South Dakota – Part 3

On Wednesday morning, we checked out of our hotel in Custer and began the drive to Wyoming to visit Devil’s Tower, (Yes – the Devil’s Tower of “Close Encounters” fame). Along the way we pass Jewel Cave National Monument and small herds of deer and alpaca. As we leave the Black Hills and head into Wyoming, the landscape becomes dotted with old “nodding donkey” oil wells and an isolation of few cars and fewer people.  We arrive at Devil’s Tower National Monument (again, no one at the entrance station), leave our car at the lot located at its base, and begin a 1.3-mile hike that circumnavigates it. The views looking up at the volcanic columnar joints of rock, and then viewing the opposing panoramas make the hike a must-do experience. After our hike, we stop and shop at the local Trading Post and begin our trip back to South Dakota along I-90 East to the town of Spearfish and past the documented Vore Buffalo Jump where buffalo were supposed to have been driven over the cliff to harvest them. We take the recommended drive down Spearfish Valley Scenic Byway stopping to view Bridal Veil Falls and watch the local fly fishermen before continuing our journey into Savoy where we picnicked and hiked 1.1-miles into the river valley to Spearfish Falls.

Then, it was onto the famous “Wild West” town of Deadwood.  Deadwood is well known for its old Western history, and for the fact that “Wild Bill” Hickok was shot dead at a poker game there in 1876. His poker hand, which he supposedly held at the time of his death, has become known as the dead man’s hand: two pairs; black aces and eights. The town was made even more popular after the HBO series, “Deadwood” was aired. In Deadwood, we visited the “Visitor’s Center”, and then toured the Mount Moriah Cemetery where both Hickok and his true love, Martha “Calamity” Jane are buried.  Around their gravestones are an assortment of mementos left by admirers, including bullets, coins, flowers, and painted stones. Next, we checked into our hotel at “The Mineral Palace”, a conglomeration of old buildings located on Main Street and home to one of the many casinos populating the way.  A stroll down Main Street brought us past the old Bullock Hotel, the Gem Saloon, and to Saloon #10 where Hickok was killed. We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping for souvenirs and tasting spirits from the Deadwood Distillery before heading to a fantastic steak dinner at the Gem Restaurant in the Mineral Palace.

Thursday morning, we were up early and headed to the town of Sturgis – home to the world’s largest summer motorcycle rally, and then beyond to Bear Butte State Park.  Bear Butte is a hallowed Native American site, and we took the occasion to hike 1100 feet, (4462 feet elevation) up a 2-mile trail for the awesome 360-degree view.  After hiking back down and visiting with a local chief at the historical center, we drove onto Rapid City where the downtown is populated with life-sized statues of every president of the United States, located on every street corner.  After sightseeing the town, we were back in the car and into the Badlands where we briefly reentered the Park to see bison, bighorn sheep and mountain goats as the sun set on the horizon.  That night, we again stayed in the town of Wall and re-visited Wall Drug for last-minute shopping before enjoying dinner at the Badland’s Saloon.

Friday morning, we made one last drive through Badland’s National Park as the sun came up over the horizon.  The early journey rewarded us with sightings of Pronghorns, Bighorn Sheep, Mule Deer, Mountain Goats and even a few Bunny Rabbits!  We returned to the Wall hotel for breakfast before checking out and heading east on I-90 back towards Sioux Falls.  Along the way, we made a stop at the Minuteman Delta-01 Missile site, but it was closed.

Further along we stopped in the town of Mitchell, home of the famous Corn Palace.  The Corn Palace hosts ½ million visitors per year, is of a Moorish design with minarets, and is completely covered and decorated with murals made from corn cobs, husks, and stalks of 12 different colors that are changed out annually. The Corn Palace was originally built in 1892, rebuilt in 1905, and remodeled in 1921 and serves as the Region’s premier location for basketball tournaments, graduations, etc. Then, it was onto Sioux City where we went downtown to visit Hotel Phillip – converted from the historical Sioux Falls National Bank built in 1918, with the impressive vault, (complete with its 16-ton doors and 24 x 3-inch bolts), still in place in the hotel’s lobby as an entrance to The Treasury – a modern bar and eatery. Since it was too early for its bar to open, we wandered across the street to the Woodgrain Brewery for lunch before returning to The Treasury for cocktails. The, we returned our car to the airport before checking into our hotel for our last night in South Dakota.