The Black Hills
The Black Hills of South Dakota are known chiefly for two things: Mount Rushmore and being a key player in the history of the wild west. As we started gaining altitude, heading into the hills, we decided to head for Mount Rushmore first and check it off the list. However, the storm from earlier had not yet passed and as we ascended, we entered the low clouds that covered the hills and visibility was reduced to next to nothing. We got to Rushmore and found out our National Parks pass was no good. Entering the parking lot, we had no idea where the famous presidential faces actually were, and our assumption that they likely would not be visible in the low cloud was confirmed by the lady at the entrance kiosk. So we gave up on that idea and headed to Deadwood.
Deadwood is a famous old West town, home and final destination for Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, as well providing a backdrop for many more colorful characters of the old West. The town was kind of similar to Bisbee, AZ in size and feel, but with less character. It wasn’t as touristy as Tombstone, for sure, but was pretty darned touristy nonetheless. We stopped for hash browns and OJ and coffee in a diner / casino (Deadwood is now famous for gambling) and were served by the least friendly waitress we’ve possibly ever encountered. That was for you, Mum, so we can now say we ate in an American diner. Despite the surprising lack of care in a I-work-for-tips environment, the hot food was good as we were both feeling pretty tired from our unexpected early wake up.
On the way out of town, we stopped at a place offering the opportunity to pet baby wolves. Tell me how you could possibly drive past that? It turned out you actually couldn’t pet them (although you could in Minnesota where they had another place for the un-summer months) but we did get our photos taken with Tommy, the little wolf pup. I figured it was maybe a rescue place at first, but it turned out they just bred the animals they had: wolves, porcupines, skunks and foxes. It was kind of nice seeing all the animals but I never feel great about captive animals. It bought up the question for us of wild vs. non-wild. It turned out that even in the Badlands, the bison had been reintroduced. In Custer State Park which we went to later in the day, the buffalo were also managed, tagged, looked after and when the population got too big for the land, sold in an annual event. A lot of the animals we saw around the South Dakota national parks were pretty wild. Kind of wild. Not quite a zoo, or a car safari, but not far off, either.
In the afternoon, we hiked to the top of Harney Peak (7,242 ft). It was nice to do a proper hike and get out in the fresh air. At the top there were likely spectacular views, but all we saw was cloud. Nice looking cloud, though. On the way to Hot Springs where we were staying the night, we drove around the wildlife loop in Custer State Park, a place designed to spot buffalo. We saw 3 in the distance the whole time! But we saw a number of pronghorn, which are a first for me. On the road to Hot Springs, we did see many more buffalo though, and were drawn in by their charms each time as we slowed or stop to admire and photograph them.
The next day, we took a scenic route through the hills which was designed to show off Mount Rushmore. There are two narrow tunnels, at the end of which the iconic sculpture is framed. It was actually quite a thrill to see the four presidents looking back at us in the (granite) flesh for the first time. We didn’t go back and visit the site itself, but seeing the work from the road was enough. After a short hike in the late afternoon, we hit the road for Wyoming, heading toward the Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park.