Rapid City is a gateway to the Black Hills of southwest South Dakota. Originally a center for the mining and timber industries, the today the city is more reliant on light industry, tourism and the large Ellsworth Air Force Base nearby. That base narrowly escaped closure recently, but the prospect of future closure hangs over the area’s employment picture. The downtown core is a Western classic, with a broad main street featuring a mix of traditional small town commercial establishments and others oriented towards tourists.
Surrounding towns, particularly Keystone and others along main routes into the Black Hills are intensely tourist oriented, and summer tourist impact is strong enough to be a negative. That said, the impressive Mt. Rushmore memorial and the Black Hills beyond feature extensive beauty and recreation. Local museums and performing arts amenities are small but of high quality. The location is very isolated—Denver, the nearest city with significant services and amenities, is 400 miles to the southwest. The rumble heard from 25 miles north every August comes from half a million Harley-Davidson motorcycles attending the annual Sturgis Rally.
Rapid City is located in an area of creek valleys and mostly coniferous wooded hills. To the west, the Black Hills rise 3,000 feet into an alpine terrain. The climate is decidedly continental, with large swings in the weather and extreme conditions due to altitude and air-flow changes. Summers are warm and fairly dry with low humidity and cool, comfortable evenings. However, strong chinook winds off the mountains to the west can produce temperatures over 100 degrees. Winters are also quite changeable with polar-air masses alternating with warm southerly and chinook winds. Most precipitation comes as summer thunderstorms and winter snows, some heavy. The city averages 31 days a year with below-zero readings and 32 days a year above 90, the only city with such a climate profile. First freeze is late September, last is mid-May.