Bears are the stars, of course, at Bear Country USA, home to the world’s largest collection of privately owned black bear. However, bears aren’t the only animals you’ll see as you take the three-mile drive through the 200 acre attraction. In fact, we didn’t see any bears for quite a while as we traversed the trail.
When I’m in a tourist area, I tend to stay away from souvenir shops, buffets and most things that cater strictly to tourists. But once in a while a little lighthearted entertainment geared to tourists is a fun way to spend an evening. That was the case with the Fort Hays Chuckwagon Supper & Cowboy Music Show near Rapid City in South Dakota’s Black Hills.
Traveling to South Dakota to visit Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and all the natural beauty in the Black Hills and Badlands, you’ll most likely fly into or drive through Rapid City. The walkable downtown area of Rapid City itself is worth a visit, whether you spend a day at the beginning of your trip or take a break from Mother Nature mid-trip.
Dinosaur Park. The name says it all. It’s a park with dinosaurs—seven dinosaurs, to be exact. Seven life-size cement dinosaurs. Is it worth stopping at this kitschy Rapid City, South Dakota, roadside attraction? Absolutely. Here are six reasons why:
Reptile Gardens seems an oxymoron to me. I think of gardens as plant life, beautiful colorful flowers. The word “reptiles” brings to mind exactly that: snakes, lizards and alligators. How can the two possibly coexist in one attraction? The Reptile Gardens in Rapid City, South Dakota, does it well, combining a botanic garden with the largest collection of reptiles on the planet, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, with 225 species and subspecies, over 1,000 animals altogether.
If not for the sign out front, you might think you were pulling up to someone’s home. Actually, you are. The family dog may greet you and escort you to the door of the manufactured home set on a hill overlooking a lush pine valley.
Inside, you may be seated next to the fireplace in the dining room. Family photos fill the walls, including photos of Nicolas Black Elk, medicine man and warrior of the Native American Oglala Lakota tribe, who was restaurant owner Betty O’Rourke’s great-grandfather.
Bette’s Kitchen’s menu includes fare like fried chicken, burgers, BLTs, chef’s salad and soup. However, for our group that Betty hosted, she put out a huge spread of chicken, beef, chicken noodle soup, salads, baked beans, fresh watermelon and cupcakes frosted in vivid colors, punctuated with colorful sprinkles. The meal was served buffet style with paper plates from a folding table in Betty’s kitchen, an experience much like a family picnic.
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In fact, you can savor your meal picnic-style while enjoying the beauty of the South Dakota scenery in the tented outdoor seating area if you prefer.
Betty’s cooking is like that of your aunt or grandmother, down-home deliciousness. The soup was chock full of thick noodles, the chicken crispy and juicy, the beef tender and flavorful. It’s no wonder that Betty served over 2,000 people last summer. Besides local regulars, it isn’t uncommon for Betty to serve busloads that stop in for lunch in the remote location.
Bette’s Kitchen is located at 111 Black Elk Road, one mile north of Manderson in western South Dakota. Phone (605) 867-1739.
Disclosure: My visit to Bette’s Kitchen was hosted by the South Dakota Department of Tourism and Bette’s Kitchen. However, all opinions in this article are my own.
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