Wednesday, September 1 through Tuesday, September 7, 2021
Last year we visited this area so I didn’t feel up to writing and entirely new post. Most of the content in this post is from last year. New are a few fresh words of blabber of a visit to Belle Fourche, a town we’d hadn’t visited until this year and and a some new photos. The northern Black Hills are enchanting if one loves history and old buildings. And that’s precisely why we came back!
Driving from the northern Plains back to the Black Hills was pleasant. We’re happy to be in the hills once again. We are staying at the Elkhorn Ridge RV Resort. The place is very nice and not terribly expensive. We’ll enjoy our stay here and use it as home base in order to do a little exploring.
This place is truly a resort. It has a conference center/meeting room, tennis courts, swimming pool, and walking paths. Besides the nicely laid out RV sites, cabins are available for those without a home on wheels. There is lawn art everywhere mostly of animals native to the area.
We didn’t visit Sturgis this year favoring a few other towns. The town is famous for its annual motorcycle rally. The town of 6,627 souls swells to unbelievable proportions. This year attendance was down however, with only 500,000 attending over a 10 day period. The motorcycle rally has been over for a couple of weeks and the town is quiet with only a few visitors enjoying the place.
Stugis was founded in 1878. It was originally named Scooptown because many of the residents “scooped up” their pay from nearby Fort Meade. Its name was later changed to Sturgis to honor Civil War Union General Samual Sturgis. Sturgis was designated the seat of Meade County in 1889.
Deadwood is located at 4500′ Deadwood (1270 souls) is the seat of Lawrence County. The entire city has been designated as a National Historic Landmark District. A Mustang car rally is being held in Deadwood today with the locals expecting 500 cars. The main street is blocked off and the place is already too crowded for us at 9:30am.
Excerpt from deadwood.com: The discovery of gold in the southern Black Hills in 1874 set off one of the great gold rushes in America. In 1876, miners moved into the northern Black Hills. That’s where they came across a gulch full of dead trees and a creek full of gold and Deadwood was born.
Practically overnight, the tiny gold camp boomed into a town that played by its own rules that attracted outlaws, gamblers and gunslingers along with the gold seekers. Wild Bill Hickok was one of those men who came looking for fortune. But just a few short weeks after arriving, he was gunned down while holding a poker hand of aces and eights – forever after known as the Dead Man’s Hand.
Well known characters from the Old West are buried in Mt. Moriah Cemetery. Calamity Jane is buried next to Hickock and other legends like Potato Creek Johnny, Seth Bullock and Al Swearengen will forever find peace overlooking the town.
(From Deadwood.com): You can find these colorful characters walking the streets of present-day Deadwood as a part of Deadwood Alive. This theater troupe reenacts the major historic events – like the Trial of Jack McCall and Wild Bill’s assassination— that inspired the legends you know today.
As one can imagine gold played out and folks moved on. The current population of 1270 souls pales from the 25,000 who lived here in its heyday. The place fell on hard times now and then and suffered through three major fires. Gaming revived what was to become another ghost town. What is left today are the period buildings at its core, modern day resort hotels. their architecture playing off of 100 year old buildings, big name concerts, gaming and walking in the footsteps of Wild West legends.
With Deadwood ready to explode with humanity we chose to find a quieter town to explore. Lead (LEED) (3124 souls) is not far from Deadwood. The town was named for the leads or lodes of deposits of valuable ore, in this case gold. The Homestake Mine, established in 1876, lies at the edge of town. The mine was the largest, deepest (8240 feet) and most productive gold mine in the western hemisphere before it closed in 2002.
Lead has a great mining museum. If ever in Lead don’t miss it! Yes, mining at the Homestake Mine is a main theme yet a very large portion of the museum is devoted to the town and its people and its way of life.
Lead was founded as a company town which was made more comfortable through the efforts of Phoebe Hearst. She established a town library, free kindergarten, and opera house, provided college scholarships.
In the early 1930’s, due to fear of cave-ins of the miles of tunnels under Lead’s Homestake Mine, many of the town’s buildings located in the bottom of a canyon were moved further uphill to safer locations.
Today Lead and the Homestake Mine have been selected as the site of the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory, a proposed NSF facility for low-background experiments on neutrinos, dark matter, and other nuclear physics topics, as well as biology and mine engineering studies.
Spearfish (10,494 souls), founded in 1876, lies just west of Elkhorn Ridge RV Resort. The city was founded at the mouth of Spearfish Canyon it’s roll in the Black Hills Gold Rush being a supplier of foodstuffs for the mining camps in the hills. The Homestake Sawmill was built to supply timbers for the Homestake Mine.
Spearfish Creek emerges from the canyon and runs through the center of town. An unusual phenomenom is that in winter the creek freezes from the bottom up, with ice at the bottom of the creek bed and water running over the top. The cause is the fast running creek doesn’t allow ice to form on top, only the bottom of the creek bed.
Sights around downtown Spearfish
We enjoy fish hatcheries and Spearfish has a beauty. The landscaped grounds are worth walking through, the “fish” train car is historically significant. Heck, the whole working hatchery is historically significant. The train cars were used to transport fish from one location in the nation to another. At the moment rainbow trout are being raised.
Right next door is the Spearfish Municipal Campground. It’s pretty nice, I wanted to camp there but it’s a first come, first serve sort of place. With so many people enjoying the outdoors we couldn’t take a chance. Oh well, maybe next time.
We took the scenic drive up Spearfish Canyon. Talk about beauty! Sheer limestone cliffs, beautiful trees and a couple of small waterfalls are all highlights within the canyon.
Near the top of the canyon is Spearfish Canyon Lodge. The handsome lodge is surrounded by God’s beauty. The lodge offers overnight accommodations, fine dining and entertainment and more.
A place new to us is Belle Fourche (5594 souls). I don’t know what’s with the spelling/pronunciation of French language derived words. The correct pronunciation of Belle Fourche is Belle Foosh. So Belle Foosh is a city near the geological center of the 50 United States and has a large granite monument to prove it. The area was worked by French beaver trappers until the mid-1800’s and Belle Fourche became a well known trading rendevous point. During and after the gold rush of 1876, farmers and ranchers settled in the fertile valleys, growing food for the miners and their work animals.
At the same time huge cattle drives came into the area with the cattle in need of transportation to packing plants in the midwest. Knowing that need, a smart fella named Seth Bullock acquired land from homesteaders and offered it free for a railroad right-of-way. He also offered to build the terminal if the railroad would locate it on a point on his land. Well, you can bet the railroad jumped all over that offer! By 1895 Belle Fourche was shipping 2500 carloads of cattle a month. Belle Fourche today serves a large trade area of ranches and farms.
Tomorrow we’ll be heading west into Wyoming. See you then!