13-18 June 2015 Deadwood, SD, and Surrounding Areas

Tame yet wild.
They wandered to our car sticking their heads in the window looking for a handout.

       We’ve settled in just outside of Deadwood, a historic mining camp built on a rowdy history of gold, gambling and gunpowder. We planned to stay 3 days but each day we beg for “just one more”.  There is so much to do here within a 50mile radius so it’s just a great place to use as our base. 

     Our first stop was Mount Rushmore, rising from the plains as a prelude to the Rockies. This is a must-see for any tourists in the South Dakota Black Hills and is one of our nation’s most significant and enduring patriotic symbols.  Gutzon Borglum, also creator of Stone Mountain’s carvings, sculpted the colossal faces of U.S. presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, representing the first 150 years of America’s democracy.

     We beat the crowds and soaked in the beauty of this monument that was washed in the early morning light as we reflected on the symbolism of the four presidents and the magnificent engineering feat required to carve from a granite mountain.  If your patriotism needs a revitalization, this vista will fill the bill.

     To fully appreciate and understand the significance of Mount Rushmore, we visited the Rushmore-Borglum Story.  In Borglum’s opinion, women carry most of life’s burdens so he sculpted a female Atlas holding the earth’s global responsibilities on her shoulders. 

     About his presidential carvings, Borglum said, “…let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were.  Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and rain alone shall wear them away.” No words can describe the beauty of Mount Rushmore.

    Have you ever wondered how and why those 4 particular presidents were chosen?  I have and here’s the “how come”.  The birth of our nation is symbolized by George Washington.  Thomas Jefferson represents our country’s expansion with the Louisiana Purchase.  Theodore Roosevelt was a leader in our development signified by the Panama Canal, Trust Buster and Conservation.  Abe Lincoln worked to preserve our nation in saving the union during the Civil War.  So that’s “how come”.

Obviously, this is BEFORE Wild Bill's demise
Is it true that you're known by the company you keep?
Birds of a feather....?
      In Deadwood, there are more than 80 gambling halls in Deadwood and at least that many watering holes. Thanks to TripAdvisor, we went to a newcomer to the Deadwood scene, Pump House at Mind Blown Studio.  It’s a one-of-a-kind establishment that’s a deli, coffee house, and glass blowing studio all in one, homed inside a retro Texaco gas station.

     While there, we witnessed the re-enacted murder of Wild Bill Hickok and the capture and trial of the cowardly killer, Jack McCall. On Main Street, known for its bars, brothels and gambling houses, Wild Bill was playing poker in Saloon No. 10 when McCall walked in and shot Will Bill in the back of the head.  Bill was holding two pairs, Aces and Eights, which became known as the Dead Man’s Hand. Jack was first tried by a miner’s court in Deadwood and found not guilty.  He was later tried, executed and buried with the noose still around his neck.

     Lead, SD, a century-old community founded by miners and merchants, has some of the most spectacular scenery in North America. Thousands of miners and muleskinners made and lost their fortunes there and sometimes all in one day. One of the first enterprises there was  the Gold Rush of 1876 and the Homestake Gold Mine which produced 40 millions ounces of gold during its lifetime, valued over a billion dollars. The mine closed in 2002, and was American’s longest continuously operating, largest, deepest mine in the western hemisphere and stretching over 8,000 feet below the town of Lead.

Bridal Veil Falls
Spearfish, SD
     This is Lakota Sioux Indian territory and their word, “paha sapa" means “hills black”.  From a distance, the Black Hills look exactly like that—dark, misty prominences rising from the otherwise undisturbed prairie. The Sioux’s must not have been flatlanders because the name “Hills” is misleading.  18 of the Black Hill’s peaks surpass 7,000 feet; Harney Peak, being the tallest of them all, at 7,242 feet.  On hiking trails, any group is limited to "25 beating hearts including stock and pets".  Thought that to be a funny way to enumerate those in a hiking group.
One of the hand carved tunnels

      There is so much wildlife in the Custer State Park Park—pronghorn, prairie dogs, whitetail and mule deer, elk and bighorn sheep that roam the precipices and prairies during the day and at night you can hear the mournful howl of coyotes.

     Custer State Park in the Black Hills covers 71,000 acres and every inch is playground. There are 3 dedicated drives; Iron Mountain Road, Needles Highway, and the Wildlife Loop Road.  We experienced all 4. Nearly 1300 massive bison roam the prairie.  They’re gargantuan with males weighing up to a ton.  They look like they’d move at trawler speed but they can run 30 mph.

     Iron Mountain Road is part of the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway leading from Custer State Park to Mount Rushmore. There are 3 granite tunnels that perfectly frame the memorial in the distance.  “They” said that building the highway was a crazy idea and could never be built.  Mr. Norbeck didn’t listen. He mapped out a route on foot and on horseback that captured the grandeur of these ancient mountains and the rest is history.  His 70 mile long byway is one of the the most outstanding byways in America.
     Needles Highway is a must-do drive when visiting the park. 
It features soaring granite pinnacles, man-made tunnels and hairpin curves all leading to beautiful Sylvan Lake, the crown jewel of Custer State Park.  Granite outcroppings resist erosion, consequently clusters of towering, slender peaks have formed spires reminiscent of a Gothic cathedral. The Needles Eye is a granite formation that looks like the eye of a needle.

The Needle's Eye
Custer State Park, SD

     On the Wildlife Loop, altitude 5000 feet, we stopped at Blue Bell Lodge which is as comfy as a pair of old jeans and offers a Western experience that was a pure delight.  We had dinner of buffalo meatloaf and buffalo tips with fresh sautéed mushrooms which was superb.  Loved the bar’s stools which are saddles.

     Ending our stay here we drove to Hill City, SD, and took a trip back to the days of yesteryear when steam engines chugged across the country.  Our round trip excursion in1880 authentic vintage cars was pulled by a steam driven iron horse. Bill wanted to sit in an open car as close to the engine as possible so he could smell and hear everything the engine “emitted”—-so we did.  We traveled through meadows and canyons of the Black Hills to Keystone, SD, returning to Hill City.  Both the weather and temp were beautifully perfect and Bill was like a little kid.

Our 1880 Steam Engine Train Ride
     We depart the Black Hills area tomorrow heading in a north westerly direction.  Experiencing the terrain/topography/landscape and history of South Dakota’s Black Hills, has been an experience that is indelibly imprinted in our minds.


Bill and Laura Bender
Monaco Dynasty Baroness Motor Coach


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