Jil and I have long histories of visiting wonderful places on this God given earth. Before we met Jil traveled, mainly by air to parts of Europe, Israel and numerous ski resorts located in the U.S.A. and Canada.
She had never been camping, you see. I had never left the U.S., nor flown for that matter (except in fire department helicopters), choosing instead to travel our great country with the aid of almost every type of mobile shelter known to man.
I introduced Jil to camping by taking her on short trips in my very old but functional 1973 Revcon 25′ class A motorhome. Jil fell in love with camping, but the old rig not so much. It was soon replaced with a travel trailer.
Constantly having to step over two large dogs lying on the very limited floor space of the travel trailer lead to a costly but welcome upgrade- a new truck to tow a new, more comfortable double slide 5th wheel. We wore that combination out and purchased our second 5th wheel, a triple slide Heartland Big Country 3250TS, then a new truck to pull it up to Alaska and back. Three slides and we still step over the dogs! Oh well.
We started RVing in a Class A motorhome and will probably end our adventures in another one. Our rolling stock consists of a four slide Tiffin Allegro Red that’s short enough to be accepted into most state parks and a Subaru Forester toad. For our preferred method of travel it is ideal. We like to travel relatively short distances and only stay a couple of days in any one place. Set up for the motorhome is much quicker and more simple than a trailer and every convenience is inside our rolling home. One of the downfalls of towing a trailer in hot weather is no A/C running while in transit. That’s not a factor in the motorhome as we can run the A/C units with our generator as we travel.
The events of 9/11/2001 have soured us on air travel. We now travel almost exclusively with Jil as the copilot/navigator and moi as the pilot of 25,000 pounds worth of rolling stock. Scenic byways and country roads are preferred over interstate highways. We were both raised in large urban communities so visiting small towns is a treat. We like to meet those small town folk and visit the places they call home.
We heard from other RVer’s that a neat little town is just a short drive from Cody so we decided to check it out. Thermopolis (3009 souls) is about an hour and a half’s ride from Cody. Thermopolis is the largest town in Hot Springs County and also the county seat.
Thermopolis is located near the northern end of the Wind River Canyon and Wedding of the Waters, where the north-flowing Wind River becomes the Bighorn River. It is an unusual instance of a river changing names at a point other than a confluence of two streams. The dual name is ascribed to the mountain barrier between the Wind River and Bighorn basins, obscuring the fact that the river that drains the two is the same. The term “Wedding of the Waters” dates to at least 1934, when a marker was placed at the location.
The large Boysen Reservoir lies 17 miles to the south. The lake offers excellent fishing. Legend Rock, a cliff located in the central part of the county, displays some of the most spectacular petroglyphs in Wyoming. Bloody Hand Cave, near the mouth of Wind River Canyon, also has pictures and carvings.
The town claims the world’s largest mineral hot spring, appropriately named “The Big Spring”, as part of Wyoming’s Hot Springs State Park. The springs are open to the public for free as part of an 1896 treaty signed with the Shoshone and Arapaho Indian tribes. Dinosaur fossils were found on the Warm Springs Ranch in 1993, and the Wyoming Dinosaur Center was founded soon after.
Later, after the Shoshone Reservation was established in the Wind River Valley in 1868, the hot springs were on the reservation. This meant that white settlers could not formally claim the land or erect permanent structures. It did not prevent numerous squatters from living near the springs in tents and dugouts, however, either to soak in the springs themselves or to sell food and lodging to others.
Through a convoluted deal with the Shoshone 100 square miles of land including the hot springs was purchased by the US Government. The Indians no longer had need for the land as most of the game had been driven off by settlement of the area around the springs and could use the money to transition to reservation life. One square mile was given to the state and the remaining 99 were opened for settlement. The Shoshone requested that the springs remain open to the public forever. Purchase price- 94 cents an acre.
Thermopolis began in the 1880s near the mouth of Owl Creek, just outside the reservation boundaries of the time and downstream from the town’s present-day site. It provided better quarters for visitors than the pole-and-brush “Hotel de Sagebrush” near the hot springs, and offered stores and other businesses to serve the ranchers and homesteaders on Owl Creek and along the river. In 1910 the Burlington Railroad reached Thermopolis bringing with it 60 or more people- here to visit the therapeutic hot springs. Prior to the railroad the only access was by wagon road.
Just across the Bighorn River from Thermopolis was the town of Andersonville, where outlaws like Jim McCloud; Harry Longabaugh, known as the Sundance Kid; and Robert Leroy Parker, known as Butch Cassidy appear to have visited regularly.
Although agriculture seemed unlikely a lot of early settlers made a go of it by raising hay and alfalfa for livestock feed. Cattle ranchers brought in their cattle and sheep ranchers brought in their sheep. Coal mining began in 1898 and oil was discovered at the Grass Creek field in 1907 and the Hamilton Dome opened in 1915.
Today Thermopolis is a mecca for seekers of the therapeutic waters of its hot springs. Hot Springs State Park incorporates hotels, public soaking pools, walking and biking trails. Buffalo free range in the hills above the springs and one can visit the Dinosaur Center.
Downtown Thermopolis is typical for turn of last century downtowns. It consists of one block of one and two story brick buildings, one of which houses a bakery- which I visit and purchase freshly made cherry fritters. Yum! We also visit the Old West Historical Museum. The place is packed with memorabilia that local folks have donated as well as historically significant artifacts. The museum is a must see while in town.
The town of Thermopolis is a little off the beaten path but well worth the visit. And if one is into bathing in hot mineral waters this is the place to go!
One of the places we desire to visit is Yellowstone National Park. We were first to visit Cody, WY, then enter the park through the east entrance and stay several days in an RV Park in West Yellowstone. Alas, every RV Park in West Yellowstone is booked solid and Cody is has the closest availability to the park at 53 miles- and that’s just to the entrance station. Yellowstone is huge and takes several days just to get a good feel for the park and see the main sights. So this trip we’ll not visit Yellowstone. Darn!
Within a day’s drive of the Little Bighorn Battlefield Monument is another place of historical significance, the city of Cody Wyoming (9500 souls).
We head up I-90 through Billings MT (110,000 souls) then south on US 310 and stop in Fromberg MT which has a population of 438 souls. Downtown Fromberg looks like its on its last legs. The blacksmith’s shop looks busy and ever other shop looks quiet or closed.
Cody, The City
Cody lies in the Bighorn Basin surrounded by mountain ranges on three sides: the Absarokas on west, the Owl Creek Mountains to the south and the Bighorns to the east. The Shoshone River has cut a deep canyon at the edge of town, sort of a mini Grand Canyon. The Bighorn Basin was restricted from white settlement by treaties with the Indians in 1868. Ten years later, those restrictions were lifted and early settlers began to come into the basin. This made the area one of the last frontiers settled in the lower 48 states.
Excerpts from Wyoming History.com: William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody was visiting Sheridan, Wyo., in 1894, when his son-in-law, Horace Boal, took him to the top of the Bighorn Mountains for a view to the west over the Bighorn Basin. On learning that a group of Sheridan businessmen was already interested in founding a town there, Cody eagerly joined the effort. He saw the beauty of the region, its proximity to a Yellowstone already attracting tourists, the abundance of game and fish, and land available for ranching and farming.
In 1895, Cody, George T. Beck, Cody’s Wild West show partner Nate Salsbury, Harry Gerrans, Bronson Rumsey, Horace Alger, and George Bleistein founded the Shoshone Land and Irrigation Company. In the fall of 1895, construction began on the Cody Canal, which would carry water from the south fork of the Shoshone River northeast to the town. In May 1896, Beck and surveyor Charles Hayden laid out the site of the present town.
To ensure the success of Cody the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad was sold the majority of town lots, thus the railroad gained a vested interest in the town. The railroad line to Cody opened in 1901. By 1900 the town had a population of 300, the Irma Hotel, named after Buffalo Bill’s daughter was opened in 1902.
The Buffalo Reservoir was created with federal money by damming the narrow cut created by the Shosone River between Cedar and Rattlesnake mountains. The Shoshone Dam was completed in 1910 and renamed Buffalo Bill Dam in Cody’s honor in 1946 on the anniversary of his 100th birthday. Three highway tunnels are adjacent to the dam.US highways 20/14/16 follow Shoshone Canyon past the dam with the most westerly being Wyoming’s longest tunnel at 3202 feet.
Although oil and gas remain viable industry here it’s a popular stop for travelers on the way to and from Yellowstone just as Colonel Cody envisioned it, as well as a hunter’s and fishermen’s paradise. Irrigation has overcome the high desert climate enabling ranchers and farmers to succeed. Buffalo Bill’s legacy continues today at the Irma, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, and numerous other businesses seeking to catch the eyes of tourists.
Cody, The Man
Excerpt from Wikipedia: William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody (February 26, 1846 – January 10, 1917) was an American soldier, bison hunter, and showman. He was born in Le Claire, Iowa Territory (now the U.S. state of Iowa), but he lived for several years in his father’s hometown in Toronto Township, Canada before the family returned to the Midwest and settled in the Kansas Territory. After his father’s death he became a rider for the Pony Express at age 15. During the Civil War, he served the Union from 1863 to the end of the war in 1865. Later he served as a civilian scout for the US Army during the Indian Wars, receiving the Medal of Honor in 1872.
Cody returned to Army service in 1868. From his post in Fort Larned, he performed an exceptional feat of riding as a lone dispatch courier from Fort Larned to Fort Zarah (escaping capture), Fort Zarah to Fort Hays, Fort Hays to Fort Dodge, Fort Dodge to Fort Larned, and, finally, Fort Larned to Fort Hays, a total of 350 miles in 58 hours through hostile territory, covering the last 35 miles on foot. In response, General Philip Sheridan assigned him Chief of Scouts for the 5th Calvary Regiment
Buffalo Bill’s legend began to spread when he was only 23. Shortly thereafter he started performing in show that displayed cowboy themes and episodes from the frontier and Indian Wars. He founded Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1883, taking his large company on tours in the United States and, beginning in 1887, in Great Britain and continental Europe. For a more complete biography of Cody please refer to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_Bill
Probably the largest tourist draw in Cody is the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. It’s actually five museums in one: Buffalo Bill Museum, Plains Indian Museum, Draper Natural History Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum, and the Cody Firearms Museum. If you think you can whiz right through all five museums and be on the road towards Yellowstone think again and look at your pass. It’s a two day pass! Example: The firearms museum includes 10,000 artifacts. It’s the most comprehensive firearms museum in the United States. We visit all but the Whitney Western Art Museum.
Buffalo Bill Museum
Plains Indians Museum
I believe I took 200 photos while touring the museums just so I’d have a log of the most interesting things I saw there. Hope you enjoy just a few of them that have been chosen worthy of this blog. (gads, more than a few- a lot!) Here’s a few more…………..
Natural History Museum
And last but not least we have the rare wave eating long tailed, floppy-eared Boxer Dog. Found only near lakes with wind driven waves the wave eater will race up and down the shore attempting eat/swallow every last drop of water that laps onto the shore. Burrrp…….
Most of us have heard of the Battle of Little Bighorn and Custer’s Last Stand. If one is ever in the vicinity of Little Bighorn National Monument don’t hesitate to visit this remarkable place. Our stop in Hardin, MT was to do precisely that. The monument is located on the Crow Indian Reservation, Garryowen, MT. Since our last visit it seems that the Crow Agency has seen fit to take advantage of the park’s visitors by erecting a couple of trading posts, a casino and hotel near the entrance. Heck, why not?
Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, leaders of the Sioux tribe on the Great Plains, strongly resisted the mid-19th-century efforts of the U.S. government to confine their people to reservations. In 1875, after gold was discovered in South Dakota’s Black Hills, the U.S. Army ignored previous treaty agreements and invaded the region. This betrayal led many Sioux and Cheyenne tribesmen to leave their reservations and join Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse in Montana. By the late spring of 1876, more than 10,000 Native Americans had gathered in a camp along the Little Bighorn River–which they called the Greasy Grass–in defiance of a U.S. War Department order to return to their reservations or risk being attacked.
In mid-June, three columns of U.S. soldiers lined up against the camp and prepared to march. A force of 1,200 Native Americans turned back the first column on June 17. Five days later, General Alfred Terry ordered Custer’s 7th Cavalry to scout ahead for enemy troops. On the morning of June 25, Custer drew near the camp and decided to press on ahead rather than wait for reinforcements.
At mid-day, Custer’s 600 men entered the Little Bighorn Valley. Among the Native Americans, word quickly spread of the impending attack. The older Sitting Bull rallied the warriors and saw to the safety of the women and children, while Crazy Horse set off with a large force to meet the attackers head on. Despite Custer’s desperate attempts to regroup his men, they were quickly overwhelmed. Custer and some 200 men in his battalion were attacked by as many as 3,000 Native Americans; within an hour, Custer and every last one of his soldiers were dead.
The Battle of the Little Bighorn—also called Custer’s Last Stand—marked the most decisive Native American victory and the worst U.S. Army defeat in the long Plains Indian War. The gruesome fate of Custer and his men outraged many white Americans and confirmed their image of the Native Americans as “wild.” Meanwhile, the U.S. government increased its efforts to subdue the tribes. Within five years, almost all of the Sioux and Cheyenne would be confined to reservations.
The total US casualty county included 268 dead and 55 severely wounded. Six later died of their wounds including four Crow Indian Scouts and at least two Arikara Indian scouts. The dead at the Battle of the Little Big Horn were given a quick burial where they fell by the first soldiers who arrived at the scene. Custer was later disinterred and reburied at West Point. Other troops were also disinterred for private burials. In 1881, a memorial was erected in honor of those who lost their lives.
Indian fatalities at the Battle of Greasy Grass (winner’s term) are a little more difficult to determine. Figuring out the Indian casualties has been complicated by inconsistencies in their accounts and pictorial depictions, largely because Indians often bore more than one name and some of the deaths may have been duplicated. Accounts vary between 26 warriors killed According to One Bull, a Cheyenn who lived near the Little Bighorn battlefield listed 26 warriors killed while Major Marcus Reno said he saw 18 dead Indian warriors on the battlefield.
It seems that most people bypass the drive in favor of the visitor’s center and the large monuments nearby. The Custer National Cemetery is also located within the grounds. If one visits be prepared to drive 4.5 miles through the monument. Not making the drive is a mistake. The road follows ridge lines where information plaques explain how to battle unfolded, points of interest and other narratives. Standing on the ridges looking down at all those grave stones is a humbling experience.
We walk the National Cemetery and pay our respects to all who have served or given their all for our great country. We discover that veterans are not the only residents here but wives and children of veterans. We’ve seen wives buried with their husbands but never children nor an unknown Chippewa Indian woman.
Above are a few scenes outside of the Monument on the Crow Rez. Below is a monument constructed at a privately owned museum just down the road.
We love to take the byways over the interstates. Today US 87 was on our radar as there are a couple of historic places we’d like to visit. We’re on our way to Fort Phil Kearney when we see a sign directing us to the sight of the Fetterman Massacre.
In 1866 group of 10 warriors including Crazy Horse attempted to lure a detachment of U.S. soldiers into an ambush. Captain William Fetterman was given strict orders not to go over the hill, do not lose sight of the fort. He took the lure, leading his detachment of 80 men after the band of Indians only to be intercepted by a large group of their brethren who promptly killed Fetterman and all his men- all 80 of them. At the time it was the worst military disaster ever suffered by the US Army on the Great Plains. The Fetterman Massacre took place on Crow Indian land, the attack orchestrated by an alliance of Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe tribes without the consent of the Crow.
Fort Phil Kearney was one of three forts established along the Bozeman to protect miners traveling north from the Oregon Trail in 1866. It was the largest of the three stockaded fortifications.
Its eight foot high log walls enclosed anarea of 17 acres, the longest wall being 1496 feet in length. At its height the garrison had 400 troops assigned and 150 civilians. The Fetterman Massacre occurred in 1866 and the Wagon Box Fight of 1867 was the last major engagement that ended Red Cloud’s War. The three forts were abandoned in 1868 when the Union Pacific Railroad reached far enough west the emigrants could reach Montana gold fields through present-day Idaho, rendering the dangerous Bozeman Trail obsolete. Shortly after Fort Phil Kearney known to the Indians as “the hated post on the Little Piney” was burned by the Cheyenne Indians.
Sheridan (17,900 souls), the seat of Sheridan County is our next stop. The town is beautiful with a 1890’s wild west feel to its downtown district with beautiful homes to its west. The town is named after Union calvary general Philip Sheridan. The townsite grew from a trapper’s cabin to a small town in 1882. The arrival of the Burlington and Missouri Railroad boosted Sheridan’s economy leading to the construction of the Sheridan Inn where Buffalo Bill Cody was once a financial partner.
Coal mines opened north of town along the Tongue River in the 1890’s which drew farmers from back east as well as cattlemen. Immigrants arrived from Europe and Mexico. Today mining, farming, manufacturing drives its economy as well as a strong rodeo culture. Summer events draw participants and spectators for all over including the nearby Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations, leading to the slogan “Cowboy Days and Indian Nights”.
We settled into Grandview Campground and RV Park, Hardin MT. It’s the only campground in town yet I would hesitate to recommend it. The park itself is OK but could use a lot of clean up. It appears to have been a farm at one time. Farmers don’t throw much away so there’s a lot of used “treasures” lying about that could be recycled or at the least removed from public view. We meet some interesting fellas here at the park. Several are from Pennsylvania and are participating in a safflower harvest. A couple of others are transporting huge combines, machines used to harvest crops, in caravans from Montana back home to Kansas. They drive work trucks that displays a “wide load” sign. Since they are never in one place very long when transporting, they pull their travel trailer home on wheels behind them. Interesting young men!
A visitor magnet for Hardin is the Big Horn County Historical Museum. Of course like a lot of museums and places of interest it’s closed. The main building is closed but the grounds are open, but dogs are not welcome. We take some photos and wish the place was open to the public. Sigh…….
Tomorrow we will visit a place that has gone down in infamy. See you there!
We left Spearfish Monday morning heading towards Buffalo Wy. We’ll travel Interstate 90 all the way, leaving the Black Hills behind. We’ll be back in the high plains traveling by towns whose names may be familiar to you.
American criminal Sundance Kid, Harry Longabaugh, was born in 1867 in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania. At age 15, he headed west and received his nickname when was arrested for stealing a horse in Sundance, Wyoming. He was part of Butch Cassidy’s gang, The Wild Bunch. The group embarked on the longest stretch of successful train and bank robberies in the history of the American West. It’s said that Longabaugh was the fastest gunslinger of the group, although he never killed anyone.
We also bypass Moorcroft (1100 souls). The town located at the confluence of the Belle Fourche River and Donkey Creek. The town was originally called LaBelle. The Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad built its railroad through town in 1891 then renamed it. Beautiful Keyhole State Park is nearby.
We stopped in Gillette just because we never have. We found a nice little greenbelt right next to a community ice rink to walk the dogs. The downtown’s business district was too busy through with the beast so we continued on. Excerpt from Wikipedia: Gillette is the county seat of Campbell County, Wyoming. The population was estimated at 32,030 as of July 1, 2019. Gillette is centrally located in an area involved with the development of vast quantities of American coal, oil, and coalbed methane gas. The city calls itself the “Energy Capital of the Nation”; Wyoming provides nearly 35% of the nation’s coal. Gillette’s population increased 48% in the ten years after the 2000 census, which counted 19,646 residents.
Before its founding, Gillette started as Donkey Town, named after Donkey Creek, and then was moved and called Rocky Pile after Rocky Draw a landmark recognized by travelers. Gillette was founded in 1891 with the coming of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad and incorporated on January 6, 1892, less than two years after Wyoming became a state. Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad changed the name to Gillette for Edward Gillette, who worked as a surveyor for the company.
We’ve run into a lot of smoke, most of it coming from wildland fires to the west. The foothills of the Bighorn Mountains are barely visible and the mountains themselves are invisible. Bummer……..
We pulled into the Deer Park Campground, Buffalo Wy (4600 souls) after a drive of 170 miles. . The campground is located on a hill just east of town. The population of the park ebbs and flows like the ocean’s tides with a lot of RV’s leaving in AM and as many coming in to camp in the PM. The park has lots of places to walk the mutzos. Wildlife in the form of deer and turkey inhabit the area and we saw both. A couple of curious horses reside in a large grassy field just on the other side of a two wire fence. Megan didn’t care about them but Ollie went nose to nose with one horse. Every time we took a walk he’d pull me over to the fence to see if his equine pal was waiting for a another meet.
The town of Buffalo was founded on a buffalo trail that forded Clear Creek in 1879 and became seat of Johnson County in 1881. It is located on eastern foothills of the Bighorn Mountains. The region was prime hunting ground for Sioux, Arapaho, and Cheyenne Indians, and many armed conflicts ensued as settlers moved into the area. Forts were established to protect miners and other white travelers on the Bozeman Trail; these were abandoned in 1868, but white settlement was not far in the future. The community soon saw considerable conflict between farmers and cattlemen, and the site of the final battle in the Johnson County Cattle War of 1892 is 13 miles (21 km) south at the TA Ranch.(https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/johnson-county-war-1892-invasion-northern-wyoming)
Buffalo is a shipping point for livestock and lumber, with grain and sugar beet cultivation and oil wells in the vicinity. It also serves as a tourist center for the Bighorn Mountains region. The sites of Fort Phil Kearny and the Fetterman Massacre (1886), in which 80 U.S. soldiers were trapped and killed by Sioux Indians, are a few miles northwest.
Famous is the historic Occidental Hotel. Founded in 1880 the hotel became one of the most renowned in Wyoming. Located near the Bozeman Trail the hotel was visited by many famous people of the Old West. People who enjoyed the hospitality of the Occidental were Buffalo Bill Cody, Teddy Roosevelt, Calamity Jane (who drove freight wagons on the Bozeman). Even the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid rode from their hideout at the Hole-in-the-Wall would visit on occasion. As time passed the Occidental was expanded and rebuilt until it became a “grand” hotel.
Tomorrow we’ll head north and visit some very historic western sites. See you there!
We drove from Pierre SD to Spearfish SD, a drive of around 219 miles on Thursday. We’ve been in the area before but never to Lead or Sturgis. 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.
Our first place to visit is Sturgis. Yes, THAT Stugis. The town famous for its annual motorcycle rally. The town of 6,627 souls swells to unbelievable proportions. This year attendance was down however, with only 460,000 attending over a 10 day period. That attendance figure is down about 7% from normal.The motorcycle rally has been over for a couple of weeks and the town is quiet with only a few visitors enjoying the place. Those attending the rally said they were there because it was something to do.
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′ and Tuesday it snowed! There’s still patches of snow on a couple of rooftops and in shady areas around town. Deadwood (1270 souls) is the seat of Lawrence County. The entire city has been designated as a National Historic Landmark District.
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.
(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.
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 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.
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. Partway up the canyon quite a few trees have been broken about 20 up. No, couldn’t be. We’re in the Black Hills! But it’s true. Back in July two tornados hit the canyon wreaking havoc on the trees. Not only did the twister break the tops off of some they toppled others.
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.
Tomorrow we’ll be heading west into Wyoming. See you there.
Alrighty then, while in Rapid City we had a day maxing out a 102 degrees last Saturday. Two days later here in Pierre the high was 47 degrees. That’s a 55 degree temperature swing folks! Nighttime temps dropped from high sixties to nearly freezing. Sheesh! The weather slowly started to warm into the low sixties during our stay, which is comfortable for us.
A major encounter which affected the destiny of all inhabitants of the region occurred in Fort Pierre on September 24-28, 1804. At the mouth of the Bad River, in present day Fischer Lilly Park members of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery met for the first time with the Lakota people, known to them as the Teton Sioux. Differences in trade objectives, diplomacy, and the lack of an interpreter lead to an armed confrontation, the closest Lewis and Clark came to a premature end to their expedition. Today the park is certified as a National Park Service Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail site.
Also of historical interest is the Verendrye Site. French explorers Francois and Louis-Joseph Verendrye buried a lead plate on this hillside overlooking what now is Fort Pierre on March 30, 1743. The plate documents the Verendryes as the first European explorers on the northern plains. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 made the area a part of the United States. The plate was found in 1913 by a couple of teenagers who considered selling it to the local print shop. A state historian caught wind of the plate, realized it’s importance and saved it. The plate is on display at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre.
We visited Casey Tibbs Rodeo Center in Fort Pierre. Casey was born in nearby Orton, SD in 1929. He held the “World All-Around Cowboy Champion” title twice, the world saddle bronc riding championship six times and the world bareback bronc riding championship once all between 1949 and 1959. He was featured on the cover of Time Magazine in 1951.
He went on to raise and breed horses in Ramona, CA but not before becoming a stunt man, stunt coordinator, technical director, livestock consultant, wrangler, and actor for the film industry. He even wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film Born to Buck! He was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame and three more Halls of Fame. A man this famous and I’d never heard of him. He passed in 1990 from cancer.
Pierre is a small capital city as far as capitals go at just over 13,000 souls. It is only one of four state capitals that don’t have an interstate running through it and is unique among them in not having access to an expressway. The locals say that because there is no interstate not many folks from out of state visit. By the by, Pierre is not pronounced as the French pronounce the word, Pea-aire, but more like “Pier”. The city lies on the east bank of the mighty Missouri River and our campground is just a few miles downstream.
Pierre was founded in 1880 on the east bank of the Missouri River opposite Fort Pierre, a former trading post that developed as a community. She was designated as the temporary state capital when South Dakota gained statehood in 1889 and another election was held in 1890 to become the permanent capital. It was selected because of its location in the geographical center of the state. However there were several attempts to move the capital. After three elections, many citizens believed that a large, permanent building would end any further relocation efforts.
Looking at the capitol building I had a sense of deja vu and I was right. The same architects were hired that designed the Montana State Capitol and that design was to be used again for the South Dakota State Capitol with some variations.. Construction began in 1905 and completed in 1910- the total cost of the building under one million dollars. We’ve been to the Montana State Capitol in Helena and this capitol building is very similar.
Development of the city was influenced by railroads which run east-west through the city, increasing access to markets for regional products and transportation of passengers.
Farm Island State Recreation Area is one of the nicest state parks that we have encountered. It lies on the bank of a back bay of the Missouri. All picnic and campgrounds luxuriate in mowed grass, all surrounded in natural grassland. The camp sites are large and deep, an invitation to any RV or tent camper. Electric hookups are at each site but no water or sewer which is typical of campgrounds designed by the US Corps of Engineers. Included in the park are picnic areas, a playground for children, meeting rooms, and an archery range and boat launch.Farm Island is one of a handful of state recreation areas located along the river and Lake Oahe, created by the Oahe Dam.
The Corps of Engineers began building the Oahe Dam in 1948 and in 1962 started generating electricity. It’s the fourth largest man-made reservoir in the United States, measuring 231 miles connecting the capital cities of South Dakota and North Dakota, Pierre and Bismarck. The dam measures 9360 long, 3500 feet wide and 245 feet high. The lake’s capacity is 23,137,000 acre feet of water. Folks that’s big!
So who do you think the big losers were as a result of the dam’s construction? Yep, the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation lost 150,000 acres most of it prime agricultural land. The loss was profound. One visitor asked why there were so few older Indians on the reservations and was told that “the old people died of heartache” after the construction of the dam and loss of the reservations’ land. Not only did they lose their farmland but their towns.
Pierre was a great visit for us. The town is nice, the Capitol is awesome and Farm Island State Recreation Area is outstanding.
Pierre (13,500) souls is the state capitol of South Dakota and we are heading over there to visit the city and maybe have a chin wag with Governor Kristi Noem! We’ll be heading east on Interstate 90 for a while, then head through farmland on country roads. Two places on the route worth visiting are Wall Drug and Badlands National Park.
The first place we come to is Wall, SD (766 souls). Wall Drug is the principal industry in the town of Wall. It’s a sprawling tourist mall that occupies most of downtown and employs nearly a third of its population. Over a million people stop at Wall Drug every year — 20,000 on a good summer day. If every Wall resident decided to rent a motel room on the same night, there’d still be over 400 vacancies.
Wall used to be known by locals as “the geographical center of nowhere.” But that was before Ted Hustead came along. This small-town drugstore made its first step towards fame when it was purchased by Ted Hustead in 1931. Hustead was a Nebraska native and pharmacist who was looking for a small town with a catholic church in which to establish his business. He bought Wall Drug, located in a 231-person town in, ahhhh, “the middle of nowhere,” and strove to make a living. Business was very slow until his wife, Dorothy, thought of advertising free ice water to parched travelers heading to the newly opened Mount Rushmore monument 60 miles (97 km) to the west. From that time on business was brisk.
Wall Drug grew into a cowboy-themed mall and department store. It includes a western art museum, a chapel based on the one found at New Melleray Abbey near Dubuque, Iowa, and an 80-foot brontosaurus that can be seen right off Interstate 90. It was designed by Emmet Sullivan who also created the dinosaurs at Dinosaur Park in Rapid City.
To this day, Wall Drug still offers free ice water- and coffee for 5 cents, the bumper stickers that advertise the place used to be free but now cost an affordable 15 cents. Coffee and doughnuts are still free to military personnel. We heard that Wall’s plain cake doughnuts are delicious but we’re not willing to stand in a line 20 deep to give them credence.
Ted Hustead died in 1999. The following day, South Dakota Governor Bill Janklow began his annual State of the State address by commemorating Hustead as “a guy that figured out that free ice water could turn you into a phenomenal success in the middle of a semi-arid desert way out in the middle of someplace.”
We leave this well-known tourist trap, er, attraction and head towards Pierre. Do we really want to go see the Badlands? I’d like to go, Jil is iffy. Curiosity won out and we are sure glad it did! Badlands National Park is a must see. It’s pretty easy to drive by as ya really can’t see it from the Interstate. We stop at the entrance station, present our Geezer Pass (the America the Beautiful Senior Pass) and proceed without having to pay the $30 seven day pass fee. That pass has paid for itself over and over again. When purchased many moons ago the price was $10. Today it’s cost is $80 plus a $10 handling fee- and it’s still a bargain if one frequents National Parks of National Monuments. Heck even some states allow their use at their parks.
Driving the five miles to the Visitors Center we pass three munchers- ram bighorn sheep graze right next to the road, then drive around weird formations and down a steep and narrow road to the bottom of the Wall (explained later). There was a line to go into the visitors center so we pass, preferring to walk the mutzos and snap a few photos of this beautiful area.
Excerpt from US Parks.com: The bizarre landforms called badlands are, despite the uninviting name, a masterpiece of water and wind sculpture. They are near deserts of a special kind, where rain is infrequent, the bare rocks are poorly consolidated and relatively uniform in their resistance to erosion, and runoff water washes away large amounts of sediment. On average, the White River Badlands of South Dakota erode one inch per year. They are formidable redoubts of stark beauty where the delicate balance between creation and decay, that distinguishes so much geologic art, is manifested in improbable landscapes – near moonscapes – whose individual elements seem to defy gravity. Erosion is so rapid that the landforms can change perceptibly overnight as a result of a single thunderstorm.
At Badlands National Park, weird shapes are etched into a plateau of soft sediments and volcanic ash, revealing colorful bands of flat-lying strata. The stratification adds immeasurably to the beauty of each scene, binding together all of its diverse parts. Viewed horizontally, individual beds are traceable from pinnacle to pinnacle, mound to mound, ridge to ridge, across the intervening ravines. Viewed from above, the bands curve in and out of the valley like contour lines on a topographic map. A geologic story is written in the rocks of Badlands National Park, every bit as fascinating and colorful as their outward appearance. It is an account of 75 million years of accumulation with intermittent periods of erosion that began when the Rocky Mountains reared up in the West and spread sediments over vast expanses of the plains. The sand, silt, and clay, mixed and interbedded with volcanic ash, stacked up, layer upon flat-lying layer, until the pile was thousands of feet deep. In a final phase of volcanism as the uplift ended, white ash rained from the sky to frost the cake, completing the building stage.
Broad regional uplift raised the land about 5 million years ago and initiated the erosion that created the Badlands. The White River, which now flows west to east five or ten miles south of the park, eroded a scarp, the beginning of what is now called the Wall (remember Wall and its Drugstore?). Numerous small streams and rills furrowed the scarp face and eventually intersected to create the Badlands topography. Each rainstorm over the next 5 million years chewed away at the Wall, making its crest recede northward away from the river as its base followed suit. This is an old story in the arid and semi-arid regions of the West. It always happens in rocks that are relatively non-resistant erosion and it always starts with a scarp.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Badlands and now must continue on towards Pierre. Back on I-90- Uh, oh, traffic is coming to a crawl. Crap! We crawl along for several miles until we finally reach a farm road, highway 63 that will take us to US 14 and Pierre. There’s one town on this road, Midland (127 souls). It was named because it lies halfway between the Cheyenne and Missouri Rivers. The Garmin GPS tells us to turn right at the grain bins. Really? No, but that’s exactly what we did, turn at a farmer’s grain bins.
Highway 14 is the main east west road to Pierre. It’s a two lane rolling country road and I’m not in any rush so I travel at a comfortable speed. It’s too slow for the cowboys that live out here so we get passed a few times. Then a semi comes up behind us and he’s too close for comfort. I move as far over to the right as I can so the truck driver can see down the road. He honks at us with his air horn but doesn’t pass. There’s no turnouts so I continue on- but a little faster. He stays right up with us. Finally there’s a good place for the trucker to pass- I slow down a little, he passes but not with furiously blowing his horn! What the heck was that about? Finally, we arrive, first in Fort Pierre which is on the west side of the Missouri River, then cross the bridge into Pierre, South Dakota’s Capital, continuing on US 14 to Farm Island State Recreation Area, our home for three days.
We had problems trying to find a place to stay over the Labor Day Weekend. Originally we were to visit Pierre, SD during that period but every and I mean every place to lay our heads was booked solid. OK now going to Plan B- we’ll just stay here at Custer’s Gulch Campground! So sorry, we’re booked…..drats!
Alrighty then, on to Plan C- find any place where we could possibly spend four days and still have some fun. Happy Holiday RV Park just south of Rapid City (75,400 souls) has room for us, we’ve heard there’s a lot to see and do in that city, so that’s where we are.
Every once in a while everyone suffers from a little absentmindedness. Lessons learned today. Lesson 1) do not turn on the kitchen faucet with the stoppers in the sink and walk away. Lesson 2) The clothes drier is not the clothes washer! Do not put dirty clothes in the drier and add liquid detergent! All came out well, the sink did not overflow all over the floor and the clothes were placed in the washer and the drier wiped out. No biggie!
Known as the “Gateway to the Black Hills” due to its location and the “City of Presidents” because of the life-size bronze president statues located downtown, Rapid City is split by a low mountain ridge that divides the western and eastern parts of the city. Ellsworth Air Force Base is located on the outskirts of the city. Camp Rapid, a part of the South Dakota Army National Guard, is located in the western part of the city.
The public discovery of gold in 1874 by the Black Hills Expedition, led by George Armstrong Custer, brought a mass influx of European-American miners and eventual settlers into this region of the Dakota Territory. Rapid City was founded in 1876 by a group of unsuccessful miners trying to create other chances; they promoted their new city as the “Gateway to the Black Hills”; it was originally known as “Hay Camp.” In February 1876 John Richard Brennan and Samuel Scott, with a small group of men, laid out the site of the present Rapid City. It was eventually named for the spring-fed Rapid Creek that flows through it.
The city’s location on the edge of the Plains and Hills and its large river valley made it a natural hub for the railroads that were constructed in the late 1880s from both the south and east. By 1900, Rapid City had survived a boom and bust and was developing as an important regional trade center for the upper Midwest. (end Wikipedia)
Construction of Mt. Rushmore began in 1927. In 1930, the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce sent a letter inviting Al Capone to live in the Black Hills. South Dakota’s governor did not support the idea, and Capone declined the offer. In the 1940’s the Rapid City Army Air Base, now Ellsworth Air force Base opened, greatly benefiting the city and the population exploded from 14,000 to neary 27,000 souls.
During the Cold War the government constructed missile installations in the area. Nike Air Defense sites were built around Ellsworth AFB in the 1950’s, then three Titan Missle launch sites containing a total of nine Titan 1 missiles were built in the general vicinity in the early ’60’s. In late 1963 the land for 100 miles on three sides of Rapid City was dotted with the construction of 150 Minuteman Missile silos and 15 launch command centers. All were deactivated in the early 1990’s.
More Wiki: Following the worst natural disaster in South Dakota history, the Black Hills Flood of 1972, a building boom took place over the following decade to replace damaged structures. On June 9, 1972, heavy rains caused massive flash flooding along the course of Rapid Creek through the city. The toll- 238 people dead, 3057 injured including 118 hospitalized, 770 homes and 565 mobile homes destroyed, 2035 home and 785 mobile homes damaged, 36 businesses destroyed and 236 damaged, 5000 vehicles destroyed. The financial loss was $165 million. Debris along Rapid Creek after 1972 flood. Ya would think that since the Lakota named the place Swift Water City the White Eyes might take notice………….
In response to the devastation the city received an outpouring of private donations and millions of dollars of federal aide. It was able complete a part of its 1949 master plan by clearing the area around the creek and making the floodplain a park. Homes were rebuilt and Rushmore Plaza Civic Center as well as a new high school were constructed.
More Wiki: In 1980 in United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Federal government of the United States had illegally stolen the Black Hills from the Sioux people when the government unilaterally broke the treaty that guaranteed the Black Hills belonged to the Sioux. As a result of this ruling, the federal government offered a financial settlement, but the Lakota Sioux declined on principle: that the theft of their land should not be validated. They still demand the return of the land. The settlement funds accrue interest. This land includes Rapid City, which is by far the largest modern settlement in the Black Hills. As of 2019, the dispute has not been settled.
In the 1980s, tourism increased again, as the city hosted the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Places of interest include Dinosaur Park, Hart Ranch, Reptile Gardens, Bear Country USA, Storybook Island, Watiki Waterpark, as well as Canyon Lake Park and the Berlin Wall in Memorial Park. Rapid City is just a short drive to Custer, Custer State Park, Mt. Rushmore, Hill City and numerous lakes that provide water sports, fishing and swimming to boot! Today, Rapid City is South Dakota’s primary city for tourism and recreation. Oh, I forgot to mention Badlands National Park and the infamous Wall Drug Store, located about an hour south of town. Geez, there’s just so much to see and do here…..
We took a ride to Hill City (948 souls). We had passed through the town on our way to Rapid City and it’s downtown looked interesting. The town, established in 1876, is the oldest existing city in Pennington County. As mining waned tourism and timber became increasingly important industries. Now a tourist attraction, the 1880 Train carries passengers from Hill City to Keystone on the old Central Line.
From Hill City we completed the loop driving Highway 385 and 44, stopping at two lakes- Sheridan, then Pactola. It’s 9:30 in the morning and both already have a lot of people set up to enjoy this Saturday of Labor Day Weekend. Sheridan Lake had a really nice picnic area on its south shore. Pactola was packed (pun intended) with power boats and pontoon boats, and families with a lot of small children.
We’ve seen more than a few banners, flags and shops in Wyoming and now South Dakota promoting a candidate for the Presidency of the United States. I thought I’d share a couple of photos with y’all so you can ponder which candidate might be most preferred in these two Plains states.
Tomorrow is Labor Day and Get Away Day. We are heading east, weather permitting. Rain in the lower elevations, snow in the upper and the temps are going to drop 50 degrees. Yikes!
The town of Custer (2067 souls) is generally considered to be the oldest town established by European Americans in the Black Hills. Gold was discovered there in 1874 by the Black Hills Expedition conducted by the 7th Calvary led by Lt. Colonel George Custer which initiated the Black Hills Gold Rush.
It was because of the discovery of gold that the Oglala Sioux were forced to cede this historical and sacred portion of their reservation- the land was then opened up for individual purchase and settlement. In 1978 the settlement was named Stonewall (for Stonewall Jackson) but renamed for Custer. The town was almost abandoned in 1876 after much larger gold strikes were reported in Deadwood Gulch. Today mineral extraction is still an important part of its economy as is tourism.
We spent some time in Custer sight seeing. We met Tim and Renee and ate breakfast at Baker’s Cafe. Boy, is the food good and plentiful at this small bakery/cafe! Down the street is a nice, fenced grassy dog park. We heard from a local that the high school kids here are required to plan, produce and complete a project that will enhance life in Custer, so a young lady decided a dog park was in order. She helped plan the park, picked a suitable location, held fund raisers and got’er done! Job well done, youngster! Ollie and Mollie thoroughly enjoyed Custer’s Bark Park!
Custer State Park is named for George Armstrong Custer, who led an expedition that discovered gold along French Creek in 1874. The park was designated a game preserve in 1913 and a state park in 1919 primarily through the work of Governor Peter Norbeck.
The wildlife loop in Custer State Park is world renoun for great viewing of grazing animals- free-ranging bison, elk, deer, even burros. Yep, burros. They were first used as pack animals nearly a century ago when they were used to transport visitors from Sylvan Lake Lodge up the steep path to the summit of Black Elk Peak, the highest point in the U.S. east of the Rockies. When the tourist trips ended, the burros were released into the wild. They share the park to this day with their more wild brethren, mooching handouts from visitors even though they know the park rangers frown on mooching.
We meet up with Tim and Renee and caravan to the Wildlife Loop Road. The loop is 20 miles long and takes about an hour to complete the circuit. The best times to view wildlife is just after sunrise and dusk. We choose dusk- wrong choice! The first bison we see is not on the loop, rather the main road through the park. That’s encouraging actually! We drive the entire 20 mile loop with the only animal spotted being a lone coyote, it disappeared quickly. We are done with the loop, exit on highway 87, and finally see two more adult bison and a calf. Sheesh! We did spot eight deer, however but no thundering herd of bison. They must of known we were coming- shhhhh, quiet, here they come- hide!
The next day I wanted to complete the Needles Highway. Jil-“How long is it?” About 14 miles. Jil- “I’ll go with you if it only takes an hour.” Heck, how do I know how long it’s going to take? I’ve never been on this section. It’s 14 miles from Highway 16A to Sylvan Lake and that’s where we can head back to the barn. Jil-“Oh, OK……. I’ll go”.
She reminded me of Eeyore of Winnie the Pooh fame. She seems to be going begrudgingly, not sure why and not very enthusiastic about joining me. We drove several miles starting on Highway 16 then the Needles Highway……… no needles but plenty of beautiful forest. We drove some more….. hmm, a few big rock outcroppings poking their noses above the trees. Aha- a tunnel! The Iron Creek Tunnel is a skinny 9 feet wide and low at 12 feet 3″. OK for cars and pickups but nothing larger.
Now we are driving on the shoulder of mountains leaving the meadows behind when we come the first “needles” that jut straight up into the blue sky. Wow, Jil exclaims! I’m glad I came along for the ride! Me too, my Sweetie! We travel a little farther and the road is swallowed by spires, needles and rock outcroppings. I exclaim that this place looks like something Disney would have produced, but God beat him to it!
There are quite a few people and cars from the Needles area to Sylvan Lake. A major bottleneck is the Needles Eye Tunnel. Just like the others it is narrow at 8’4″ wide and 12′ high. The width just barely allows pickups through without scraping fenders or side view mirrors against granite wall. I know, I was following one through the tunnel and it was close! The approach to the tunnel isn’t straight so the guy in front of us would pull forward and take a peak- then back up to allow oncoming traffic to pass. He did that several times until finally advancing…… we and the cars behind us followed that pickup through.
On the other side we pass hordes of humans and their vehicles spread all over the landscape, admiring the view towards the town of Custer. Most on foot are oblivious to traffic making this narrow road even more hazardous. And then there’s the dually pickup coming the other way- that truck may not clear the tunnel and if it does it will be by 4 very slim inches! We didn’t stick around to watch that action but I wanted to….
We turned towards US 16A at Sylvan Lake with both of us amazed at the sights on that section of the Needles Highway. If you are ever in the area and want to view the Needles take the cut off road from Highway 16A in Custer to Sylvan Lake and turn right at the Needles Highway. That’s the shortcut to the Needles and you’ll also get an eyeful of Sylvan Lake to boot.
Tomorrow we have to move and can’t go to where we want to go this Labor Day Weekend due to lack of camp site availability in Pierre, SD. We booked the weekend in Rapid City. There’s lots to see and do there so we should have a good time. See you there!
South Dakota’s State Motto– “Under God The People Rule“
We spent three glorious days in Custer. Wow, is this part of South Dakota ever beautiful! One morning we went up to Mount Rushmore passing the still very incomplete sculpture of the Crazy Horse Memorial. The completed sculpture will have the Lakota Chief riding a horse, presumably point toward a herd of buffalo. Funding for the project comes at least partially from Indian Museum of North America, also located on premises. The museum is a must see; the Crazy Horse Memorial isn’t quite there yet.
We spend quite a bit of time admiring the work of Gutzon Borlum, the American sculptor who created the monument.
He created the design and oversaw 400 workers who sculpted the colossal 60 foot high carvings of US Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The four President were chosen to represent the nation’s birth, growth, development and preservation, respectively.
South Dakota historian Doane Robinson is credited with conceiving the idea of carving the likenesses of noted figures into the mountains of the Black Hills to promote tourism. His initial idea was to sculpt the Needles; however Borlum rejected the idea because of the poor quality of the granite and strong opposition from the Lakota Sioux, who consider the Black Hills to be sacred ground. One must remember that the Black Hills were orginally included in the Great Sioux Reservation, then broken up afte gold was discovered there. The mountain on which it is carved is known to the Lakota as Six Grandfathers.
The sculptor and tribal representatives settle on Mt. Rushmore, which faces southeast for maximum sun exposure. Robinson wanted to feature American West heroes such as Lewis and Clark, their expedition guide Sacagawea, Chief Red Cloud, Buffalo Bill Cody and Chief Crazy Horse. Borglum believed the sculpture should have broader appeal and chose the four Presidents.
Peter Norbeck, US Senator from South Dakota sponsered the project and secured federal funding. Construction began in 1927, the President’s faces completed between 1934 and 1939. After Borglum died in March of 1941 his son Lincoln took over as leader of the construction project. Each President was originally to be depicted head to waist. Lack of funding ended the project on October 31, 1941. Sometimes referred to as the “Shrine of Democracy”, Mount Rushmore is visited by more than two million people a year.
Heading back to the barn we decide to take a side trip into Custer State Park- the 71,000 acre premier nature lover’s attraction of the Mt. Rushmore State. Deemed “impossible” to construct by its critics, Needles Highway (SD Hwy 87)—a National Scenic Byway—was completed in 1922. The road lies within Custer State Park, just 30 miles south of Rapid City, and is an impressive 14 mile stretch that includes sharp turns, narrow tunnels, granite spires and world class views. Needles Highway is one of three scenic routes along Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway.
We travel the Needles highway from US385 to Sylvan Lake. Climbing up the mountain we come to a tunnel. The highway is a decent two way except for it’s tunnels. At 10’6″ wide and 11’3″ high the Hood Tunnel is the widest but not the tallest passage through solid granite on this road. Remember, when this highway was constructed- 1922. Model T Fords were still king and Model A Fords weren’t produced until 1927. Modern vehicles can pass through this tunnel with adequate clearance albeit one way only. I like the way the State of South Dakota leaves the original tunnels for all to admire.
Sylvan Lake is quite unusual. Rock outcroppings on two sides really highlight this small lake. One can walk a one mile path all the way around. Most of the trail is good but ya do have to do some billy goating over rocks. The rocks cause some strife. We are trying to gain good toe holds- the dogs with four paw drive don’t have a problem so they have a tendency to pull us off balance once in a while. We made it through without shedding blood.
Jil and I really like what the state has done with this park. It’s still has plenty of nature in which to ooh and aah yet also has a several lodges and campgrounds to accommodate its two million visitors.
Travel from Casper to our present location in Custer, SD was quite exciting! Not because of the miles of High Plains we traveled through but the incessant wind. Our RV is built like a big bread box and handles poorly with strong side winds trying to push it either off of the road or into oncoming traffic. But that was the downside. We made it safely and without incident.
In earlier times we have traveled with weather in mind, staying put sometimes and traveling others to avoid bad weather. But that was when it was easy finding camp site availability. This has not been the case this particular trip. It’s a COVID-19 thing. Lots of people are out camping with their families, enjoying the outdoors, breathing fresh air rather than hunkering down at home. We’ve had to preplan our stops due to the lack of RV site availability and make reservations in advance, a style not to our liking.
We found Casper an OK place to visit. About 50 miles east right off of I-25 is the town of Douglas (6100 souls), the seat of Converse County and home of the Wyoming State Fair. Wow, what a beautiful little town. We exited the highway just to drive through town and stretch our legs. We found a school with a fenced field and let the dogs romp. They hadn’t been allowed off leash for several days and boy did they have fun!
Douglas (named after Senator Steven A. Douglas) has a colorful history. It had been in existence since 1867 when Fort Fetterman (1867- 1882) was built to protect the Bozeman Trail. It was first known as “Tent City”. The town served as a supply point, warehousing and retail for surrounding cattle ranches as well as providing services for railway crews, cowboys and US Army troops stationed at the fort. Douglas was the site of a WWII internment camp, Camp Douglas, first housing Italian, then German prisoners of war. Nearby sights include the Douglas Railroad Interpretive Center, Thunder Basin National Grassland, and the Ayer’s Natural Bridge.
In 1932, the legendary Jackalope was attributed to Douglas Herrick (1920−2003) of Douglas, and thus the city was named the “Home of the Jackalope” by the state of Wyoming in 1985. Douglas has issued Jackalope Hunting licenses to tourists. The tags are good for hunting during official Jackalope season, which occurs for only one day, June 3rd.
We leave I-25 in favor of Highway 18 at Orin. The wind had been following and now quarters off of our left side making steering the bread box a little more interesting. We pass a few towns, again some without census until we come to Lusk (1500 souls), the seat of Niobrara County. The town is another of many cattle towns and is known as the seat of the least populated county in the least populated state in the Union.
US 18 takes us almost due north which puts the heavy winds blowing perpendicular across our port flank. That’s when the evil wind tries to blow us off into the sagebrush but I won’t let it. We arrive at Mule Creek Junction where US 85 continues north and US 18 takes a right turn to the east. Thankfully a nice rest stop has been thoughtfully provided by the State of Wyoming. We stop and take a breather, then continue on and are thankful the wind is at our back.
The flora is changing. Grass is now the dominant species. Hmm…. Just across the Wyoming/South Dakota border is a sign indicating that we have entered Buffalo Gap National Grassland. Jil waits anxiously to snap a picture of the “Welcome to South Dakota” sign and misses it because it’s a very small sign partially hidden by a parked car. It’s not the first state welcoming sign she’s missed on this trip- she’s missed ‘um all!
Edgemont (774 souls) first town we come to in SD. Edgemont sets alongside the Cheyenne River on the southwestern flank of the Black Hills. To the north of this gateway community on US 18, the mountains of the Black Hills abruptly rise 1,500 feet in two miles. Edgemont is the southern terminus of the George S. Mickelson Recreational Trail, the premier hike-bike-horse recreational trail in the Black Hills. From Edgemont, the trail runs 114 miles north, all the way to Deadwood.
There’s more to Edgemont than meets the eye. This area of South Dakota was involved in a uranium mining boom that lasted four decades. What’s left remains scarred by abandoned mines, millions of pounds of buried radioactive waste and persistent human health concerns. Not knowing the town’s problems the place looks pretty normal to this traveler.
We continue on and have a choice. Continue straight towards Hot Springs, the long cut or turn towards Custer on SD89, the shortcut. Maybe if we hadn’t been fighting the wind and we were a little younger we may have continued to scenic Hot Springs. So SD89 it is. Scenery continues to change. More hills, some trees and the road has us gaining elevation. We turn onto US 385 at Pringle.
Pringle is a near ghost town with around a hundred souls. This place got its start as a stage stop on the Sydney-Custer Trail. The operator, Henry Pringle named it the Point of Rocks Station for the rock outcropping located nearby. During the Black Hills Gold Rush of 1874-1876 this trail was jealously guarded by the Lakota and Cheyenne, who regularly attacked wagon trains and stagecoachs as they were trespassing on tribal sacred ground. Road agents and horse thieves did their own dirty work. A small community developed, the settlers making their livelihoods from ranching, mining, and logging.
In 1890, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincey Railroad reached the settlement at which time the town’s name was changed to Pringle, in honor of Anna Carr Pringle’s generous hospitality towards railroad crews.
Unfortunately, today Pringle is best known as the town closest to a compound belonging to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This “fortress was established in 2003 by a polygamist offshoot of the LDS Church. This is the same group that was raided 2008 at their Texas compound over accusations of sex abuse with Warren Jeffs receiving a life sentence. The compound still exists today. Little towns, little problems, right?
Just past Pringle we enter a beautiful forest, the Black Hills National Forest. Eleven miles up the road we arrive at the city of Custer (1940 souls), driving through the colorful little place to our home for four nights, Custer’s Gulch RV Park. Custer is on our list of destinations as this is where our friends Tim and Renee have a summer home……. and who can pass up seeing the wonderful Custer State Park?
Next time I promise to have many beautiful photos of the outstanding scenery in and around Custer!
Before I get started with today’s blog I’d like to backtrack a little. We had seen signs on US 26 stating “Sand Creek Massacre Trail” and I had forgotten to mention it. The Massacre involved Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians who had been fighting the US government for quite some time. They had grown weary of battle, had ceded their land and agreed to move to reservations.
But on the morning of November 29, 1864 about 500 mostly women, children and elderly Arapaho and Cheyenne were waking from sleep of the banks of the Big Sandy Creek in Colorado Territory. Assured of peace, the tribes’ men were away finding meat. 800 volunteer troops from Colorado and New Mexico under the command of Col. John Chivington descended on the village slaughtering between 150 and 184. Accounts note extreme brutality by the soldiers.
Newspapers initially reported a valiant victory by Chivington and his men. The true story, when it came out, made even bigger headlines and shocked the nation. Neither Chivington nor his troops were punished. How atrocious is that? The 600 mile long Sand Creek Massacre Trail commemorates the route the surviving Arapaho took to their new home, the Wind River Reservation.
Most of the following was borrowed from Wyoming History.com. Sure saved me hours of research and a couple of worn out pencil erasers!
Located at 5,150 feet above sea level, on the banks of the North Platt on Wyoming’s high plains, Casper is the seat of Natrona County. The town began when the tracks of the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad arrived in June 1888, and was named for nearby Fort Casper, by then a ruin. The fort had been named for Lt. Caspar Collins, killed near the fort by Indians in 1865. The Army misspelled his first name when they renamed Platte Bridge Station not long after his death.
Soon after the railroad arrived the town became an important shipping point for cattle and wool. On April 9, 1889, residents asked the officials of Carbon County to allow the incorporation of the town of Casper and the request was approved. Natrona County would not split off from Carbon County until the following year.
One can imagine that Casper was a pretty rowdy town in the early years. The west side of Center Street had numerous saloons and the raucous culture that went with them. By 1890 the city fathers began plans to bring water, streets, schools, a fire department and a library to the town as well as moving the city government into its first two story brick building on Center Street.
In Casper’s first two decades, most of its wealth still came from agriculture, primarily from sheep and cattle ranching. The most successful ranchers built fine houses in what is still called the Mansion District, south of downtown. The first electric lights from the Casper Electric Company were lighted in 1912 and telephone service began in 1900 with 49 telephones installed by Rocky Mountain Bell Telephone. The first hospital opened in 1911.
Casper grew to the status of an industrial city when the Salt Creek Oil Field began producing and several refineries were established, the first being the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Company of 1895.
Casper boomed with the oil and refining businesses when the population grew from 2639 souls to 16,619 between 1910 and 1930. The Great Depression took its toll and the city survived. It was when WWII broke out that its economy started to improve. The biggest boost was the construction of the Casper Army Air Field west of town where more than 400 buildings were built in three and a half months providing work for hundreds. The Army Air Corps trained 16,000 soldiers at the field, mostly bomber crews and pilots before it closed in 1945.
The economy rose and fell through the remaining decades as did the population. The local oil business waned but the coal-bed methane boom in northeastern Wyoming of the 1990’s revitalized Casper’s drilling services. Slowly, the population began to grow again, to 49,654 by 2000, and 55,316 by 2010.
Casper continues as a retail, medical and energy-industry service hub for the surrounding region and for much of Wyoming, and has continued to grow and diversify in the 21st century. Interstate 25 and the Casper/Natrona County International Airport are the town’s major connections to the outside world. Aaand Casper has the only international airport in Wyoming. Even the state capitol, Cheyenne, is void of an international airport. That airport and Interstate 25 are the city’s major connections to the outside world.
The city has many nice parks along the Platte River, some great sports fields, walks and bike paths also follow the banks of the river. There are several golf courses if one wishes to imbibe. We drove the mansion district and were in awe of the beautiful homes located on wide, tree lined avenues.
Our campground is located right next to Centennial Park. Within the park is the Ft. Caspar Museum. We didn’t go inside the museum. Just on the other side of a split rail fence are historical log cabins set up much like the layout of old Ft. Casper. The old fort is gone, as it fell into disrepair and returned to nature.
The Mansion District just south of downtown
Grounds of the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center
At first we felt our stay may be one day too long. We couldn’t visit the Interpretive Center yesterday as we didn’t want to leave the dogs in the RV and it was too hot to leave them in the car. And I’m sure the Ft. Caspar Museum is a fine one- we just weren’t interested in visiting this time.
Casper Business District
All in all we spent as much time looking around Casper as we wished to, walking around downtown, even found a Walmart this morning during a lightning storm (Megan is afraid of the kabooms) and drove the very fine Mansion District. We also walked a ways at Amoco Park which lies on the northern bank of the Platte.
The Ft. Caspar Campground is packed. When we drove in on Thursday there must have been at least two vehicles, mostly pickup trucks, sitting in front of every RV. Hmmm. Worker bees. Our experience says that the camp should be quiet and that proved to be true. The working stiffs are gone during the day, are tired, thus quiet, when they return. There are a few families who appear to have been here quite a while. Not the most beautiful camp but doable.
Tomorrow we head out to Custer, South Dakota. We’ve visited Custer many moons ago and we are looking forward to refreshing our memories. We also have friends that now own a summer home just outside of Custer. It will be great visiting with Tim and Renee once again.
See you in Custer!
For all you Longmire series fans- A bumper sticker………..
Today we will continue on US 26 and head southeast. Just south of DEW-boiz and run smack dab into another road construction zone and are stopped by a flagger. The road has been reduced to one way traffic so we wait for oncoming traffic to clear and are once again on our way.
The scenery south of town is drop dead gorgeous. The Wind River has created a magnificent place indeed! We enjoy the green bottomland next to the river and the beautiful hills. Scenery like this just can’t be beat.
The only Indian reservation in Wyoming, the Wind River Indian Reservation was established with the Treaty of Fort Bridger in 1868. Originally home to the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, the Northern Arapaho Tribe was moved to the reservation in 1878 where they were welcomed by Chief Washakie of the Eastern Shoshone. A traditionally nomadic tribe for thousands of years, the Eastern Shoshone traveled throughout 16 states from central Wyoming to the west coast. Archealogical evidence reveals that the tribe called parts of Wyoming home for millenia. Today, both tribes share their cultures, history and traditions through oral storytelling, songs, dances and much more. The reservation encompasses 3,473 square miles of the Wind River Basin which makes it the seventh largest Indian reservation in the US by area. About 11,000 Native Americans still live on the reservation.
Crowheart (141 souls) is little more than a fueling station, a minimart and some ranchland but it has significance. Ever wonder how some of these places get their name? I do. This is how Crowheart got it’s name. Nearby Crowheart Butte was the site of a battle between the Crow and Shoshone tribes in 1866. According to legend (and Wikipedia), following a five-day battle for rights to the hunting grounds in the Wind River Range, Chief Washakie of the Shoshone and Chief Big Robber of the Crow agreed to a duel, with the winner gaining the rights to the Wind River hunting grounds. Chief Washakie eventually prevailed, but he was so impressed with the courage of his opponent, that rather than scalp him, he instead cut out his heart and placed it on the end of his lance. Could’a been called Big Robber Heart I guess………
Chief Washakie is the only Shoshone warrior to be honored by the US Government for leading General Crook’s army to defeat the Sioux after Custer’s defeat at the Little Big Horn. Fort Washakie is named in his honor. Speaking of Fort Washakie, Lewis and Clark’s Indian guide’s grave marker is there. It was thought that an old Native American woman who died in 1880 was Sacajawea since she was so knowledgable of the expedition. She never claimed the name of Sacajawea. William Clark had adopted Sacajawea’s two children in 1813. He made entries in his cashbook tracking the members of the Corps of Discovery between 1825 and 1828 and made the entry- Sacajawea dead. That would logically explain why he adopted her children. However, there are a lot of folks who swear that she is buried at Fort Washakie.
Riverton- 10,900 souls. Excerpt from Wikipedia- Largest city in Fremont County. It lies along the Bighorn River at the mouth of the Wind River. Founded as Wadsworth in 1906, it was renamed Riverton because of its location near the convergence of four rivers. Once part of the Wind River Indian Reservation- land ceded in 1905 by a Land Act of Congress in order to create city. That decision remained controversial. In 2014 the Department of Interior and the EPA declared the city on the reservation. The ruling stuck until the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed EPA Boundary Ruling in 1917. Riverton is a shipping point for the Wind River basin, which is irrigated by the Riverton Reclamation Project. The city has livestock interests, uranium and sulfuric acid plants, and mills that produce railroad cross ties and fence posts. Oil and natural-gas fields are nearby. Riverton is home to Central Wyoming College (1966; two-year).
Shoshoni (650 souls) is east of Riverton. Excerpt from Wikipedia- Shoshoni has a continental arid desert climate and is, some years, the driest town in the entire Mountain Time Zone; occasionally it receives less than 4 inches of rainfall annually. Shoshoni’s closest body of water is Boysen Reservoir which is also the confluence of the Wind River, Badwater Creek and Poison Creek. As the water exits the dam it flows into the Wind River Canyon and joins the Big Horn River at the Wedding of the Waters at the canyon egress near Thermopolis. Since we are east of the Continental Divide rivers generally flow towards the east- the Wind flows southeast, the makes a U-turn to join the Bighorn which flows north to the Yellowstone River.
Hiland had a post office but it has since closed as the population dwindled to ten souls. We looked for those folks as we passed through but saw no one. Powder River’s population is more than four times larger than that of Hiland- at 44 souls with population density of 7 souls per square mile…… it’s post office is open.
So as the title of this post goes here’s a list of named places complete with road signs and identified on Google Maps that we passed that have no census, meaning no one from the US government or its agent has been there to count people who live there. We went by these small communities, Burris, Willow Creek, Morton, Moneta, and Natrona- the name of this county, the seat being Casper. According to the “Census” no one lives there or no one representing the US Government has been there to take a census.
Natrona- no census. Wyoming legislature named the county for the large deposits of natron a naturally occurring mineral that has been used as a detergent, for cleaning teeth, as an insecticide, bleach for clothing and processing leather and preserving meat. The ancient Egyptians used it extensively as a drying agent, in pottery making and producing glass.
A few miles down the road we pull into our campground for three nights the Fort Caspar Campground. Like many campgrounds advertised on the internet, photos of this campground don’t really reflect reality, maybe because they were taken in the spring when all the grounds are green. We expected the RV sites to be gravel but sorta expected the park right next door to look like a park, not a vacant lot. The native grass is tall and dry, the ponds are algae infested and access to the North Platte River isn’t good. So our hopes of letting Megan and Ollie go dunking have been dashed. We’ll just have to find another way to entertain them.
We start the day as usual- get up (duh), walk the dogs, feed the dogs, feed ourselves. We are in no hurry- we break camp and are on the road at 0830 hours instead of 0800. We are die hard early morning people- what can I say?
We head east on US 26 passing the villages of Swan Valley (204 souls), Irwin (219), and Palisades (no census). Swan Valley, Irwin and Palisades comprise the scenic communities that nestle the banks of the South Fork of the Snake River, one of the best dry-fly fisheries in North America.
The valley is part of the Yellowstone ecosystem which is home to the largest elk and Rocky Mountain big horn sheep herds in the country as well as numerous white tail and mule deer, moose, bear, mountain lions and some mountain goats. Swans, sand cranes and many other species of birds.
The west end of the valley is mostly farmland . As we head towards Palisades Lake the valley narrows and soon we are traveling on the slopes that parallel the shoreline of the lake. It’s beautiful but still a bit smokey.
The dogs need to stretch, we see campers out in a large meadow and vault toilets. The road looks paved from our perspective- and it is for all of ten feet. The rig’s tire falls into a large pothole and everybody and everything inside the coach rocks! The refer flies open but nothing falls out. The dogs enjoy the walk and we are able to advance a hundred yards to wide spot in the road and extricate ourselves by retracing our path, avoiding that big hole in the gravel road.
US 26 and US 89 combine at Alpine Junction. The road follows the Snake River through mountain passes and canyons ejecting into the Jackson Hole Valley just south of Jackson Wyoming. Jackson (9580 souls) is the seat of Teton County. I seems to grow every time we come through this city- up 900 folks since the last census. Winter draws are three ski resorts and nearby Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks which draw two million visitors a year. The National Elk Refuge borders the north side of town and the National Museum of Wildlife Art lies just out of downtown.
We stop at the visitors center- closed! However there is a nice grassy park next to it. Jil goes one way with Megan, I go another with Ollie. We passed a sign stating “No Pets” back at the center’s elk viewing stand. We’re not interested in climbing to the viewing stand and keep walking in the grass. Ollie does his business, I pick it up. Megan pees one hundred feet away. I dump the doggie bag in the trash, see a park employee stop in the parking lot a few feet away. I say hello and commence to read three signs facing the parking lot. One says No Pets. Oops. I am then chastised by the park employee. I apologized and told him we had walked in from that-away and there were no signs the way we entered the park. Ollie and I were on the sidewalk by then- and then he spots Megan taking a leak. He runs over towards Jil yelling “You dog pooped! You have to pick it up! You can’t have a dog in the park!”. Jil replies- “She did not poop!” The employee is emphatic- “I saw brown!” Jil- “That was her tail……” We left as the employee searched the area diligently for the nonexistent poop pile……..
We left passing by the Elk Refuge. The elk are still in high country browsing fresh greens so we didn’t see any of the magnificent animals. Five miles down the road we pass the Grand Tetons. There’s still a lot of smoke in the air- we don’t take any photos and we don’t enter the park loop road at Moose Junction choosing to stay on what is now US 191.
Boy, there’s a lot of folks out enjoying this beautiful country! The Park service did it right and provides a lot of large parking/viewing areas. Most are full of vehicles so we don’t stop. The view is obscured by smoke anyhow so what’s the point? We’ve seen the Tetons when the air was crystal clear.
A few miles down the road traffic comes to a crawl. There is not viewing area so people are parked half on and half off the road. A buffalo herd (they are magnificent animals) is grazing a couple of hundred feet to our right. Many of my fellow humans decide to block the road, get out of their vehicles with some approaching much too closely on foot towards the 2000 pound animals. Some who are very intent on shooting that “Kodak Moment” photo actually walk backwards out into traffic without looking! I had to give a guy a big, loud air horn blast to let him know he was in imminent danger of being squashed by our 30,000 pound RV! Geez! He was almost a victim of natural selection!
After the Beefalo, er, Buffalo Jam we turn right again joining US 26 and head the 48 miles to Dubois. We cross the small Buffalo River and head into the mountains. The air is much more clear and fresh smelling as we climb, climb, climb, cresting at Togwotee Pass, summiting at 9655′. Sheesh we’ve been up and down so many grades there was no telling the elevation. Hmm, I found an elevation setting on Miss Garmin RV GPS- elevation- imagine that!- and it was dead on.
Now we are on the downhill slide. We pass some beautiful ragged mountain peaks, wonderful meadows, and before you know it we are down in hilly, dry sagebrush country at just under 7000′. Just before coming into Dubois we pass what appear to be painted hills. Hues of burnt umber and earthtones run horizontally through the hillsides- just lovely.
Dubois (968 souls) isn’t pronounced the French way, Dewb-wah, it’s pronounced the Wyoming way, DEW-boyz. Who knew? The original residents wanted to name the town Never Sweat but the postal service found that name unacceptable, so it named the town after Fred Dubois, an Idaho Senator. The locals protested by rejecting the French pronunciation- thus DEW-boyz, heavy accent on the DEW…………
Dubois lies within the Wind River Valley- a very historical place. The Sheepeater band of Mountain Shoshone used to frequent the area. Many petroglyphs adorn rock faces as well as hunting traps and blinds and stone teepee circles. Homesteaders arrived in the late 1870’s. Butch Cassidy owned and managed a ranch on the outskirts of town in 1890. In 1913 the town expanded with the addition of a hotel, bar, and general store in anticipation of the arrival of Scandinavian lumber workers. I believe all of these structures are still standing.
Attractions in town, besides the old buildings are the Dubois Museum and the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center. The sheep are seen in certain areas near the town, albeit not too frequently now as most haven’t come down from the mountains to their winter grazing areas. We chose not to travel 16 miles round trip on a gravel road in hopes of seeing one.
However one can mount a “real” stuffed giant jackalope or enter the alleged Butch Cassidy hideout, a mine, right here in the middle of town.
So what we did was spend a relaxing couple of days in town, spent time checking out the town and walking the river path several times with the Mutzos. We parked at the Dubois Campgrounds. It’s a funky place. The owners decided to make some extra cash and put an RV park on their property. The layout is OK, the grounds are pretty nice, the owners and their employees super nice, and the Wind River runs through it.
Welp folks, we picked the Juniper Campground to rest our weary heads for a couple of nights. The farm town of Ririe (674 souls) is about 21 miles northeast of Idaho Falls (61,000 souls) and Juniper Campground is on the shores of Ririe Reservoir about six miles from town. It sounded like a nice place. It’s right on a big body of water which our Lab loves, there’s mowed grass at the campsites, it offers full hookups and is reasonable in price. Aaand sites are available- site availability has been problem we’ve encountered the entire trip.
We head out of Three Island State Park, through Glenn Ferry and head east on I-84. We haven’t been through Craters of the Moon National Monument for a zillion years. At Hagerman (884 souls) we join US 26 and head northeast through, you guessed it, farmland. The first town we come to is Shoshone (1400 souls), seat of Lincoln County. During different times most kids would be back in school people would be working at their place of employment and we’d be headed up Highway 75 to Redfish Lake and the Sawtooth Mountains. During this strange COVID-19 time in our history that was not to be so we continued on.
The first town of any consequence we come to is Carey (604 souls). We are looking for a nice place to walk the dogs. Lookie there! A fairgrounds with a nice grassy infield right across the street! Out we go and discover not only a nice grassy area but a swine and cow barn. Boy, the mutzos were in heaven. Sniff, sniff, sniff, SNIFF.
Next is Arco (995 souls), a very unique town indeed! It’s the first town in the world to be lit by electricity generated solely by nuclear power. This occurred for about an hour on July 17, 1955, powered by Argonne National Laboratory’s BORAX-IIIreactor at the nearby National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS), now the Idaho National Laboratory. Beyond Arco is Craters of the Moon National Monument.