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September 27, 2021

Spearfish Canyon is Golden

 Monday, September 27, 2021

Our plans didn't require getting up early, but regardless I was up by 6:15 am. It wasn't long before Bob was also awake so we (meaning mostly Bob!) packed up the car. After a quick breakfast we were on the road. A flock of wild turkeys was there to say goodbye as we pulled out of the Turtle House driveway. Barely a mile down the road we had to brake to avoid hitting a couple of deer. (So many deer in the Spearfish area!!!) In less than 3 miles, we turned onto the Spearfish Canyon Highway.

Wild turkeys.

Spearfish Canyon is (in my opinion) one of the most beautiful drives you can find. Tall bluffs line the sides of the highway which follows along Spearfish Canyon Creek. That time of the morning, the sun was just beginning to climb above the bluffs lighting up the golden colored trees.



It was nice that we weren't on any sort of time schedule. We pulled off the road often to take photos and just enjoy the scenery.

Bob trying to show me the trail he had taken the previous day to Community Caves.
I had to take his word for it...couldn't see anything through the trees.




One of our stops was at the pull-out for Bridal Veil Falls but the dry conditions in the Black Hills had reduced the falls to a trickle. Always up for a challenge, Bob climbed down the steep embankment and crossed over the creek to get a better view of the falls.

Zoomed in view of Bob trying to cross the creek. I held my breath...I was sure he was going to fall in!

This was all that was left of Bridal Veil Falls.

A couple in a camper van from Ohio stopped while I was waiting on Bob and wanted directions to Roughlock Falls. We had a nice chat and then they were on their way. Bob managed to complete his mission without getting wet.

This photo gives a better perspective on how deep of a ravine the creek was in.

Using a walking stick was a smart move...he stayed dry!

Not more than 5 minutes later, we stopped to see several mountain goats on the side of the road. I was excited because we had not seen any mountain goats on our trip last year. 



Right after traffic started moving again we had to stop once more. There were more mountain goats but this time they were doing what mountain goats do best...climbing on the side of a steep cliff. We watched as one by one they came down to the road. They seemed to have no fear of the people gathered to watch them. Our Ohio friends stopped as well and we visited briefly again.

Momma and her kid.

Coming down.

I always enjoy sipping a large mug of coffee when we are driving in the morning but you know how that ends up. <potty time 😄>  Last year we had enjoyed a picnic lunch in the Long Valley Picnic Area and we knew that bathrooms would be available there. Success.

Long Valley Picnic area on Spearfish Canyon Road. A few picnic tables + toilets.

One thing we didn't see last year was Spearfish Falls and that was at the top of my "to-do" list for the day. All of the reviews I had read said to park behind the Latchstring Restaurant near the town of Savoy but when we pulled in there was a sign that said parking was for customers ONLY. It added a little bit of distance to our walk, but we continued on past the Spearfish Canyon Lodge and parked in the public lot near the trailhead for Roughlock Falls.

We walked back to the Latchstring Restaurant where there is a viewing platform that gives a somewhat blocked view looking down on Spearfish Falls from above. 

Spearfish Falls from above.

There is also a dirt path that leads down to a view from the bottom of the falls. The hike was quite steep at the beginning but then leveled out and was an easy walk. We were almost to the falls when our Ohio friends came walking down the path. Seeing the FALLS in FALL was perfect!







Even though our car was parked at the Roughlock Falls trailhead, we opted to skip the 2 mile round trip hike and drive down the gravel road to see the falls. From a nice picnic area, there is a shorter (but much steeper) trail that leads to several viewing areas overlooking the tall upper falls and cascading lower falls. The multiple parking lots were nearly full in this area.


Lower Roughlock Falls. Sunlight had not yet reached the lower falls so they are in shadows.


Upper Roughlock Falls.

Roughlock Falls was very nice, but I think Spearfish Falls wins the prize for "most beautiful" in my opinion. I think the sunlight shining on Spearfish Falls may have made the difference. We debated about having an early lunch at one of the picnic tables in the little park-like area, but the only available tables were in full sun.

We continued on down Roughlock Falls Road, and just past the area where the winter scene was filmed for the movie "Dances with Wolves" we found a small pull out in the shade alongside Spearfish Creek. We set up our folding chairs and brought out the cooler with our lunch supplies. It was a beautiful and peaceful place to enjoy our meal with the breeze rustling through the leaves and the sound of rushing water in the creek.
 
Our impromptu picnic area.

After lunch, Bob took off exploring the nearby Rimrock Trail but quickly came back...he wanted me to see what he had discovered. Just across the creek from where we ate was a sign saying that a pine tree from this location had been cut down to be the National Christmas tree in 1997.


But that wasn't all he had found. Bob had also discovered a doorway in the side of a hill leading to an underground room. Neither of us was sure what exactly it was, but it was interesting!





Inside looking out.

Back on route 14A, we went north to the town of Lead and stopped briefly to look at a giant hole in the ground that had been the Homestake Gold Mine, the largest in the Western Hemisphere until it closed in 2002. The mine has since been converted into an area for scientific research on neutrinos and dark matter particles.  

A photo can't convey just how big and deep this hole was!

A quick drive through the town of Deadwood was all we needed. Main street is pretty much a few blocks of t-shirt shops and casinos. There are historical sites to see and explore in Deadwood including the graves of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane, but we still had a bit of a drive to get to our lodging for the night so did not take the time.

A small waterfall on the side of the road near Deadwood.

Deadwood, South Dakota.

An AirBnB apartment near the small town of Pringle, SD would be our home base for the next five nights. This is the same place where we stayed last September and loved the location. We had become friends with the owners last year so it was fun to catch up when we arrived. The weather was pretty warm as we were getting settled, but by sunset the temperatures in the valley dropped drastically as the sun set behind the hills. 

The view from the deck of our apartment. Such a peaceful place!

A big day tomorrow as we visit Abe, George, Tom and Teddy!


September 26, 2021

Devil's Tower and Termespheres!

Sunday, September 26, 2021


You might recognize these 5 musical notes from the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." And if you have seen the movie, you would also recognize Devils Tower...our destination for the day. 



One of the main reasons we decided to add on a two-night stay to our trip in the northern part of the Black Hills was to put us closer to Devil's Tower National Monument...something we didn't include in last year's itinerary. It's not like we haven't been there before. Bob estimates that he has climbed Devil's Tower 10 times...or at least that is his guess because he has actually lost count. But it has been some time since he has been here and much longer since I visited.

Bob rappelling down from the top of Devils Tower in 2005.

Bob and two of our sons on top of Devils Tower (2005).

A climber's view.

Devil's Tower was the very first national monument in the U.S., established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. The tower is about an hour's drive from Spearfish and lies just over the state line in Wyoming. Our route for the day (sort of a keyhole shape) would begin by taking the southern route from Spearfish. Besides Devils Tower, I had several other stops planned, but they would be part of our afternoon itinerary.



In reading recent Trip Advisor reviews of Devils tower, a common theme was how busy this park has become...just like most national parks and monuments during the pandemic. Parking is very limited and many mentioned that the parking lot was totally full when they arrived. My goal was to NOT have this happen to us.

Our "early to bed, early to rise" plan was put into practice and it was a little after 7 am when we pulled out of the driveway from the Turtle House. When we arrived at Devil's Tower a little after 8 am, we were just the 3rd car to pull into the parking lot.

Devils Tower is visible from quite a distance away.
The distinct mounds to the left of the tower are the Missouri Buttes.

The best way to see Devils Tower up close is to hike the Tower Trail that circles the base. This 1.3 mile long path is paved, but does have some elevation gain. 


Tower Loop Trail map.

To the Native Americans, Devils Tower is a sacred place and many tribes still utilize the park for traditional ceremonies. Along the Tower Trail you can observe many prayer cloths and prayer bundles attached to the trees. 



With binoculars you can also see climbers as they attempt to reach the top of Devils Tower. Observing the process made me glad I hadn't been there when Bob and our boys were climbing! 


Zooming in on the previous photo you can barely see the climber sitting on the Leaning Column. There are many different mapped routes of varying degrees of difficulty that climbers can follow to get to the top of Devils Tower.


A much closer view of the climber as she ascends above the leaning column.


Benches were located at the most scenic points along the trail. As we sat at one enjoying the view we kept hearing something falling from the tall trees. I finally noticed a squirrel in the top of the tree chewing off pine cones and letting them drop! 





See the squirrel at the top of the tree??

We took our time walking the trail, stopping often to enjoy the view so by the time we returned to our car, the parking lot was full and cars were circling through hoping to find an empty place. I'm sure we must have made someone's day when we pulled out from our prime spot right next to the beginning of the Tower Loop trail!

Earlier, when entering the park, the ranger had suggested we check out the view of Devils Tower from the picnic area. It was a little early, but when we got to the picnic area we decided to eat the lunch we had brought along. There was no problem finding a parking spot here...we were the only ones in the lot! And the ranger was correct...it was a great place to view the tower!


Devils Tower picnic area.

The "Circle of Sacred Smoke" was created by Japanese artist, Junkyu Muto in 2008. It is one of three sculptures of Muto's International Peace Project. Other sculptures are located in Vatican City, Rome and Bodh Gaya, India.


The sculpture represents a puff of smoke from a ceremonial pipe used by Native American people. (Honestly I thought it resembled a warped toilet seat.😏)

Our road trip continued on the northern part of our circle route as we headed to our next stop at Hulett, Wyoming. 

One last photo of Devils Tower.

Beautiful fall colors.


The tiny town (population ~300) of Hulett was just a short distance from Devil's Tower. I had read about Rogues Gallery and thought it would be a place of interest to Bob...and I was correct! The owner, Bob Coronato, advertises the place as an art studio, antique shop and old west museum. No one else was around when we arrived (we didn't even see the owner or any staff!) so we took our time browsing through the interesting merchandise and took even longer looking at the unique artifacts on display in the museum. Rogues Gallery is free to visit, but even if there had been an admission fee it would have been worth the price. Bob declared it one of the most interesting museums he had ever visited!

Another 30 minutes down the road should have been our next stop... the Aladdin General Store. With a population of 15, Aladdin, Wyoming made Hulett look like a booming metropolis! Unfortunately the store had closed for the season just a couple of weeks earlier so we headed on to our next destination just outside of town.

Aladdin General Store


The Aladdin Coal Tipple dates back to the late 1800's. The rickety structure was fenced off, but signs told a little of the history surrounding the tipple. It made for an brief, but interesting stop.


A coal mining operation from days gone by.



Our final stop before returning to the Turtle House was at the Geographic Center of the Nation Monument located in Bell Fourche, South Dakota (pronounced bell foosh). The actual center was located in 1959 after Hawaii became the 50th state but it is about 22 miles away on a gravel road behind a road ditch. The monument is surrounded by flags from each state and was placed in Bell Fourche since it was the closest town. 



Our sightseeing was not quite over when we returned to our AirBnB but this time we didn't have far to go. A quick walk across the backyard of the property brought us to the Termesphere Gallery. The well-known artist, Dick Termes, creates unique works of art by painting on spheres which are known as "Termespheres". A gal working in the gallery showed us the works of art on display and explained the process used to paint the spheres. Quite interesting! The gallery is free and open to the public. 






As we were leaving the gallery, Dick's son, Lang, drove up. Lang handles the AirBnb bookings and is in the process of completing a tiny home which will also be available to rent. As we were talking, Dick walked out and joined the conversation and in a few minutes his wife also joined us. She is a puppeteer and Lang is a musician so this is one very talented and creative family! What fun to meet them all!


This tiny home next door to our Turtle House should be available to rent soon on AirBnB!

I was done for the day and ready to relax, but Bob decided he wanted to check out a nearby hiking trail to Community Caves. When he got back he reported that the trail was EXTREMELY steep and almost non-existent but he managed to reach the caves. Hearing his report made me confident that I had made the right choice to not join him.

I fixed dinner in the apartment kitchen and then we had a relaxing evening watching a movie. Tomorrow morning we would check out and drive to our next location in the southern Black Hills, but not before exploring the beautiful Spearfish Canyon.