Day 78 – Deadwood
We woke up to a beautiful and warm Sunday morning, and after breakfast, caught the Trolley to take us from the KOA into Deadwood, a famous “Old West” town best known for being the location where Wild Bill Hickok was killed (and buried). After walking down the historic Main Street and seeing the location where it happened, we climbed the hill up to the Mount Moriah cemetery, where Hickok, Calamity Jane and Seth Bullock (the protagonist of HBO’s Deadwood), among many others, are buried.
We returned to town and ate lunch, then explored more of the historic town center. We happened across an awesome model train exhibit and plenty of souvenir shops. Finally, we took the shuttle back to the campground, ate dinner and relaxes.
Day 79 – Deadwood to Lead
Monday we had to move a whole three miles up the road to our hotel just outside of Lead, a twin city to Deadwood and with its own interesting history. We decided to use the opportunity to do a scenic drive through Spearfish Canyon, stopping at Roughlock Falls and having a picnic lunch at Long Valley Picnic Area along Spearfish Creek. On the way back to our hotel, we also drove in to Lead to visit the Homestake Sanford Lab Visitor Center, which tells the history of the Homestake Mine and explains its current use as a scientific lab.
We stayed at the Blackstone Lodge (almost free using our Hotels.com rewards nights!), scoring a huge room and garden tub. One of the best places we’ve stayed, especially for the price.
Day 80 – Lead
Tuesday was the 4th of July, so we planned to take in Lead’s holiday celebration. Since the parade didn’t start until 4pm, we made it a rest/work day until time to walk into town for the festivities. Being a small town, there wasn’t a ton of stuff to do, but there was a small group of tents and food carts, and the parade reminded Michael of the ones he used to see in Pagosa Springs. We planned to stay until time for fireworks, but ended up heading back to the hotel to escape the heat.
Day 81 – Lead to Devils Tower
Before heading southeast to the Mt. Rushmore/Custer area, we took a bit of a side trip back into Northern Wyoming to see Devils Tower. After a morning of work, we headed north and then east on Highway 34 to our campground just outside of the national monument borders. We got our first glimpse of Devils Tower about 25 miles away, and got a few more glimpses until we were a few miles away and it dominated the skyline. That night, we enjoyed the sunset and the view of the tower from our campsite.
Day 82 – Devils Tower
On Thursday, we got up early to enjoy the park before the heat set in. We hiked in and took the Redbeds Loop Trail up to the visitor center, where we caught the Tower Trail around the base. After seeing the tower up close all the way around, we connected back to the other half of the Redbeds Trail to complete the larger loop. Before heading back to camp for work and rest, we took a quick side trail to the prairie dog town, where we had a close encounter with a ton of prairie dogs and one very relaxed deer.
Day 83- Devils Tower to Custer
Friday after a morning of work, we headed back into South Dakota, this time to Custer. Since we got there early, we decided to go ahead and visit Mt. Rushmore that afternoon and took the scenic route through Custer State Park and up the windiest road we’ve ever driven on, Iron Mountain Road. It is famous for the narrow one-lane tunnels that frame Mt. Rushmore, and described on signs as: 17 miles, 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, 3 pigtails, 3 tunnels, 2 splits and 4 presidents. It is definitely the best way to approach Mt. Rushmore.
Of course, we stopped at the monument to take pictures and see the famous sculpture up-close. We walked the President’s trail, which takes you to the base of the mountain for a different view, and then on to the sculptor’s studio. It was interesting to see finally see Mt. Rushmore in person after seeing it thousands of times in pictures and on television. We also stopped to see the Crazy Horse Memorial, the huge work-in-progress sculpture that may never be finished. We weren’t thrilled about the cost, especially since it doesn’t really get you that much closer to the mountain, but it is all part of the trip. Afterwards, we headed to the campground.
Day 84 – Custer
It had been two weeks since we had taken on a really tough hike, so we tackled the the lesser-traveled (and more difficult) northern route to the summit of Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak). It turns out this is the highest summit east of the Rocky Mountains, so given the path our trip will take us, it was likely our last time above 7,000 feet until next spring. The trail was awesome with very few other hikers, but it was a very warm day and the summit was crowded with people who had taken the easier trail up from Sylvan Lake, so we didn’t get the payoff of an uncrowded destination like we normally would on a longer, more strenuous hike like this. But we enjoyed the challenge and got some great views of the Black Hills.
After the hike, we were beat and the temperature was still rising, so we headed back to the campground for a late lunch and a cool soak in the pool before an evening of much-needed rest.