This area of the country is known for the vast amount of prehistoric fossils discovered here. The girls and I read a book from the Time Spies series called Bones In the Badlands. This story is set during the great “Bone Wars” of the late 1800s, when paleontologists were vying to see who could unearth the most dinosaur skeletons in the fossil-rich areas of Montana and Wyoming. We were excited to see the rocky landscape for ourselves.
We made our home base in Rapid City, South Dakota, at a Best Western Ramkota with (surprise, surprise) an indoor waterpark. This was a welcome change from our horrible experience at the KOA outside Devil’s Tower (read about it here).
The first morning we drove to the nearby town of Lead (pronounced “Leed”), South Dakota, to visit the Black Hills Mining Museum. Both of Mom’s great-grandfathers were miners in Oklahoma, and we were eager to learn all about the dangerous occupation of mining for gold.
The Black Hills Mining Museum is different from other mining museums because it is a recreation of a mine shaft built completely above ground. Other museums involve a trip deep into retired mine shafts, and Mom and Dad were not remotely interested in going underground.
We arrived at 1:15 and were told that a tour had just started and we would need to wait another hour. Mom was very surprised because the museum’s website said that tours started every half hour beginning at 9:30 AM with no tour from 12 to 1. With a squirmy four year-old in tow, we had planned our arrival to avoid a long wait. Unfortunately, the clerk did not understand the concept of good customer service and replied (in a very snarky tone), “Well, I don’t know where you read that. That isn’t our website. Go look in the exhibit hall until its time.” (You can check for yourself here. Mom was right, not that she holds a grudge.)
Luckily, the tour guide heard us in the exhibit hall (four year-olds can’t always wait quietly) and offered to let us join the tour already in progress. He quickly recapped what we had missed and we continued down the replica mine shaft. Our guide was very knowledgeable and full of interesting local stories. The replica mine shaft has life-sized equipment and mannequins in realistic situations illustrating every aspect of gold mining from the early days to modern times. The attention to detail is amazing, and you really feel as if you are underground. Unfortunately, taking pictures was not successful in the dim light.
This section of the tour lets out into the large exhibit room filled with historic photographs and mining implements. For an additional fee, you can pan for gold in a replica sluice, and you are guaranteed to find some. Our guide patiently helped each of our kids learn the proper way to swirl the pan to separate the gold from the sediment taken from the actual retired mine in Lead.
Despite the rocky start, we recommend the Black Hills Mining Museum. This very interactive tour was a fun way to learn about the process and history of mining for gold.