the horizon.

Apparently we had driven into “Winter Storm Xenia,” which hit parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and northeast Wyoming. There were 5-6 foot snow drifts in Roseau, Minn and wind gusts of up to 64 mph in Rapid City.

We decided to stop for gas and check the weather at the Conoco gas station off Highway 16 near the tiny town of Kimball, South Dakota. “Real Food,” a large sign announced as we pulled off the interstate. The sign referred to Doo-Wah Ditty’s Diner, located inside the gas station.

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Hotel Alex Johnson’s Enigmatic 8th Floor

The Hotel Alex Johnson sits at the heart of beautiful downtown Rapid City, South Dakota. It is a luxury hotel with stores, a coffee shop, and a bar and restaurant on the first floor and a swanky rooftop club on the tenth floor. Prices are reasonable in the off season, so when a friend and I visited South Dakota in early April, we jumped at the opportunity to stay here. It helped, of course, that this hotel is rumored to be haunted.

Alex Carlton Johnson was Vice President of the Chicago-Northwestern Railroad. As construction began on Mount Rushmore, he knew tourists would need somewhere to stay, so he invested his fortune in a hotel. The Hotel Alex Johnson opened in 1928 and was described as the “showplace of the West.” Its famous guests included President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Alex Johnson died in 1938, but according to some hotel employees, part of him never left.

There are two rooms on the eighth floor that are widely believed to be haunted, so much so that the Hotel Alex Johnson offers a special “ghost adventure” guest package to stay there. The rooms are 802 and 812. According to authors Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk, a young couple staying in Room 802 had several hair-raising encounters. They described hearing music that did not seem to have a source, and both said they awoke to feel like they were being choked. Their pets also appeared agitated and behaved strangely.

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Deadwood’s Bullock Hotel

The historic Bullock Hotel, located at 633 Main Street in Deadwood, South Dakota, is one of the most famous haunted hotels in the United States. In 1992, it was featured on the TV program Unsolved Mysteries. It is reportedly haunted by none other than the ghost of its namesake, Seth Bullock, the first sheriff of Deadwood, as well as a host of other spirits. A friend and I recently stayed at the Bullock Hotel on a trip through South Dakota, and although we didn’t experience anything unusual, we did learn a lot about this historic place.

When you enter Deadwood at night, down the brick street lined with softly glowing lamps, it is easy to feel transported back in time. The Bullock Hotel was originally built by Seth Bullock between 1894 and 1896 and contained 60 luxury rooms. In 1976, the Aryes family purchased the hotel and turned it into a hardware store. Unfortunately, they auctioned off all the antique furnishings. 15 years later, a company called Bullock Properties purchased the building, began reconverting it into a hotel, and tried to restore its former glory.

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