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Five Splendid Towns to Visit, Enjoy in South Dakota

1. Deadwood. Located in the western South Dakota, in the Black Hills, this old-west frontier, gold-mining town has a rich history and a powerful present. Starting in 1874, under the command of General George A. Custer, gold was discovered in the Black Hills. The following year, John B. Pearson found gold in a narrow canyon, which became known as Deadwood Gulch because of the dead trees that lined the canyon. The town itself was established in 1876. Famous residents include Wild Bill Hickok, one of many who came looking for fortune, who was gunned down during a poker game in which he had a hand of aces and eights -- known ever since as the Dead Man's Hand. He and Calamity Jane are buried next to each other in Mount Moriah Cemetery. The town has survived three major fires and numerous economic downturns. Visit both for the access to the Black Hills as well as for the character and feel of the town, a National Historic Landmark District for its well-preserved Gold Rush-era architecture. The HBO series of the same name is based on Deadwood.

2. Hill City. Located in southwestern South Dakota, this second-oldest town in the Black Hills is one not to miss for both its proximity to all the major attractions of the area -- thus gaining its nickname of the "Heart of the Hills" -- as well as its vibrant business center, including art galleries, gift shops, antique stores, restaurants, and wineries and distilleries. Like other of the towns in the area, Hill City has its roots in the gold mining rush of the late 19th century; later timber became a major economic driver, and today, tourism plays a major role. The Burlington Northern Line (also called the High Line) had passenger service until 1949; several decades later, it has morphed into the award-winning George S. Mickelson Trail (LINK), which runs right through town. But no worries for railroad buffs; the Black Hills Central Railroad (known as the 1880 Train) runs a 2.5-hour roundtrip ride on a vintage steam train between Hill City and Keystone from May to October. Don't miss stopping at the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Museum of South Dakota, located on Highway 385.

3. Keystone. Located in the Black Hills in the southwestern part of the state, about two miles from Mount Rushmore (and part of its claim to fame), this one-time gold mining boom town is now an interesting place to visit for its tale of two cities. The original town, now called Old Town, began with the discovery of gold along Battle Creek in 1876; that settlement was called Harney, after Mount Harney (now Black Elk Peak). The first settler in the area was Fred J. Cross, who named the area Crossville. In 1891, the Keystone Mine was founded -- and named the community after the mine, which itself was most likely named after the keystone Masonic symbol. Other famous mines during the gold rush days included the Holy Terror Mine, Big Thunder Mine, and Lucky Boy Mine. It is believed that plenty of placer gold still exists, but the deposits are too deep to reach. Visitors today can take a walking tour of Old Town. The newer Keystone is a mile-long stretch that features dozens of shopping boutiques, souvenir shops, family-friendly attractions, and restaurants. Make sure you stop at the National Presidential Wax Museum, as well as the Keystone Historical Museum. And for fun, check out Big Thunder Gold Mine... And take the 1880 Train to Hill City.

4. Mitchell. Located in southeastern South Dakota, many people around the world know it for being the location of the world's only Corn Palace, but there is much more to this town. Of course, the town and surrounding area has a rich Native American history, but the first modern settlement began a few miles from the current town when settlers chose a location at the confluence of the James River and Firesteel Creek, naming the new town Firesteel. With the encouragement of the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad, which wanted its tracks away from the floodplain, the town was relocated to its present day location and named Mitchell, after Alexander Mitchell, president of the railroad. Do visit the Corn Palace, which is a major source of pride in the community, and whose exterior changes annually. But also visit the Dakota Discovery Museum, which showcases the story of the original settlers and has an amazing collection; and the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village, an archeological site (climate-controlled) in which scientists are excavating a native American village. Other attractions include the McGovern Legacy Museum and the Carnegie Resource Center. Of course, there are also shops and restaurants, as well as many wonderful outdoor opportunities along the shores of Lake Mitchell.

5. Vermillion. Located in the southeastern part of the state, atop a bluff not far from the great Missouri River, and home to the University of South Dakota, it is a place Lewis & Clark camped at (along the mouth of the Vermillion River) in August 1804. The town was founded in 1859, and the name comes from the Lakota Tribe's name for the nearby river called was a wak pa'la, or red stream. The University of South Dakota was established here in 1862. Three-quarters of the town was washed away by the Great Flood of 1881. Make time for a stroll through the pretty downtown (listed on the National Register of Historic Places), walk the campus, and take in Spirit Mound Historic Prairie, the only hill in the prairies and a state park established in 2002 -- but known by Native Americans as Paha Wakan, and believed to be occupied by evil spirits. Also check out the W. H Over Museum and the state's oldest winery, Valliant Vineyards Winery. Finally, for outdoor fun, check out Clay County Park, 34 acres of beauty along the Missouri River.

Bonus: Wall and Wall Drugs. If you can resist! As you drive practically anywhere in South Dakota, but especially anywhere near the Badlands, you will see signs for Wall Drugs, which opened in 1931 as a small pharmacy, but has since become a major tourist attraction. Be sure to stop in the town itself and check out its main street, which features all sorts of shops and restaurants. For outdoor enthusiasts, you will find biking and hiking paths that follow the ridge of the Badlands. Don't leave without checking out the National Grasslands Visitor Center.

EmpoweringSites.com CEO Dr. Randall Hansen Dr. Randall S. Hansen is an educator, author, and blogger, as well as founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites, including EmpoweringAdvice.com. Dr. Hansen has been helping empower people to achieving success his entire adult life. He is also founder of EnhanceMyVocabulary.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EmpoweringRetreat.com. He is a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. Dr. Hansen is also an educator, teaching business and marketing at the college level for more than 25 years. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com. You can also check out Dr. Hansen on Google+, as well as Dr. Randall Hansen on LinkedIn.

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