Monday, October 30, 2017

The Black Hills, SD (Northern Half)

On my previous travel post I covered the "Southern Half" of the Black Hills, the Southern half contains 5 of the 8 "Great" sights that made South Dakota famous (Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Jewel Cave, Custer State Park, and Wind Cave). The Northern Half of the Black Hills only contains 1 of the 8, that is Historic Deadwood, but there is plenty more to see than just Deadwood.

Deadwood is at the very northern end of the Black Hills, about 55 miles due north of Custer. This famous gold rush town was first established in the 1870's on what was Native American land, the town was renowned for lawlessness, gambling, prostitution, and plenty of murders. The most famous characters that called Deadwood home were Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, both are buried in the historic Mount Moriah Cemetery that sits above the town.

Wild Bill Hickok Grave

Calamity Jane buried next to Wild Bill

Today Deadwood is a little less of a lawless Gold town, and more of a tourist trap full of casinos. If you enjoy gambling, it's worth a visit, but if you are not a gambler, a quick stop in the infamous Saloon No. 10 is worth a few minutes of your time, as is the cemetery.
The adjacent town of Lead is much smaller than Deadwood, but at one time it was the bigger mining town of the two. Lead was created as a "company town" for the Homestake Mining Company, this Gold Mine was the largest in the Western Hemisphere until its closure in 2002. The town prospered from Gold Mining, it even boasted an Opera House (still in use today), but sadly the population and town suffered after the mine was shut. Lead is home though to a wonderful historic Inn, the Old Town Hall Inn and a great little local brewery Dakota Shivers Brewing.

Homestake Mine

If you are a cyclist (hardened touring cyclist or just a beginner), then there is another good reason to stop in at Deadwood or Lead, the George S. Mickelson Trail. This former railroad grade runs for a grand 109 miles from Deadwood to Edgemont, and almost all entirely off-road. I have cycled portions of the trail, and it is one of the most peaceful and beautiful trails I have ever been on, you can cycle it using a Mountain bike, CX bike, or Hybrid.

Mickelson Trail North of Hill City

A short drive southwest of Lead on Highway 85 takes you to the southerly entrance of Spearfish Canyon, this canyon runs for 20 miles in a northerly (or southerly) direction. Here in Colorado, we have plenty of canyons, but Spearfish is different than these, sheer vertical cliffs, stunning waterfalls, and the majestic Spearfish Creek await you. If travelling from the south, the first point of interest is Roughlock Falls Road (FDR 222), this road leads to the magnificent Roughlock Falls, and for fans of the movie "Dances with Wolves", a few miles past the falls is the filming location for the closing scenes of the movie.

Film site of "Dances with Wolves"

Roughlock Falls

Roughlock Falls

An easy and worthwhile side trip from the Northern Black Hills is Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming. This 150 mile round trip from Deadwood is easily doable in a day, I recommend taking Highway 34/24 from Belle Fourche west, this is a more scenic drive than the Interstate. Devils Tower is a large mass of igneous rock rising 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River, it can be seen from far and wide. The site is sacred to the Native Americans, and the legend goes that a giant Bear created the unusual "column" formations on the tower (claw marks).

Devils Tower from Highway 34 

Devils Tower as seen from inside the park

When the Black Hills prospered during the Gold Rush in the 1870's, there was no shortage of small mining towns cropping up. Today, many of these towns lay decaying and hidden amongst the evergreen trees, but for the Ghost Town hunter, and those willing to take "routes less travelled", then there are plenty of hidden gems to explore.

The old mining town of Rochford founded in 1877

Old General Store in Rochford

The Black Hills of South Dakota offer up a lot for any traveller, all within a relatively small area. There are three National Parks/Memorials/Monuments (four if you include the Badlands to the east), wildlife it seems around every corner, western history, mining history, cycling opportunities, and plenty of outdoor recreation. 

Stockade Lake

Essential info

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