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The Black Hills: 25 Memorable Sights

This Great American Drive will compel you to sing the Stars & Stripes and purchase a long, black duster.  Be prepared.

The Black Hills (Pahá Sápa in Lakota) are an isolated mountain range rising from the Great Plains of North America in western South Dakota. The range extends into Wyoming.  The hills are covered in trees, an effect that gives them a darkened appearance from a distance. The dusky corner was distinctive enough to garner the name “black hills.”

The grandeur of granite rising from the cliffs of Mt. Rushmore will in one upward glance sweep away any countryman’s negative sentiments. And impress the hell out of everyone else.  Mt. Rushmore is but one impressive sight however, among the many packed into South Dakota’s southwestern corner.

map of Black Hills South Dakota

Atlas Map of the Black Hills Area

 

Air Force One over Mt. Rushmore. Wikimedia Creative Commons.

Air Force One over Mt. Rushmore. Wikimedia Creative Commons.

 

George Washington, Mt Rushmore

George Washington, Mt Rushmore

 

The Black Hills

Anchored by Rapid City (airport code RAP), the Black Hills area still echoes with the report of Wild West Colt pistols. You can wander through Native American Indian Reservations as you contemplate what to take in first — the sights of Mt. Rushmore featured on the big screen in National Treasure: Book of Secrets, the cavernous limestone formations of Badlands National Park, Sturgis or the frontier town of Deadwood. Throw in the Crazy Horse MemorialCuster State ParkWind Cave National Park, the 1880 TrainBuffalo Gap National Grassland, the Geographic Center of the U.S., the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Jewel Cave National Monument, or the Mammoth Site, and a week’s vacation can be easily spent in one of the most scenic and pivotal historic areas of the lower 48 states. And that’s before you even cross into Wyoming.

Forget the guidebook, you’ll need only your Atlas and a penchant for discovery.

 

boardwalk in the Badlands

Badlands, South Dakota — Tammie Dooley all rights reserved.

The Route: starting in Rapid City

Interstate 90 East of Rapid City will deliver you to Wall, South Dakota. If you’re already parched or ready for a stop, the Wall Drug Store offers refreshment, take in the National Grasslands Visitor Center, or search for the Minuteman Missile Silo.  From there 240 South will take you directly to the scenic drive around the North Unit of Badlands National Park. The loop ends at Interior. To continue into the South Unit’s 2.7 million acres of sprawling erosion of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, proceed past Imlay to Scenic, turning South at the first/only turnoff. You’ll need to stop at the White River Visitor Center to get permission to proceed into the Reservation. West on Highway 2, then North on Highway 40 to Redshirt will complete the South Unit.

“Highway” 2 is a misnomer. The road is gravel, albeit wide and well maintained. Continuing past Redshirt on Highway 40 to Hermosa presents the choice of turning North on Highway 79 and back to Rapid City, or west on Highway 36 to 87 South to Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. From Wind Cave National Park you can easily hit 385 North taking you to Custer, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Mt. Rushmore, and the ‘1880 Train’ in Hill, as you progress northward.

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Plains Indian Burial Platform

The area is deceptively compact.  While distances aren’t great between any point (from Rapid City to Hot Springs on 79 is only 57 miles) you will not desire to cover any of it quickly.  And the twists and turns of the roads preclude speed.  While limited lodging is available in the smaller towns and in Badlands National Park, the high season summer months make day trips to and from your pre-reserved lodging in centrally located Rapid City conducive to combing the area.

Deadwood

Once you’ve exhausted the sights south of Rapid City, 385 will take you to Lead (as in lead a horse to water), Deadwood, the Geographic Center of the U.S. in Belle Fourche, and Sturgis to the East just off Highway 90.  Either of these towns is worthy of securing lodging if you’re ready to venture past the Rapid City anchor.  Summer is high season and Sturgis, along with towns in the area are choked with bikers for the annual Bike Week Rally the first week in August.

Deadwood is a personal favorite (fall only, please). Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are buried in the Mt. Moriah cemetery. Saloon 10 is where Wild Bill made famous the Dead Man’s poker hand of Aces & Eights when shot from behind by Jack McCall (hanged for his crime). The town, while a haven for gambling is replete with history and the nostalgic charm of false storefronts.

Main Street, Deadwood, South Dakota

Deadwood, South Dakota

Regarding FOOD, if you’ve got a nose for chocolate on the road, stop by The Chubby Chipmunk for a fix. 

For lunch, try Maverick’s. For dinner, Legends Steakhouse in the Franklin Hotel.  While gaming seems to be steady, the restaurants in Deadwood have turnover.  I’ve not eaten at either of these establishments, but Tripadvisor has both of these at the top of the list. Sadly, my favorites have closed since the last time I was in the area.  

A Wyoming Detour: Devil’s Tower

Since you’re on the border and you could add another state-notch to your holster belt, why not venture into Wyoming? Devil’s Tower National Monument is a quick drive and well worth the time. Take Highway 90 to Sundance, Wyoming. From there head north on 14 for a few miles. Or if you’re sticking to the backroads, Highway 34 west out of Belle Fourche (turns into 24 at the Wyoming border) will get you there as well.  Should you venture here during the off-season, don’t count on lodging nearby. There IS lodging, but…

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming

Devil’s Tower, Wyoming

President Theodore Roosevelt Proclaimed Devil’s Tower the first National Monument in 1906. Many Plains Indians have legends associated with “Bear’s Lodge” and consider it a sacred site. The Kiowas legend is that several families were camped by a stream where there were lots of bears. Seven little girls were playing away from their village and bears took chase. The girls ran and just as the bears were about to catch them, they jumped on a low rock. One of the girls began to pray. The rock began to push itself out of the ground raising the children higher and higher. The bears clawing their way to the top made the deep grooves. The rock continued to push the children upward into the sky so far they reside in the sky today as the pleiades star cluster.

 

WARNING: If you decide to venture out of Belle Fourche to locate the original Geographic Center of the U.S. or anywhere in the above discussed areas, BEWARE of Rattlesnakes.

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South Dakota’s Chocolate Mine

Just after exiting Highway 385 towards Deadwood, South Dakota on my meandering ten day SRT, a sign “Chocolates & Ice Cream” grabs my attention. An old gas-station-turned-grocery-store-turned-whatever over the years, there’s a large, whimsical statue of a Chipmunk guarding the screen-doored entrance.

Hungry, I pull over, get out, and walk to the door to see a scrawled note “closed Monday for nut gathering.” Intensely disappointed, my plan was to quickly tour Deadwood and head North towards Cody, Wyoming as it was only 3:00 in the afternoon.

Like any addict, the chocolate shop took up residence in my thoughts and my brain began to pander and plot as I caught a glimpse of Deadwood around the corner. Firmly believing I chose to stay the night in Deadwood for Deadwood, every time I see a box of those chocolates, my commitment to that belief wavers. Deadwood was a memorable town, regardless of my feckless attempt to justify spending more time there than I’d planned.

Here’s the story of my actual encounter with The Chubby Chipmunk. The establishment is incendiary, the story idyllic, like my memories. And it was work to get this to read for you in a way that will convey my experience accurately. No ordinary words would do. I hope you enjoy it!

****************************

Driving there I’m overcome with a sense of portentousness. I arrive fixated, obsessed really with only one thing – to dulcify my addiction. Well before I get the screen door open my nostrils widen, intent on the pursuit of a chocolate high. Sensing the anodyne for my road dog weariness within, with a hand on the handle and a twist of the wrist, I’m inside.

The shop is redolent with the lustiness of ingredients reserved for royalty in days past – chocolate, sugar, butter, nuts, all of the finest quality. With a cozy sitting area on the left to encourage the instant enjoyment of their salubrious ware, the counter on the right is laden with tall, dark, exquisite, yes, scintillating truffles. Taking it all in, instantly I know I’m in for a sybaritic experience.

It took on a fantastical, dreamy quality. Time stopped. I had no thoughts of writing about this discovery later; no idea of the convoluted word freefall I’d later work so hard to produce because my memories of it would make me maudlin (and there’s only one thing to do when maudlin – write).

Nothing went through my mind other than the in-the-moment, fully engaged, sensory overload I was smack in the middle of. I was Alice in Wonderland, or the child who opened their eyes to find they were standing in the middle of FAO Schwartz at Christmas.

The front of the shop is lit from only the light of the front door and a few well placed, ambiance inducing lamps. But the shop’s counter of chocolates is backlit by a window in the kitchen, directly to the back left of the counter. The rays of the morning sun spread like gossamer over the display counter and its contents, over the cookie sheets cradling naked, dark, hand formed ganache centers, over the lady’s face who appears from the kitchen to help me. She’s beautiful. The truffles are gorgeous. Some appear to have a nacreous glow which later, in my recovered state I saw was an actual coating, not attributed solely to my nimbus covered eyeballs. I digress. Back to gorgeous. The truffles are gorgeous. Like all gorgeous objects, you want to touch them. Well I can’t touch them yet, but I can take pleasure in watching her touch them. And so I begin ordering, watching her carefully pluck each one as she adds them to one box after another. She appears to enjoy the haptic experience more than she should.

At three five boxes, I stop. Pay. Congratulate myself with the sagacity of my decision to spend the night in Deadwood, and gingerly carry my treasure to the truck. Then with deliberation incompatible with my impassioned state, I indulge my tactile desires by removing two of the truffles from the box and lovingly and appreciatively inspect them. Eating one is beyond my capacity at this moment. My addiction sated, I store them away for the forthcoming ride into Cody, crawl back through the rabbit hole, and drive.

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Glossary
Incendiary: provocative, stirring, likely to catch fire
Feckless: weak, ineffective
Portentousness: momentous, prodigious
Dulcify: to make agreeable, soothe, to sweeten
Anodyne: something that soothes, calms, comforts; a drug that allays pain
Redolent: exuding fragrance, aromatic, evocative
Salubrious: favorable to or promoting health or well being
Scintillating: stimulating; to emit sparks
Sybaritic: self indulgently sensuous, given to or devoted to pleasure
Maudlin: tearfully emotional, foolishly & effusively sentimental
Gossamer: light, delicate, (the gossamer of youth’s dreams)
Ganache: a sweet, creamy, dark chocolate mixture
Nacreous: mother-of-pearl sheen
Nimbus: a cloud or atmosphere (as of romance) about a person or thing
Haptic: relating to or based on the sense of touch
Sagacious: keen in sense perception, of sound and farsighted judgment – noun: sagacity

Chip Tautkus, owner/chocolatier of the shop and I are pictured above.

Road Trip Locator:

The Chubby Chipmunk:
420 Cliff Street
Deadwood, SD 57732
USA
Phone Numbers:
Phone: 605-722-2447
E-mail Address: [email protected]

If you don’t want to drive there, check out their website: www.chubbychipmunk.net.

Deadwood is in the Southwest corner of South Dakota. There’s a lot to see here. 

Other SRT posts about the area:

Of Rattlesnakes & The Geographic Center of the U.S.

The Black Hills: 25 Memorable Sights 

Aces & Eights

 

Road Trip North Dakota: Fargo

The desire to travel has no correlation with positive impressions despite the travel industry’s ardent efforts to convince us otherwise. I’m often moved to action by emotional responses that would have the experts gnashing their teeth (in which I happen to take a bit of pride).

National Geographic ran “The Emptied Prairie” in January 2008. From the title down, there was nothing on pages 140 – 157 that remotely resembled the enticingly glossed travel magazines in the same row of offerings that day in the book store. I could have been transported to any number of magical destinations, delivered there by the heady claims of paradise and rejuvenation, discovery and adventure. Instead, I plucked the mundane. The Emptied Prairie left me morose. And hell-bent to see North Dakota exactly as Nat Geo had depicted it – gray, cold, forlorn.

Our backgrounds dictate how we receive input and mine told me there was a “spin” on this story. I too live in a prairie state. Signs of human migration wrought from disappointment dot the landscape here as well. My hometown of Soper, Oklahoma has a population of 300; the High School serves 85 students. The town is in the most impoverished county in the state. On a gray, rainy day it too appears to be on its last leg and a sense of melancholy and abandonment strikes the bone.

As much as the Nat Geo article and photographs smacked of gloom and despair, my life has proved the glamorous to be at times a bit rough around the edges and the forlorn to be enticing.

The photographs that follow are what I found (Nat Geo eat your heart out). I have only one thing to say; I want to go back.

Hopperstad Stave Church

Hopperstad Stave Church is in Moorhead. Viking Ship Park & Hjemkomst Center

These two scenes of structure were on the way to Fargo.  I can feel the cold and bite from the wind as I look upon them now. They both captivated me.

Fargo, ND #2

Fargo, ND #1

Fargo, ND #4

Hopperstad Stave Church, Moorhead, ND

Hopperstad Stave Church from a different angle and interpretation

IMG_1392 copy

Fargo, ND #3

a Fargo windowpane reflects the winter scene

North Dakota Prairie

In-between the somewhere’s of North Dakota

North Dakota became the 39th state admitted to the union on November 2nd, 1889. AAA has named the state the most affordable state in which to vacation. And explorers William Clark and Meriwether Lewis, along with the Corps of Discovery, spent more time in (what is now) North Dakota than any other place on their journey.

Want to see North Dakota for yourself? Check out these links. Or simply, hit the road and wing it!

North Dakota Dept. of Tourism

Medora, North Dakota

North Dakota’s Enchanted Highway

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

L’heure Bleue “The Blue Hour”

The term has a lot of associations. From Guerlain’s L’heure Bleue perfume created in 1912, to human disposition, as in “beating the wintertime blues”, to a time of innocence, such as that used to describe Paris just prior to World War I, a definition of the blue hour is difficult to nail down.

That is, until you see it.  Even then it will defy words. Or more accurately, especially then, it will defy words.

On a road trip to North Dakota this year I captured the photo below at dusk.  Looking through the windowpane at the frost and bits of snow clinging to the glass, I was taken aback with this dream scene.

L'heure Bleue

A North Dakota L’heure Bleue

I’d heard the term used for the golden hour of photography, was familiar with Roy Orbison’s “When the Blue Hour Comes”, knew that in Scotland it’s referred to as “gloaming”, had heard the German term ‘alpenglow’ used to describe a similar effect (specifically that which occurs on mountains), and had even read (and amazingly recalled) a Victorian era term ‘Belt of Venus’ that was used to describe the blue or golden hour.

But I’d never captured it so eloquently.

When my camera stopped clicking and my host broke the silence, she said “it’s the blue hour. Isn’t it something?”  I thought I’d cry.

So impressed I was, some research was in order. The effect appears to be exacerbated in colder climates. But it’s not the temperature, rather the snow on the ground absorbing the red light frequencies, that give a more vividly blue appearance than in climes without snow.  Light scattering (Rayleigh Scattering) is also at work but this is not a scientific post so that’s all I have to say about that.

Films and digital cameras have differing dynamic ranges (it’s very difficult for anything electronic to achieve the same dynamic range as the human eye). This frequently translates to a more saturated blue capture than what appears to our bare eye. Here’s a photo with my point and shoot Sony just before landing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  It’s ummm, very berry blue.

The Blue Hour - landing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Jackson Hole Blue Hour

The stab of the direct summer sun means 3+ months of discomfort for me. Having been born and raised in this area, you’d think my body would be used to it. It’s not. As a child I read Heidi every summer to mentally escape the heat of North Texas/Southern Oklahoma. Every winter I prayed for snow.  Seldom were my prayers answered. Until that is, I took a career promotion and moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to launch and run the Bank of Jackson Hole’s Trust Department.  With all the glorious snow and the diamond dust sparkle of temperature inversions, all my childhood prayers were answered the first winter!

This summer was a mild one and yet I can’t wait to watch the fire crackle in the fireplace.  To look out the window and see a vivid winter sunset catapult through the pristine air heralding an Oklahoma blue hour makes me giddy.  And it’s just around the corner.

Here are a few more of my favorite L’heure Bleue photographs.

Medora, North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Plains Indian Burial Platform

The Badlands, South Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

North Dakota

Mountain Alpenglow

Grand Teton Base Camp – mountain alpenglow

 

The Enchanted Highway

North Dakota’s Enchanted Highway is 32 miles of soaring, metal art sculpture that qualify as some of the largest in the world. They are as unusual as they are enjoyable, qualifying unequivocally as must-see Americana Road Art. But the highway isn’t about the objects at all. North Dakota’s Enchanted Highway is about a MAN and his singular vision.

Deer Crossing

“Deer Crossing”. The buck is 75-feet tall and 60-feet long. Erected in 2002. Made from old oil well tanks cut apart and welded to form the shadow design. To fit through the streets of Regent, the buck’s front leg had to be cut off and re-welded on-site.

Small town characters/sometime heroes are sometimes an odd lot. My husband and I swap stories about the characters from our respective small towns – his in West Virginia, mine in SE Oklahoma. Those characters, as we call them, were a bit different, marched to the beat of a not-so-audible drum, hardworking, kind, and talkative. In a small town these individuals are part of the community’s colorful tapestry. They are a clean stamped part of the puzzle, fitting in while not being forced to lose their identity. And while this is commendable of small towns, they are at the same time frequently guilty of speaking from both sides of their mouth. On the intake they can welcome uniqueness with invitations to “come here” while on the exhale uttering whispers of displeasure and not-so-silent “get aways.”

Gary Greff is a small town character. I only hesitate to say “hero” as I feel I don’t know enough of the story. However if you judge such things based not on the outcome but intent and the effort expended, then Gary qualifies. Near 60, Gary hails from a small town to which he was never able to break the tether (Regent, ND), lives below the poverty line but is tenaciously steeped in hope for his own life and for the survival of his hometown, and has spent the past 20 years fighting for a vision of betterment for his community. His young life in Regent was re-directed by tragedy. At 16, driving a motorbike with his 15 year old brother on back, Gary hit a curb in town. His brother died at the scene. People’s lives are shaped by such.

After teaching school in various communities, at age 40 Gary moved back to Regent led by a vision to do something to curtail the demise of his hometown. He’d never pursued art of any kind. He couldn’t weld. And yet the sculpture below made it into The Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Largest Metal Art Sculpture. It’s 110 feet tall, 154 feet long and weighs 79 tons. And photographs like any beautiful piece of art.

Geese in Flight

Geese in Flight

Tin Family

“Tin Family”. The man is 45-feet tall; the woman 43-feet tall; and the boy 23-feet tall.

Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again

“Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again”. 51-feet tall. A tribute to President Theodore Roosevelt’s part in North Dakota history. Built from used oil well pipe.

Fisherman's Dream

“Fisherman’s Dream” (my personal favorite).

Pheasants on the Prairie

“Pheasants in the Prairie”. Rooster is 70 ft. long, 40 ft. tall. Made of wire mesh that was originally used for screening gravel. Long process — took 3 years — the wire was heated and bent to form the bodies.

Grasshopper's Delight

“Grasshopper’s Delight”. 60 Feet long, 40 Feet tall. A reminder of the hardships farmers have overcome making their living off the land. Welded from old fuel tanks and oil well tanks.

Gary Greff between 1989 and 2006 did all of this. And he did it amid harsh criticism, ridicule, accusations of insanity, the scorn of fellow townsfolk, one rebuff after another, and over time a severely curtailed financial and volunteer donor list. His brother Brad said, “people walked across the street to avoid him”. He did, what no other townsperson in Regent, ND has been able to do – he drew people to the area. And continues to.

Gary’s art didn’t save Regent in the way he’d envisioned. The High School closed. The town appeared to me to be a rural American small town clutching survival when I saw it in March 2009. Gary’s dream for an Enchanted Highway Theme Park and droves of tourists dropping their money in Regent hasn’t materialized. But his vision, hard work and undying commitment left a commendable and very memorable mark. Gary Greff is the best kind of dreamer – he takes action.

To see the Enchanted Highway and Gary Greff’s art, take Exit 72 (about 20 miles east of Dickinson, ND) off of I-94. The Highway runs due south from there and ends in Regent.  There is no charge so if you see a contribution box, leave some currency behind.

“No one, I discover, begins to know the real geographic, democratic, indissoluble American Union in the present, or suspect it in the future, until he explores these Central States, and dwells awhile on their prairies or amid their busy towns.” – Walt Whitman

Heartland Chronicles is a series of radio documentaries set in and around Middle America, exploring the region’s people and communities. A concentrated focus on this region allows us to draw what author William Least Heat Moon refers to as a “deep map” – a careful, long-term exploration of place that reveals the truth of everyday life today. Here’s the 2005 interview with Gary Greff (the MP3 choice seems to work best).

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The Grand Climb

 

Tammie DooleyAbout SRT... I’m a traveler, writer and photographer for whom the open road frequently summons. Adventurous solo road trips are a staple for me, and a curiosity. So I created this website to share them and inspire you to step out and give them a try. Welcome!

A soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone – Wolfgang Von Goethe

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