Custer State Park, 13329 U.S. 16A, Custer, South Dakota 57730. (605) 255-4515
I’ve written about the Bullock Hotel, but Deadwood, South Dakota deserves an article all its own. I visited Deadwood on a trip that took me to Sturgis, Custer State Park, the Badlands, Devils Tower, and Mount Rushmore, among other places. I’m a huge fan of the old West, so I loved HBO’s series Deadwood (2004-2006), even if the dialogue was ridiculous. Even today, its population is tiny, but it’s the only city in the country that’s designated a National Historic Landmark District.
It’s rare to find a city with so much history, despite surviving predominantly off tourism. Nearly every hotel, bar, and restaurant in Deadwood doubles as a casino. My friend and I visited in early spring, so it was practically a ghost town. I imagine it’s flooded with tourists in the summer, especially when people come to nearby Sturgis for its annual motorcycle rally.
We stayed at the Bullock Hotel, named for Seth Bullock, the first sheriff of Deadwood. It’s one of the most famous haunted hotels in the United States. In 1992, it was featured on Unsolved Mysteries and is reportedly haunted by a host of spirits. The hotel has an entire guestbook where visitors can share stories of their ghostly encounters, although we didn’t experience anything unusual.
Seeing Mount Rushmore for the first time was almost a spiritual experience. In spring 2014, a friend and I traveled to South Dakota and parts of Wyoming, stopping at Sturgis, Deadwood, Custer State Park, the Badlands, Devils Tower, and elsewhere. While the Badlands and Devils Tower were visually magnificent, Mount Rushmore really left an impression on me. Two-dimensional media just can’t convey its size and grandeur. Photographs don’t do it justice.
Mount Rushmore, in the South Dakota Black Hills, is known as a batholith–a formation of igneous rock formed from cooled magma. The rock is smooth, fine-grained granite, resistant to erosion. Between 1927 and 1941, Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers sculpted the 60 foot carvings. Gutzon died in March 1941, and his son Lincoln took over construction. It finished prematurely in late October 1941 due to lack of funding.
The sculptures were originally supposed to extend further down, uncovering the presidents’ chests and shoulders. I think the faces peering from the mountainside look better, and apparently the National Park Service agrees. With over two million visitors annually, they could probably get the funds to finish the sculptures if they wanted. It costs $10 to park, but that fee goes toward maintaining the parking garage.
In spring 2014, a friend and I traveled to South Dakota and parts of Wyoming, stopping at Sturgis, Deadwood, Custer State Park, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and many other cool places. Devil’s Tower was our last stop. That region defines “wide open spaces.” In eastern Montana, the vast prairie rolls into the Black Hills. Jutting from the undulating landscape, a volcano tens-of-millions of years old left this cone of solidified magma when the surrounding sedimentary rock eroded away. You can see it for miles around.
According to Kiowa and Lakota legend, two girls were being chased by giant bears and sought shelter on a rock. They prayed to the Great Spirit to save them, and he/she made the rock raise toward the heavens. The bears dug deep grooves in the sides trying to climb to the top, but the girls escaped. There are several other versions of the tale, but giant bears are common to all. That’s why American Indians called it “Home of the Bear” or “Bear’s Lair”. Colonel Richard I. Dodge coined the name “Devils Tower” sometime in the 1870s.
In 1906, Devils Tower became the nation’s first National Monument. It rises 867 ft. Apparently hundreds of insane people climb to the top every year. I’m afraid to climb to the top of a ladder, so I enjoyed it from the ground. William Rogers and Willard Ripley were first to make it to the top, on July 4, 1893.
In spring 2014, a friend and I had the opportunity to travel out to South Dakota and parts of Wyoming. On the way, we ran into a freak winter storm that blew across the Great Plains. There were wind gusts of up to 64 mph in Rapid City. Thankfully, it cleared up by the time we made it to Custer State Park, south of Rapid City, and the weather was perfect.
Custer State Park is a state wildlife reserve in the Black Hills, named after George Armstrong Custer, who died at the Battle of Little Bighorn. It is 71,000 acres of scenic countryside. You can drive the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road through gently sloping terrain all around the park. There are also hiking trails, lodges, and lakes where trout fishing is popular.
Besides picturesque scenery, Custer State Park’s big draw is a herd of over 1,300 bison. The bison are known to occasionally block the road. We drove through a big herd and got pretty close, but luckily they stayed away from the road.