Deadwood and The Black Hills

Trip Start Sep 07, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
French Creek RV Park

Flag of United States  , South Dakota
Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Leaving Sundance, WY, we traveled Southeast to Deadwood, South Dakota, infamous for its Wild West history in the late 1870s (the town proudly embraces its fame for that period in time, including "gambling, whoring, and gunfighting"). Foremost in the town's plethora of historical figures is Wild Bill Hickok, famous for being shot down during a poker game, holding two pair, Aces and Eights (leading to the nickname 'dead man's hand' for that hand).

When you drive through Deadwood, the first thing you notice is that the town is really narrow. It sits in a tiny valley between two tall, lengthy hills. They have a history of bad flooding, and it's easy to see why! There's basically two very long streets. And then it's over. It seems like a town whose growth was stunted not only by the changing times and economy, but by physical location as well.

We took a trolley ride through town, followed by a tour of the Adams House Museum, which contains many historical documents and artifacts, including some of the cards from the poker deck that Mr. Hickok was playing with the night he was shot. Of course, there isn't much left of the original wild town, except for a few salvaged storefronts. Most of the original buildings were lost through fire, flood, or time. Still, standing on the streets, with the hills rising above you and using your imagination, you can get a sense for what an exciting and dangerous time it must have been in the 1870s, when the West was truly wild.

Driving south from Deadwood, we stopped at Tatonka, which is an exhibit on the bison local to the area, funded and narrated by Kevin Costner (Dances With Wolves was partially filmed in this area). Wren and Kat had a great time listening to stories about the bison and local Native tribes, but I sat this one out and did some work on my laptop in the car.

We stayed at a campground in Custer, SD, where a colorful old owner had a habit of leaving the campground unattended during the day and going spelunking in the local caves. At least he brought back plenty of interesting rocks to give to the visiting kids. Custer was our jumping-off point to visit Jewel Cave, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park, and Mount Rushmore.

The Black Hills left a big impression on us, particularly the area around and in Custer State Park. This area is a wild and impressive mix of beautiful hillsides and these large granite formations thrust up through them, forming lots of seemingly impromptu hills and cliffs. It's very dramatic. The drive up to Mount Rushmore goes through this park, and you have to drive through several one lane tunnels that were literally blasted out of the granite. Through two of these, you can get a preview of Rushmore, framed as you exit the tunnels.

I did visit Mount Rushmore when I was ten, and it left a big impression on me. It was every bit as impressive this time around as well, and I took about 500 photos. We actually visited the memorial twice, including once on our drive out of the area, and during that time, the sun was shining on the presidents' faces, making for better photography.

We stopped by the Crazy Horse monument, which is partially carved, but we didn't want to pay the $27 entrance fee, when we could take some pictures from the road.

Our other stop was at Jewel Cave, where you ride an elevator 300ft below the surface and then take a ranger-guided tour through the cave. The highlight of the tour was the formation that looks exactly like a 20ft vertical strip of bacon...see pics. They said only 2% of this cave had been explored. So there's something like 135 miles of cave left to the imagination, for now at least.

Following the Black Hills, we began a mad dash through several states where there wasn't much but corn. However, there were a few stops of note. Check that out in our next entry!
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