Night 4: Dakota to Dakota

Trip Start Jun 20, 2012
Trip End Jul 18, 2012

Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines
Where I stayed
Cottonwood Campground

Flag of United States  , North Dakota
Saturday, June 23, 2012

Today we drove about 225 miles. Temperature changed with elevation and latitude. It was mostly sunny and calm, but tonight the wind is picking up along the Little Missouri River.

I had a lot of nightmares last night so sleeping was rough. I woke up early and on the way back from the bathroom noticed a large bison bull walking toward the tent. When he saw I was looking at him, he continued along the road. This encounter immediately got Andrew out of  

I proceeded to cook eggs in various haphazard ways and then, as the family ate, took down the tent. I was not doing my usual routine though and ended up leaving important camp items behind as we drove off. (More to come in that later.)

We drove back to lovely Legion Lake because I wanted to see it when a horrible storm was NOT bearing down on it. We were greeted by baby ducks in a standoff with baby geese. Jess and Andrew took a paddle boat out to explore the rock walls of the lake and to look for fish and  
turtles. I hiked along the shore eventually getting a bit turned around in the woods.

The ground was covered with mica and pyrite and shining quartz. The ponderosas gave off a beautiful smell. I was high on a mountain. Down below was a lake full of duck weed and ducks.

The lodge here is perfect with nice cabins, a fish filled lake, a clean beach, a decent restaurant. Someone seemed to be preparing for a wedding here. The first of three I saw today.

Down the road we went and turned onto the Needles Highway toward the north. Again, this is something I never did because I never paid the Custer SP fee in the past. It was a great drive.

The road goes up into the heights of the Black Hills. We topped out at nearly 6000 feet. The road passes through tunnels that seemed like they were scooped out via spoon they are so crude. Eventually the road passes the "Needles," a series of steep jagged peaks. We stopped to photograph one of the most famous of the peaks called "Eye in the Needle". It us good that no one on Needles Hwy is in a hurry because everyone needed to cooperate to get through some of the passes.

After passing picture perfect Sylvan Lake, the road leaves Custer and winds down close to Hill City, a touristy town, second to Keystone. We pulled into Subway for lunch and I proceeded to get royally jammed in at a gas station thanks to a gang of Indian bikers who blocked every  
way out.

North along US 385 now, heading toward Lead. The road passes several pretty (and crowded) lakes. The signs warn of bighorn sheep crossings. (I have wondered if many crossing signs are figments of the local imagination, perhaps based on animals no longer extant in a given  

The road turns away from Lead, site if the historic gold rush that led to the Indian Wars between Custer and Sitting Bull. The road chooses the once lawless wild West town of Deadwood instead. Deadwood is not what it was in the movies, but what place is?

From here we drove up and then down a mountain to end up at the foot of the Black Hills in Spearfish. We stopped for supplies at Walmart and food at Culver's. Next we headed to the DC Booth National Fish Hatchery. The hatchery is located next to the city park which was  
filled with strangely and uniformly dressed local teenagers having a huge party.

The hatchery itself was full of rainbow trout. There are three sizes: small, medium, and large. The fish seemed happy (if a fish can be happy) especially when fed by guests. There was also an area where you could see the fish from underwater. It was a nice stop.

The heat picked up as we left Spearfish soaring at one point to 99 degrees. We went north making a beeline for North Dakota. We passed Belle Fourche (the geograhical center of the USA); a flagging operation being conducted by a sweaty Indian kid surrounded by a pile  
of empty, crumpled water bottles; a couple ghost towns; lonely pronghorns (alive and decomposing); and grass. Lots and lots of treeless big sky country.

When we finally crossed into North Dakota, we saw more farms and beef operations. Also saw evidence of the natural gas rush to this area caused by the fracking industry.

By this time Andrew was out of energy and was chanting his mantra: "Mommy, what are we gonna do terday [sic]?"

Eventually after hours of nothing on the CanAm Highway, we came to good old I-94 and took it west to Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP). This has been a favorite stop of ours for 5 years now. I drove straight into the park to the campground where we found one vacant  
site and set up camp. It was a bit of a walk from the van, downhill, and too near an outhouse, so we may move sites tomorrow because I do intend on staying another night.

We ate dinner at our site and then went to town to buy gas and ice at the Medora C-store. Then we returned to the park where we were surprised to find a lone bull elk in the prairie dog town near the I-94 bridge.

Since the usually elusive elk made his appearance I noted that the word "elk" was programmed into my GPS last year. So I drove to the spot I marked and there they were! A herd of young and obviously dependable male elk. I added that word "dependable" in the GPS note.

Darkness fell quick, but not before we spotted a porcupine and three female bison near the campground. I am currently in the tent waiting for those very bison to stomp on my sleeping head. That's why I surrounded our site with boxes and obstacles but this probably wouldn't help. Buffalo do what they want.

The wind is picking up, made louder by the cottonwoods everywhere. It is time to sleep. Tomorrow we plan to stick about TRNP and the strange "Potterville" known on the maps as Medora, ND. 
Slideshow Report as Spam
  • Your comment has been posted. Click here or reload this page to see it below.

  • Please enter a comment.
  • Please provide your name.
  • Please avoid using symbols in your name.
  • This name is a bit long. Please shorten it, or avoid special characters.
  • Please enter your email address to receive notification
  • Please enter a valid email address


carrie riley on

Hi there Scott. I am enjoying reading about your trip! I have finished "Night 4-Dakota to Dakota" and if I wasn't so tired from my long day I would read more. Like a good book, I can't wait to pick it up again and continue to read.

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: