You can find interesting places to visit in all directions from Deadwood:
- To the south are the Black Hills, Custer State Park, one National Park and two National Monuments. As we discussed in our blogs on the Black Hills (our August 10 blog) and Mount Rushmore (our August 17 blog), this takes significantly more than a daytrip to appreciate.);
- To the east are the town of Sturgis, which (as discussed below) is the home of the huge, annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and the city of Rapid City (which is discussed in our July 27 blog); and
- To the north and west, as is the primary subject of this blog, is an easy, one-day loop build around a drive to Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower National Monument, a trip that also includes visits to see a “coal tippler,” a “buffalo jump,” and one of the deepest mines in the world.
Our primary Deadwood day trip had an ultimate destination of Devil’s Tower National Monument, while only an hour from Deadwood in a straight drive, provided the opportunity to stop in a number of small, interesting towns, both on the trip to the monument (north on Rt. 85), and west on Rt. 34 which turns into Rt. 24 in Wyoming) and back (generally Long Interstate 90).
Three Fun Stops on the Road to Devils Tower
Our first stop, about 25 miles northwest of Deadwood, was Belle Fourche (pronounced Foosh). While the town is not particularly exciting or historic, the Chamber of Commerce is the site of the Center of the Nation Monument (marking the geographic center of the 50 states), and most interestingly, the Tri-State Museum, which is a veritable local time capsule, full of fascinating donated items ranging from first -generation typewriters to World War II battle souvenirs and a hair curler that looks like a torture device. And then there is the transported 1876 home that was the first two-story home built in the Black Mountains.
Then west into Wyoming, where, on the way to Devil’s Tower, we had to stop in Aladdin (population 13) to see the “Tippler” (a chute that sorted coal by size and then dumped it into the appropriate railcar) and the wonderful General Store/Post Office/Antique Attic. Alva, the next, and slightly larger town, has a friendly cafe (Ponderosa, where we had good buffalo burgers and onion rings), and while we weren’t in the market at the time, two interesting looking saloons–one another room at the Ponderosa and the other, the Rodeo Saloon. All along the way, we passed pretty rolling hills and pastureland, broken up by occasional outcroppings of red sandstone.
Devils Tower Encounters
Then to Devil’s Tower National Monument, popularized in a number of Westerns and the movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The mysterious and very intimidating 1,267-foot monolith, soaring way above the gently rolling landscape, was visible from miles away. How was it formed? It depends on who you believe. Indian legend has it that one boy and seven girls were playing, when the boy began to turn into bear. The terrified girls ran and climbed onto a tree stump, which began to rise into the air. The bear, trying to get the girls, clawed attire tree (creating the monument’s columns).
The current scientific theory, in contrast, contends that it was created by a process known as “igneous extrusion,” where a column of molten magma sealed up through the sedimentary rock. When it cooled, the cracks fractured into columns. Over millions of years, as the surrounding sedimentary rock was exposed, the monument “rose” higher above the surrounding land. While erosion does gradually calve chunks from the igneous rock, this occurs much more slowly (the last such reported collapse was more than a hundred years ago) than the erosion of the surrounding land. As a result, the monolith will continue to grow.
After a walk arid the base of the 1,000 foot-diameter base and the surrounding rock field, observing it from different angles and gawking at the rock climbers who were approaching the summit, we left began our return journey.
The Vore-Spearfish Connection
This return, generally along Interstate 90, also entailed some detours. We had to, for example, see the town whose name was taken by the “Sundance Kid” and then had to stop in Beulah, to learn what the Vore Buffalo Jump really was. It, as shown below, is. Natural sinkhole that Indians used to trap buffalo, every piece (from meat, skin, bones and even brains) were used to create food, necessities of life and even toys.
This led us to Lead (pronounced Leed), past the huge open pit gold mine and to the site of the deepest and second largest producing gold mine in U.S. history—the 8,000-foot Homestake mine, which William Randolph Heart’s father purchased for $70,000. While the mine has been closed for more than a decade, parts of it are still available for tours. One of the deepest shafts, however, has been recycled to another, much higher-tech endeavor. It is now the home to a laboratory dedicated to studying the ways in which solar neutrinos are transformed as they penetrate deeply into the earth’s surface.
Unfortunately, by the time we arrived in Lead, the Gold mining tour and museum were both closed. Although we thought about returning the next day, we have been on other gold mine tours, and in other mining museums in Colorado, Alaska and California. So, we decided to pass on the return trip to Lead in favor of a brief visit to Sturgis.
Sturgis Before the Motorcycles
Sturgis South Dakota, which is just east of Deadwood, is the home of the Famed Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which draws more than 100,000 cyclists to the own and the entire Black Mountain region for one week a year, in early August. While we arrived more than a month before the deluge, motorcycles were already very well represented in the town and the entire region. Indications of the coming annual invasion were in evidence throughout the town, in the form of a mural commemorating the bikes and especially the huge saloons catering to the riders. Huge saloons and event venues such as Buffalo Chip, The Knuckle, Side Hack and especially, the huge Full Throttle saloon and event venue.
Sturgis, however, is more than motorcycles. The Fort Meade Museum commemorates the fort that George Armstrong Custer established to “improve” relations with the Lacota and Cheyenne. The solitary, 2,000-foot Bear Butte Monolith, in the middle of a rolling prairie, is both a geological oddity and a sacred place to the local Native Americans.