This is my fifth post about our family's visit to the Dakotas. I recommend reading the first, second, third, and fourth trip posts before this one. Because I blog about educational travel, I received free admission tickets, media rates, discounts, and other benefits for some of the places we visited during the trip. Other places we went are free for everyone. We paid full price for the rest. This has no bearing on my reviews. If you see any gaps in my narrative, it is because I didn't love that particular attraction, restaurant, or hotel enough to recommend it, regardless of how much I paid or didn't pay.
Rapid City, South Dakota to Medora, North Dakota
Our first priority on Saturday, July 29 was finishing the City of Presidents Scavenger Hunt. Mission accomplished!
We loved downtown Rapid City. It is so vibrant, with lots to see and do. There were a lot of people out and about on that Saturday morning. More than once one of us said that we wished we had more time in Rapid City.
We had breakfast at the Essence of Coffee Aussie Bake House. Despite a good number of customers, our food came quickly. Everything was delicious.
Then we took the City View Trolley Tour. The route took us by Rapid City's numerous parks, greenbelts, and open spaces. It was so impressive! Recreation and time in nature are clearly priorities here, as they should be.
The trolley narration was pre-recorded and very interesting. We learned a lot about Rapid City and its history. However, I prefer live narration. That way, you actually hear about something just as you're about to pass it, as opposed to when you're stuck in traffic a block before the item discussed. Occasionally, our driver had some tidbits to share with us, but unfortunately, he talked over the narration, which made it impossible to understand either one.
The trolley made its only stop at Chapel in the Hills. We had about 20 minutes to look around.
Chapel in the Hills is a special ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which happens to be our denomination. Total coincidence - I didn't know the chapel was Lutheran and I didn't know we'd be stopping there.
The Chapel was built in 1969 and is an exact reproduction of the Borgund Stave Church in Norway. That church was built sometime between 1180 and 1250 and is now a museum.
It's beautiful inside. They hold public worship in the evenings; if we'd been staying another night in Rapid City, I would have attended.
This is really interesting. It's a small window outside of the chapel, located about 5.5 feet off the ground. Lepers could come there to hear services and receive communion without interacting with the rest of the parishioners. This is as much of the chapel as I could see standing at the leper's door.
In addition to the Chapel, the property has a small museum, gift shop, and meditation trail.
The trolley took us back to downtown after passing by all sorts of interesting sites in Rapid City that we would have loved to have explored. But alas, we had a four hour drive ahead and a firm time we needed to arrive. So we headed north.
We stopped when we reached Belle Fourche, the geographical center of the United States.
There's a beautiful path lined with all the state flags that leads to the marker.
Beneath each flag, there is a sign with the state's name, nickname, motto, capital, date of admission to the union, and the driving distance. We were in South Dakota, yet it said the driving distance to South Dakota was 201 miles. Presumably, that's the distance to the capital city, Pierre. The driving distance to California was 1281 miles.
Come for the photo op but stay for the museum! The Tri-State Museum and Johnny Spaulding Cabin are free to visit and worth your time.
After a nice visit, we were once again northern-bound. Exactly 98 miles later, we reached the destination we had been thinking about for years. North Dakota, our 50th state!
North Dakota takes its job seriously as the state most people save for last. There's a really nice turnout for anyone who wants to take their photo at the sign.
It would have been nice if there'd been a selfie stand, but we just took pictures of each other in different combinations.
It's hard to describe how exciting it was to accomplish a goal we'd been actively working on for 9 years. I'd been waiting for this day for so long. Did you notice that I made us matching t-shirts for the occasion? I modeled the design after a concert t-shirt. I love how it turned out.
The shirt starts with 2006, when Trevor was born in California, and lists the years that he first visited each of the remaining 49 states. (Gee, why didn't we go anywhere in 2020??) The pencil is on the left, of course. The QR code takes you here.
Before moving on, I have to mention something we noticed the second we stepped into North Dakota and that is grasshoppers. I have never seen as many grasshoppers as I saw in North Dakota. Literally, in my entire 51 years of life, if you added up every grasshopper I've ever seen, it wouldn't come close to how many grasshoppers I saw in three days in the western part of North Dakota.
Anyway... after our brief stop at the North Dakota border, we brushed off the grasshopppers and continued on to Medora. We checked in at the outstanding Rough Riders Hotel, where we would be staying for two nights.
Steve's parents first visited Medora about 8 years ago. Ever since, every time we see them, they tell us we HAVE to go to Medora. When I told them we would finally be visiting Medora, they happily agreed to meet us there. Not only was it fun to hang out with them, but it meant that we got a photo of the three of us in our matching t-shirts!
Our family photo was taken just before the Pitchfork Steak Fondue. It is a Medora tradition and you should not, under any circumstances, miss it. The cooks spear steaks onto literal pitchforks and cook them to a perfect doneness in boiling oil. Soooo delicious!
Don't eat steak? You still need to go. The side dishes are just as good.
You sit at picnic tables, first come first served. We chose a covered central spot, but there are uncovered tables too.
Our table choice turned out to be a very, very good decision. One minute the view looked like this...
... and then suddenly, this happened.
Hundreds of people (and their food) got soaked in an epic downpour. They crowded into the covered area, where unfortunately, there wasn't enough space for everyone to sit. Where there's a will, there's a way though. One person just opened an umbrella and kept eating in the rain!
For the record, the grasshoppers sought shelter too. On people. On the tables. In the food.
Fortunately, the downpour only lasted for about 10 minutes. The employees dried off the outdoor tables, the grasshoppers returned to the grass, and everyone resumed eating.
After dinner, we headed down a long escalator to find our seats for the Medora Musical.
What is the Medora Musical? It's a really entertaining mix of music, dance, humor, and the history of Medora and Teddy Roosevelt, set in a beautiful outdoor theater. We loved it.