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Dakotas: Bigger than life

Courtesy South Dakota Dept. of Tourism

Journey Museum
Many groups begin a trip through South Dakota in Rapid City, where the Journey Museum introduces them to the natural and human history of the Black Hills.

“This is a very hands-on cultural center,” said Michelle Thomson, tourism director at the Rapid City Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It tells the whole story of the Black Hills. There’s also a Sioux museum and a pioneer collection. It’s a great place for groups to begin their visit.”

After watching an introductory video, groups enter the museum through a dark “star room,” where audio recordings tell the stories of Sioux creation myths. A geological section that features a towering fossilized skeleton of a wooly mammoth gives a physical overview of the Black Hills makeup.

The museum’s American Indian section has a variety of life-size exhibits, such as a teepee visitors can walk inside and a re-creation of early stone carvings found in the South Dakota wilderness.

The pioneer section details the settling of Rapid City in 1876 with a collection of hardware, china, clothing and furniture that accompanied migrants to the area in the 19th century.

Travel lovers will appreciate a collection of early South Dakota tourism promotional materials and souvenirs from the dawn of the automobile age.

Adams Museum
Characters like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane helped Deadwood earn a reputation as one of South Dakota’s roughest towns during the Black Hills gold rush. Today, the Adams Museum in downtown Deadwood has exhibits and artifacts that shed light on some of the fact and fiction of this famous town’s history.

“The Deadwood story stands for so much in the American saga,” said curator Darrel Nelson. “It’s quintessentially Western. In the early years, Deadwood was famous as the hellhole of the Old West.”

The museum’s exhibits deal with Hickok, Calamity Jane and other well-known figures from the area’s past. Visitors will find one of Wild Bill’s guns in the display cases, along with information on gambling and legalized prostitution in a section called “Risky Business.”

As groups roam the three stories of exhibits in this 1930 building, they’ll learn about the different ethnic groups that were active in the area’s history, among them Jews, Chinese and Lakota Sioux.

The basement has a Pahasapasaurus dinosaur fossil found in the nearby hills, and the “Cabinet of Curiosities” on the main floor has a collection of odds and ends not associated with the city, such as a chest that came to North America on the Mayflower.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.