Friday, May 22, 2009

The Black Hills of South Dakota

Any first time Roadtrip to South Dakota likely includes 2 sure things. A visit to Wall Drug and Mount Rushmore.

On my Roadtrip to South Dakota a snowstorm started chasing me the morning I left Sheridan, Wyoming. I got ahead of the cold and snow by the time I got to Devils Tower, but by the next morning, in Rapid City, the snow had caught up again, in large volume.

I don't quite understand why, but Devils Tower is considered part of the Black Hills. But it's not hilly there. Leaving Devils Tower and heading east into the hilly Black Hills the first town that caught my eye was Lead.

Lead is an old mining town, with a big open pit right in town, just like Bisbee, Arizona. The main street through Lead is straight and fairly flat, but the rest of the town is built on steep hills, with some steep climbs.

The next town, just a short distance from Lead, is the iconic Wild West town of Deadwood, the place where Wild Bill Hickok met his end, where both he and Calamity Jane are buried at Mount Moriah Cemetery. Deadwood was a sleepy ghost town when I visited it. Since then the town has come back to life due to 80 some casinos.

Deadwood is a National Historic Landmark District. I guess I don't mind the casinos, as long as they don't ruin the historic nature of the town. Actually, though they didn't have video poker and electronic slot machines, back in Wild Bill's day, they did play poker. Wild Bill was playing poker when he was shot, giving a poker hand he was holding at the time, two black aces and two black 8's, the name "Dead Man's Hand."

After Deadwood it was on to Rapid City to find a motel. By morning, like I already said, the snow had caught up again. We had one day to do Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, Crazy Horse Memorial and whatever else we found Roadtripping the Black Hills.

The roads were not icy, that was good, but it was snowing and visibility was not good. Mount Rushmore is not far from Rapid City, as you can see on the map. It was snowing quite hard. The snow let up a little bit for about a half a minute, which is when the snowy picture of me pointing at the presidents was taken.

The Mount Rushmore Visitor Center is very well done. Even though the weather was bad there were a lot of visitors. I imagine it is very crowded in summer. When I was there a movie, narrated by Tom Brokaw, had a lot of the viewers in tears. For some reason I was immune. Mount Rushmore is like some sort of American Patriotic Epicenter.

There are several scenic byways twisting and turning and climbing the Black Hills. I don't know the name of the scenic byway that I drove from Mount Rushmore to Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park, but I have never been on such a road before. In places, to gain elevation it would loop over itself, twisting and turning, going through tunnels. I know if it weren't snowing the views would have been amazing. The view in the picture tries to capture one of the looping parts of the highway.

Driving through Custer State Park we saw a lot of snow-covered buffalo. Then it was on to Wind Cave. I've been in a lot of caves, Lewis & Clark in Montana, the caves at Lava Bed National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns, the cave at Great Basin National Park and others I'm likely forgetting right now. There were only 4 people on the tour. It was not a long walk through the cave and there was nothing strenuous about it.

After Wind Cave we headed north on 385 and then to 16 to drive by the Crazy Horse Memorial. Through the snow you could make out Crazy Horse's head. From Crazy Horse it was time to try to get back to Rapid City before dark and icy roads materialized. At the outskirts of Rapid City, being quite hungry, I was very pleased to find an all you can eat pizza buffet at a place called Shakey's.

I ate too much pizza, made it back to the motel for a good night's sleep, before heading to Badlands National Park and Wall Drug in the morning. And Wounded Knee.

I want to return to the Black Hills when snow is not a possibility and bike the new George S. Mickelson Trail. Why would they give this trail such a name? Why not Crazy Horse Trail or Wild Bill Trail or Deadwood Trail? Anyway the trail uses the abandoned railbed the Burlington Northern used to supply the miners in Deadwood and other towns along its route. It is 108.8 miles long, running from Edgemont to Deadwood. The trail goes through 4 tunnels and over more than a 100 bridges. Nine miles of branch trails give access to places like Custer State Park and Lead.

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