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Scales and Tales

Reptile Gardens...or United Nations?

Many people do not know that the Black Hills was one of the top finalists in the search for a location for the United Nations.

The beginnings of what was to become the United Nations were set in motion back in 1941. By 1942 the term United Nations, coined by Franklin Roosevelt, was first used. Over the next few years the UN Charter was created and ratified and a search was begun for a place to house this new international organization.

Many locales vied for the UN complex. In the end, the final 5 contenders were:a location in Queens, New York, two locations in New York City, Navy Island in Ontario, Canada, and the Black Hills of South Dakota. The South Dakota location that had been selected for the UN was a pretty little valley just a few miles south of Rapid City along Spring Creek. It was ultimately decided that putting this huge complex in the center of the US in a rural area with minimal infrastructure did not make much sense. So, the current site in New York was selected and ground was broken in 1949. Less than 20 years after the Black Hills location was rejected, that same valley would become the new home of Reptile Gardens! We were forced to relocate when Highway 16 had to be moved in order to make it a 4-lane highway.

Recently, Reptile Gardens' board member, Marshall Young found this 1945 design plan for the Black Hills United Nations complex in his grandfather's papers. It isn't hard to imagine how different not only Reptile Gardens valley would be but Rapid City and the entire Black Hills if this site had been selected. The area would be home to millions of people from all over the world, Rapid City would be a major metropolitan area, and many Black Hills towns would likely be absorbed into the Rapid City metro area. You can see on the plan it was also suggested each member country build a small town in its own style in various valleys around the Hills.

Design concept from 1945 for the Black Hills United Nations complex.


Next time you come down the hill into Reptile Gardens valley, picture it filled with that huge United Nations complex and what that would mean for your vacation or for our little corner of the world.

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About Us

Sky Dome

Step inside the Sky Dome to experience a warm tropical climate while exploring our indoor jungle filled with exotic and unique flora and fauna. 

Rattlesnake Gulch

Try your hand at gemstone sluicing or go on a 3D safari. Our very own old west ghost town as numerous photo opportunities and activities to keep the kids entertained.

Cheyenne's Habitat

Cheyenne the bald eagle has been a permanent resident of Reptile Gardens for 11 years with permission of the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Maniac's habitat

Maniac is our resident giant saltwater crocodile. At over 16 feet long and1,350pounds, he is one of the largest giant crocodiles in the western hemisphere. If you don't see him at his enclosure inside the SkyDome, make sure to check outside!

Prairie Dog Town

Get down to eye-level with these fuzzy little animals and see firsthand what life is like in a typical prairie dog town!

Methuselah's Playground

Methuselah was a giant Galapagos Tortoise weighing in at over 600 pounds, and a long time resident of Reptile Gardens. His memory lives on at this playground featuring a bronze statue of Methuselah himself. 

Snake Show stage

Get up-close-and-personal with our snake ambassadors in this family-friendly snake handling show.

Gator Show stage

Dozens of Alligators, Crocodiles, and Caimans and one keeper...what could go wrong? Separate fact from fiction in this educational, family-friendly show and get a chance to pet Fluffy, our baby gator!

Bird Show stage

Interact with some of the most exotic birds from around the world at the Bird Show, where they love to show off their beauty and intelligence. 

Gift Shop

Carrying a wide variety of Reptile Gardens souvenirs as well as educational books for every age and a variety of stunning rocks, minerals, and fossils from all over the world.

Green Parrot Cafe

Hungry? Refuel with buffalo burgers, The Maniac burger, Black Mamba Shakes, Indian Tacos, and more!

Giant Tortoise

Don't miss this photo opportunity! Get up-close and personal with these friendly giants who love to have their neck scratched and are great with kids. 

Tortuga Falls

Take a stroll through this meditative garden, gaze into our turtle and koi pond, listen to the waterfalls, and don't miss Darwin the Kookaburra! 

Walking Garden

We're about more than just Reptiles! Our outdoor gardens are beauty to be seen as they change throughout the season and year after year. 

Living Wall

This vertical garden is a wall of color that grows and changes through the Summer season creating striking patterns and unique portraits as it grows. 

Pet A Python

Don't miss your chance to Pet a Python!  Our snake handlers ar here to talk about any questions or myths you've heard about snakes. Don't forget your camera! Our pythons are very photogenic and love to photos with you!