Deadwood is really dead

Trip Start May 01, 2010
Trip End May 29, 2010

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Flag of United States  , South Dakota
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Slight change in itinerary from our original plan. We had intended to go west from Rapid City through Spearfish, S.D. and on to Devils Tower. Instead, we diverted through Alzada, Mont, so Carolyn could check one more state off her list. See the attached photos as proof. Even though the trip to Alzada took us about 80 miles out of our way, it allowed us to drive through Belle Fourche (pronounced Bell Foosh), just 20 miles from the geographic center of the U.S. The Belle Fourche River runs through the town, and that body of water will become important later in the narrative. Belle Fourchians have installed a really nifty 20-foot granite compass near the river to symbolize the geographic center. The nearby well-maintained Tri-State Museum where, among other things, you can find photos of and memorabilia from all of the America Rodeo Queens, is worth a quick visit.

The drive from Alzada to Devils Tower is beautiful, even in chancy weather, with 40 miles of rolling ranchland and buttes, hillsides thickly coated with pine and cedar and occasional scrub oak. Along the way we saw snow banks still lurking in the shadows, despite temperatures in the low 60s.

The first view of Devils Tower snapped me back to "Close Encounters," but it is nowhere near as creepy as the movie portrayed it. Devils Tower is a volcanic magma tube (monolithic igneous intrusion) that, according to the prevailing theory, became a prominent landmark when the softer ground around it was eroded away by the seemingly innocuous Belle Fourche River. Walking the trail around the Tower reveals that it is not uniform in shape, resembling a giant bear tooth from some angles. In the photos, you'll see these variations, along with pictures of some of the climbers we saw scaling the Tower.

We left Wyoming about 1 p.m. and headed back to the Black Hills, through Spearfish to Deadwood. We passed up the Spearfish Canyon route because of rainy weather and slick roads. Deadwood was a disappointment. The history has been smothered by tacky tourist traps and casinos. The saloon in which Wild Bill Hickok was shot in the back by “the assassin Jack McCall” is closed, so a saloon down the street has appropriated that title. You can visit Hickock’s grave at Mt. Moriah Cemetery, where he rests next to Martha Jane Canary (Calamity Jane), probably to his eternal dismay.

Little known fact: The “Dead Man’s” poker hand” Hickock held at his demise – a pair of aces, pair of eights and nine of diamonds – may have been made up. I guess he dropped his cards when he was shot.

We’re at rest tonight in the pleasant town of Hill City, S.D. The proprietor of the Alpine Restaurant in Hill City hales from Stuttgart, Germany, where we lived for four years. We were unsuccessful in negotiating a conversation with her, but enjoyed exchanging Deutschland memories with a couple at the next table who also were stationed there.

Tomorrow: the Needles Highway, Wind Cave National Park and onto Hot Springs, S.D.
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Suzie on

Just amazing on what you two have seen. Thanks for sharing.

Gary Bouchard on

Sounds like a wonderful trip, but of course Philip is confounded at the apparent skirting of Montana. Onward to Helena!

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