We are at Reuter Campground in the Black Hills National Forest. We will be here for three nights. Having spent the past six days exploring the southern part of the Black Hills, we only have half that time to see the northern part. We won’t see it all. Hopefully we will see the best places and major points of interest.
We left Custer State Park this morning. Our route took us through Deadwood, South Dakota. We thought it would be nice to stop for a little while and see this historical place. The issue is where to park with the camper attached. Grammi used her skill on Google Maps and saw a spot that looked promising. It worked out great. The perfect spot to park at the city municipal parking lot on the south end of town. Plenty of room for our truck and travel trailer and best of all…it was free.
In the last blogpost, I wrote about a fortuitous meet up with some friends from back home. We told our friends the night before we might try to stop in Deadwood on our way through town. No sooner did I park than my phone rang. “Hey, where are you guys?” It was Danny. Dee and him just arrived in town too. We met at the visitor center and decided to take a bus tour together.
Boot Hill Tours took us through the historic district as a humorous narrator told stories of local legends and pointed out notable places like the Saloon Number 10 where Wild Bill Hickok was shot while holding aces and eights. He recounted how the discovery of gold brought a rush of prospectors and fortune seekers to the area despite a treaty declaring the land belonged to the Native Americans.
Then the bus turned and went up a steep incline. High atop a hill is a grand view overlooking the town of Deadwood. It is also the location of Deadwood’s Boot Hill. Mount Moriah Cemetery is the proper name. It is the final resting place for many of Deadwood’s most famous characters. Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Seth Bullock, Preacher Smith, and Potato Creek Johnny just to name a few. The bus stopped here and we were encouraged to get out to see the gravestones.
The tour lasted about an hour and cost twenty dollars per person. For us, with a limited amount of time, it was a good way to get a quick tour of town and see Mount Mariah Cemetery. Of course, you can visit the cemetery on your own, but taking the tour bus gets you through the gate and all the way to the gravesite. You avoid a steep walk from the parking lot when taking the tour. That alone may be worth the price of admission. After the tour we said goodbye to Danny and Dee once again and continued our drive to our campground.
After unhitching the camper at the campground, we set out once again. It doesn’t get dark this time of year until after nine o’clock, so we still had plenty of daylight left. We are only 30-minutes away from Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. This place has been on my bucket list since I saw Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I can still hear that five note riff in my head. Maybe we’ll see some alien life there.
Devil”s Tower is a geological feature that stands alone. Declared America’s first national monument in 1906, the rock formation rises 867-feet and can be seen from miles away. The symmetrical interlocking columns that make up the tower were formed by ancient volcanic activity. It is a unique and stunning sight.
We saw our first glimpse while driving on U.S.14 and the anticipation began to build. Then on SR24 we started seeing some turnouts featuring panoramic views of the tower. Of course we stopped to take pictures, I think four different times.
Our timing in the late afternoon was good as the parking lot was clearing and we had no problem finding a place to park. We hiked the Tower Trail, a 1.3 mile paved trail that starts across the parking lot from the visitor center and goes around the tower. As we slowly walked, trying not to fall over from casting our eyes from one side to the other and from top to bottom of the tower, we saw plenty of amazing sights. There were climbers suspended from ropes on the side of the tower. Apparently, this is a popular climbing location. We saw the distant landscape from scenic vistas. We saw colorful Native American Prayer Cloths hanging from the tree branches indicating the spiritual significance of this place to their people. We also saw, up close, the columns that make up the tower.
I was in awe. I felt something. I don’t know how to explain it. Was it something spiritual, something alien, or was it the effects from a long day? I’m not sure. What I am sure of is this is a special place and a breathtaking sight to see.
The next morning we drove into Sundance, Wyoming. Sundance, of course, is where Robert Redford got his nickname. Ahh just kidding…it was Harry Longabaugh who was called the Sundance Kid after spending 18 months in jail here for stealing a horse. Sometime after being released from jail in 1889, he joined up with Butch Cassidy for a life as an outlaw.
We stepped into a small coffee shop in town. The only patrons were three ladies sitting in the corner around a small round table sipping coffee or maybe it was tea. They stopped chatting and looked up at us as we came through the door. I felt their stares and knew we had interrupted their conversation. “Good morning, are you folks from out-of-town?”, said one of the ladies. She already knew the answer to the question but it was a conversation starter. “Yes ma’am. we’re from Florida, I replied. “Oh! You are a long way from home”, she said. “Be sure to visit our new museum at the old schoolhouse. It’s just down the street.”, said another lady. “Yes ma’am, we will be sure to do that, thank you.” We bought some sweet pastries and bid farewell to the local town ladies.
We took their recommendation and easily found the Old Stoney Crook County Museum housed in an old three story schoolhouse. The cost of admission was five dollars and it was well worth the price. The building was filled with interesting antiques, old artifacts and memorabilia. I enjoyed seeing the display of different cattle brands with names like the Walking Diamond and the Box T. I also liked the room with the antique rifles and pistols.
Most interesting was a room displaying ancient tools, artifacts and buffalo bones found at Vore Buffalo Jump. It’s a nearby location where late prehistoric native tribes stampeded buffalo into a sinkhole so they could easily slaughter and butcher the animals. The display describes how during the construction of Interstate 90 they discovered the sink hole with a trove of artifacts. Layer over layer of prehistoric tools, arrowheads and bones accumulated over hundreds, if not thousands, of years were excavated.
The archaeological site was preserved with a realignment of the highway. You can see the pit when driving by on I-90. For a fee you can enter the site and see down inside. Later that day we drove to the site. We were late, it was closed for the day. However, I looked across the terrain and tried to imagine how ancient tribes, on foot, stampeded the buffalo across the grassland to this sinkhole. It was mind boggling.
Our next day’s adventure was a drive along the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway on U.S. Highway 14A. Nearly twenty miles of winding highway through a 1000 foot canyon, it’s touted as the most beautiful area of the Black Hills. We were told numerous times by people we talked with not to miss it. We began at the town of Spearfish. It was a chilly morning as we headed south into the canyon. Striking was the true pristine beauty. There were plenty of places to pull off and admire the scenery and take some pictures. There are three easily accessible waterfalls in the canyon and we stopped at all of them. Our favorite was the cascading Roughlock Falls. At the end of the canyon we stopped at Cheyenne Crossing. It is a quaint restaurant and gift shop. We ordered a hot chocolate and green tea to go.
From there we had one more place we wanted to see, Sturgis, North Dakota. It is a place famous for an annual bike week where motorcycle enthusiast from around the world gather. Now…I am not a motorcycle enthusiast. I don’t own a motorcycle, but I still went to the Harley-Davidson store in Sturgis and bought a t-shirt. It seemed to me to be the thing to do.
We drove around the town looking at all the empty bars lying dormant. Come August though, they will be overflowing with bikers from all walks of life.
It’s funny how reality seldom matches one’s preconceived notion. I had envisioned Sturgis to be a hard-to-get-to small old west town arising in the middle of nowhere. It was bigger than small and Interstate 90 goes right past it. Maybe it was once a small town, but no more.
We went back to our campground satisfied we had a good day. In fact, we had several good days in the Black Hills. It’s a wonderful area of the country with a diverse landscape and plenty to explore and enjoy. Someday, I hope to come back and pick up where we left off. But for now, we are settled in for the night, ready to move on in the morning. More adventure awaits.
So until next time…happy days and safe travels.