Custer State Park is fabulous!
When we started planning out our trip to South Dakota, we asked people who had been there what would be worth seeing. Everyone would enthusiastically start listing the multiple things to do. They were not kidding – there are so many attractions that are absolutely breathtaking and have a rich history behind them. We spent most of our time in the southwest part of the state, but managed to see a few additional things as we hightailed it back east to be on time for a family wedding.
It took us most of the day to drive from Medora, North Dakota down to Chris’ Campground in Spearfish, South Dakota. The sites were a bit close together but the location was great and there was two swimming pools. The park was well taken care of and I thoroughly enjoyed the little petting farm – especially the baby goats!
Spearfish was a great base since it was near several of the places we wanted to see.
We took a day trip to Deadwood, which originally started as a mining town in 1876 after the U.S. expedition led by George Armstrong Custer gold confirmed that gold was in the Black Hills. (It’s a whole story in itself about how settlers with gold fever broke the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie and came in droves, which along with the railroad and decline of bison, led to the Native American’s loss of land and way of life.) Early on the city was practically destroyed by a couple of fires and a flood. Each time the Jewish community led the effort to rebuild the town. At one point, Main Street’s level was raised but a few of the lower buildings are left as seen by the photo on the upper left. At the end of Main Street there was once a Chinatown only some wall ruins of it remain.
I was sort of disappointed with Deadwood. I guess I expected sort of preserved, historic “old town”, while some of the old buildings remain, most of them are used as casinos and tourist shops. We did see some attractions in Deadwood that were worth the time we spent there.
The Adams Museum was full of lots of artifacts and educated us on the history of the Deadwood. The photo above left, shows the shoes of one of the towns’s prostitutes. They really don’t look too different than what ladies wear today.
Mount Moriah Cemetery is up on a hill that overlooks Deadwood. It is the final resting place of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Wild Bill was shot in the bank while playing cards in one of the Saloons in town. Years later, Calamity Jane asked to be buried left to him when she died.
Broken Boot Mine is at the edge of Deadwood. A very enthusiastic guide (a local high school student who’s favorite class is speech) gave us an interesting tour and then we got to pan for gold. We found a few itty bitty specks.
We took another day jaunt into Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower and on the way stopped in the town of Aladdin. It happens to be for sale for only a million and a half dollars. From the sign that was by the door, it looks like someone would get a lot for their money. The stuff for sale in the store was a hoot and there was lots of biker apparel as well.
Devils Tower in Wyoming was amazing! It’s made of volcanic rock that was left standing after the sandstone around it wore away. We took the trail around it and admired the colorful Native American prayer offerings and saw some wild life as well.
We ate lunch at Trip Advisor’s #1 out of five restaurants in the area, Devils Tower View Restaurant. It’s broasted chicken was pretty good, but I liked the bearalope and jackalope mountings on the wall even better!
The High Plains Western Heritage Center is located right in Spearfish. It was crammed full of items that explained the culture and history of the area. The view out the window lets visitors see Wyoming, South Dakota, and Montana all at the same time. I especially loved the original Spearfish to Deadwood stagecoach. Apparently a guy riding shot gun on the coach got killed when it was robbed.
Sturgis, the location of the famous motorcycle rally that happens every August, is just a short drive away from Spearfish. It’s a tiny little town but thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts descend on it during the event.
Just outside of Sturgis is Fort Meade. Today there is a VA hospital on the grounds but it was built in 1878 to protect mining towns like Deadwood. It is the place where the few survivors of the 7th Calvary straggled back after the Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn. There is a small museum there that shares several of the fort’s stories. One tale that grabbed my attention was the story of Marcus Reno. The son of fort commander Samuel Sturgis, was killed with Custer. He had a huge dislike for Reno who never was able to come to Custer aid. Sturgis accused Reno of peeking through the window at his daughter and things did not go well from there…
We left Spearfish and moved to Crooked Creek Resort and RV Park which is between Hill City and Custer so we would be closer to some other things we wanted to see. It was a great location, but once again, the sites were pretty tight. We did enjoy that the George S. Mickelson Trail ran along the back of the campground. We walked and biked on it several times during our stay.
We loved beautiful Custer State Park.
We drove along the Needles Highway which is in the park and were awed by the rock formations.
The second scenic drive the park offers is the Wild Life Loop. We were not disappointed because we saw lots of critters such as this pronghorn and…
A bunch of buffalo and…
Cute little prairie dogs and …
We spent a day wandering around Mount Rushmore. There is a museum and walks around the monument and to out buildings. I thought it was interesting that is was conceived by local politicians as a way to drive tourism to the area. The first idea was to have the faces of heroes of the American West—Red Cloud, Lewis & Clark, and Buffalo Bill Cody carved in the mountain, but sculptor Gutzon Borglum wanted to pick the faces of his favorite presidents. Needless to say, he got the final say.
The Crazy Horse Memorial was really impressive. It’s totally funded by private donations. In the 1940’s, Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota chief asked sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski if he would consider carving a mountain with Crazy Horse’s image to show the world that Native American’s also had heroes. Ziolkowski and his family ended up devoting their lives to the project which has never been finished.
Family members continue to run the museum and complex which aims to protect and preserve Native American culture.
Jewel Cave is located a few miles outside of Custer. We tried for two consecutive days to take a cave tour, but by the time we got there, the tickets were sold out. We ended up taking a couple of trails instead. The “Walk on the Roof Trail” was only 1/4 mile long. The “Canyons Trail” was 3 1/2 miles and that much more challenging. It took us through Lithograph Canyon which was very pretty, but then we got to Hell Canyon. Sadly, the forest in still trying to come back from a devastating forest fire that burned over 83,000 acres in 2000.
On the last day we were in Hill City we took the 1880’s Train to Keystone and then back again. It took about an hour each way and the commentary and scenery were great.
On the way back east, we stopped a few times to see some tourist sights we felt we couldn’t miss.
After seeing about a hundred signs advertising it, there was no way that we couldn’t stop at Wall Drug. This family drug store started in 1931 has grown to be one of the most visited tourist spots ever. It was as campy as we had heard it was, but a lot of fun to see. It also had the best bison burger I ate while in either North or South Dakota.
Wall has something else besides their famous store – the National Grasslands Visitors Center. It’s got a great display area and ranger talks are offered at different times of the day. We heard one at 5 pm on the history homesteading which was very interesting.
We woke up super early to get in line for tickets to the tour at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.
There are a limited number of tours of Delta-01 during the day and only six people are allowed per tour. D-1 was one the launch control facility for missiles placed on the South Dakota plains during the Cold War.
After we saw the underground bunker at D-1, we drove a short distance to Delta-09 to see a missile silo. People drove past these sites everyday for years and few knew there were there. Russia did however, and the fact that they were pointed right at them probably helped keep world peace through fear of retaliation.
After leaving the missile site we continued east on I90 until we got to Exit 170. We stopped to see 1880’s Town. It’s a collection of historic buildings that were moved there. In 1971, Richard Hullinger built a gas station there. Little by little he acquired the buildings and as time went on, it became a tourist attraction.
Besides a ton of Native American and settler relics, there is a whole display of props that were in the movie Dances with Wolves.
Our last fun stop in South Dakota was The Corn Palace in Mitchel. It’s a concert venue that has murals made out of everything from an ear of corn like the husks, seeds, silk, and tassels. It has displays inside about the corn industry.
I also have to share that we ate at a great Mexican restaurant in Mitchell called El Columpio. I’m mentioning it because the service was great and the tacos were the best I’ve had since being in San Diego.
Then, the fun and games were over since we had to hurry back home to pick up Grandma for a family wedding! Of course it was well worth it and gave us a little respite before we went out west again to Wyoming and Montana…
Just for fun, here are some links to some other Yates social media sites: