Deadwood was a pretty rough town in 1875. It was Indian Territory, protected by treaty. The peace was broken when gold was discovered in the Black Hills of the Dakotas. Thousands of miners flocked to the area hoping to strike it rich. What grew rich were service industries that provided tools, opium, prostitutes and other supplies. Winters were harsh. Miners did everything just to stay warm and survive.
Deadwood legalized gambling in 1989. While Main Street remains its main attraction with old buildings and saloons, the town’s casinos attract lots of headliners to perform and draws visitors that like to gamble. What this thriving community didn’t have was a spa. What it did have was a kangaroo ranch just outside of town and visionaries that saw the potential to turn the place into a spa when the ranch closed. Six partners decided that Deadwood needed a spa and set about to find the very best designers and collaborators to create one.
Kim and Ernie Rupp were spark plugs getting the spa underway. “It’s been six months and a wonderful business ride ever since,” Kim explained. “Sam Marguiles from Quebec designed the spa. We were lucky to get him between his other projects in China and India. Christy Cano from Hawaii was our consultant. The original plan was to have eight foot walls in the garden. Christy said no, we have to see the Black Hills.”
“The name we chose derives from Lakota Abla Kela meaning calm,” Kim explained. The pine board building tucked in a valley of green grass, surrounded by mountains certainly lends itself to a calm presence. Inside a wonderful aroma, subdued, not overpowering, sets the stage for the experience. Fine products are tastefully arranged on shelves surrounding the check in counter. A bubbling fountain is the centerpiece beyond the portal where changing rooms are provided as are soft, fluffy Kashwere robes.
Everything is new. Everything is designed to provide a comfortable, relaxing atmosphere. Akela offers several different massages including the Lavender Sage Muscle Relief and Abla Kela Calming Massage. If the spa had been around during Deadwood’s wild days it is likely that disputes would have been settled peaceably. Body treatments include the Chai spice and vanilla body scrub and wrap and turquoise sage body scrub.
The spa offers facials, Skin Peel dermal infusion and nail services including pedicures and manicures. For special occasions like weddings salon services include hair, waxing and makeup. Meals can be arranged. The spa serves luncheon featuring premium Schade and Belle Joli’ premium South Dakota wines. Amenities including private lockers, sandals, plush robes, vanity products and hand packed herbal teas, citrus infused water and snacks are provided.
Outside the Akela Garden is magnificent. A fire pit in the middle, two hot tubs and a tipi housing a dry sauna is a perfect setting to relax and enjoy the beauty of the surrounding mountains. Warm weather or cold, snow or rain, the garden spa is a sure way to partake of nature’s beauty and moods in the comfort of a hot tub. The sauna inside the tipi is made of thick wood and has a wonderful natural pine aroma.
A newly constructed annex off the garden houses a far infrared sauna and steam room. “We have a room with double massage tables and double showers with a jacuzzi tub. The floors are all cork, which is nice for staff that have to stand for long periods,” Kim explained.
As a special service for adolescents and young adults with acne the spa obtained a Silk Peel machine. They created a non-profit to help young people with skin problems. Spa Director Michele Loobey-Gertsch said that the spa “Is an amazing program that has already had an impact on the area. They want to grow the area economically. Kim and Ernie understand the power of marketing. They are great collaborators. My passion is about networking, connecting people.”
Michele was raised on a farm outside Sturgis, SD. “I showed cows and sheep and had a family garden,” she smiled. At the University of South Dakota Michele received her BS in social work. She served as the Director of Sturgis’ Chamber of Commerce for many years. When Kim and Ernie asked her to join them at Akela as Director it was unexpected. “I knew it would be done well and go well. We don’t approach this as a traditional spa. There are no other spas nearby. We want support from local clientele. We also want to get the word out to visitors. People have vacation homes in the Hills. They are thrilled having a spa here. It takes a lot of vision, passion and courage to pursue this niche market. Our tag line is ‘Akela is where serenity is indigenous,'” Michele said.
Well cowboys and cowgirls, leave your six guns at home, saddle up and head out to Akela spa. Your trail weary bones will thank you. It is one of the most placid and convivial day spas anywhere and their garden is extraordinary.
For more information visit their website at www.akelaspa.com of call them at 605 578 1180. Their address is 11842 US Highway 14A, just 1 mile east of Deadwood.