The Black Hills, June 2019, Day 6: Custer to Spearfish

In June of 2019, I took an long-planned, epic 11-day road trip from Texas all the way up to the Dakotas! In order to keep to blog posts from being painfully long, I’ve broken the trip up into days and will release one post per day or so. This covers my day spent driving from Custer, SD to Spearfish, SD, including the Crazy Horse Memorial, the towns of Deadwood and Lead, and Spearfish Canyon.

I stuck around Custer for a little bit in the morning to check out the farmer’s market, but that turned out to be kind of a bust (it was quite small), and that, combined with trying to pack too many things into one day, made this day feel rushed, like I didn’t have time for anything. It didn’t help that I mistimed my arrival at a few places and found them closed.

Anyway, I made my way north to the Crazy Horse Memorial, an enormous, very unfinished carving of the Native American warrior and hero of Battle of the Little Bighorn. It is entirely privately funded and is intended as a deliberate counterpoint to Mount Rushmore. The sculpture, even in its infancy, is still very imposing.

This is the model for what the statue is supposed to look like if it is ever completed. It would be unimaginably huge; his arm would be 263 ft/80 m long and his head would be 87 ft/27 m tall.

There is a little bus service that you can take up to the base of the monument, from which I got the closeup pictures. There is also, though I didn’t take any pictures of it, quite an extensive museum detailing the work that has gone into the carving as well as more general Native American art and jewelry.

Here are a couple of old construction vehicles used in the carving.

Leaving Crazy Horse, I drove to Wade’s Gold Mill, just north of Hill City. I was looking forward to touring a real gold mine or at least panning for gold, but I arrived at the wrong time and there were no tours going on. I did meet Wade, who was very friendly and showed me an informative video about the mine, and I bought some authentic local silver earrings for my grandmother.

They had really neat old mining machines laying around outside.

From there, I headed up into the northern Black Hills, which are maybe not quite as spectacular as the southern portion, but they don’t have as many tourists (all the major sites are in the southern part) and are still quite scenic. Here is the gorgeous Pactola Lake:

After a while, I arrived in Deadwood. It’s quite touristy, and, as I discovered, not really my kind of place (think gambling/party town), but there’s still lots of history and neat architecture here, and the surroundings are beautiful. It reminds me of the town of Cripple Creek in Colorado.

If you’re not familiar with American History, Deadwood figured prominently in the Old West era, being a major gold rush town in the 1870s. The famous Wild Bill Hickok was killed in a gunfight there (an incident that they re-enact regularly).

I strolled around a fair bit, including up to the cemetery where Hickok is buried, but you had to pay to go in and I didn’t feel like it. I even stuck my head in the saloon where he was shot, but didn’t go in. In the end, I don’t think I actually went in anything in Deadwood – there are various historic homes and museums you can tour, but it seems like they were either closed at the time I was there, or I didn’t want to take the time for them. So I moved on up the hill to Lead (pronounced leed, not led).

I actually preferred Lead to Deadwod; it has just as much historical character, and a whole lot fewer people. Plus, they have a truly gigantic hole in the ground: the Homestake Mine, until 2002 the largest, deepest, and most productive gold mine in the Western Hemisphere.

Note the trees in the background for scale!

I also enjoyed touring the very informative Black Hills Mining Museum. Lots of interesting exhibits about mining life, the “company town” aspects of Lead, and the mining technology.

It was surprising to learn just how deep those mines go!

I grabbed a couple of very tasty beers at Dakota Shivers Brewing, then headed on to Spearfish Canyon. This incredibly picturesque area features steep cliff walls, which aren’t really typical of the rest of the Black Hills, and beautiful waterfalls. Here was where I started to feel rushed and regretted dilly-dallying in Custer that morning. But I still got a few short hikes to waterfalls in, though there were definitely a couple of others I didn’t get to, including the Community Cave Trail. One, I think it was the Devil’s Bathtub Trail, I only made it a short way in before realizing that you had to ford a formidable stream, which I did not have appropriate footwear for, so I turned. Nonetheless, it’s a beautiful area even if you’re just driving through.

I finally arrived in the town of Spearfish and made my way to one of the best stays of my trip, Spearfish B&B, on expansive land in the countryside east of town. I was the only guest that night, so I felt like a private guest of the couple who owned the house.

Spearfish is perched on the very northern edge of the Black Hills, so you have great views both of the hills to the south and of the plains to the north and west.

I had intended to eat at the very, very highly-rated Bunky’s BBQ, but was frustrated to find it closed before the listed time because they had run out of food. So I ended up eating at Dough Trader Pizza instead, which was fine but not particularly memorable. I made my way back to the B&B and enjoyed a long chat with my hosts on the back patio late into the evening enjoying this view!

Tomorrow: North Dakota!

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