The town my wife and I moved to 37 years ago gets its name from the creek that cuts through the hogback ridge, which separates the eastern edge of the Black Hills from the prairie. Though considered one of the nation’s metropolitan areas by the Census Bureau, life in the state’s second largest city is anything but rapid. A 20-minute drive (or less) from any location in the city gets me into the wild – a Ponderosa pine forest or a mixed grass prairie.
For nearly 100 years local visionaries have employed schemes and marketing campaigns to draw people to this community on the semi-arid northern plains. The city, first known as Hay Camp, eventually eclipsed the population of Custer and Deadwood whose gold discoveries first lured non-natives into the forbidden territory deeded by treaty to the Great Sioux Nation.
Despite almost a century of recruiting relatively few do more than pass through on their way to see nearby Mount Rushmore, one of the early attempts to draw people to the area. A 1930s tourist venture placed seven concrete dinosaurs overlooking the city from Skyline Drive. In a more recent effort to entice visitors, Rapid City came up with an egalitarian plan to adorn its downtown street corners with every U.S. president – the beloved, the obscure, the scorned.
These manmade endeavors neither drew nor keep us here. Living in the Hills during a college field geology course, we discovered long summer days with next-to-no humidity that cooled down into mosquito-free evenings. When first married my wife and I thought spending a couple years in such a place would be a great way to lay a solid foundation for marriage. But we forgot to leave.
The seasons pleased us – more sun-filled days than our Chicago and Boston suburban hometowns; winters that intermittently release their frigid grip allowing temperatures to climb into the 50s every month of the year. So we hesitated. And our roots grew deep like the drought-resistant buffalograss on the western Dakota prairie.