South Dakota (Custer/Hot Springs)
In September 2020 Dave and I spent 10 nights traveling through Nebraska and South Dakota. We started our trip in Omaha and participated in the Omaha Half Marathon. Then we traveled to the northeast corner of Nebraska and across the northern perimeter of the state. On day 6 we drove North into South Dakota. This was our second time visiting South Dakota and our main objective was to attend the Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park. We decided not to go to Mount Rushmore this trip since we spent a lot of time there two years ago. But I had to include this awesome picture that Dave took during the evening program from 2018.
After entering South Dakota we drove into the town of Hot Springs, home of the Mammoth Site & Museum, our first stop. The Mammoth Site was first discovered in 1974 when a man named
George Hanson was leveling the land to build a housing development. His bulldozer hit a mammoth bone alerting Hanson to what was soon discovered to be a 26,000 year old sink hole. Through the help of Dr. Larry Agenbroad, a faculty member at Chadron State College in Chadron, Nebraska and Dr. Jim Mead, the current Mammoth Site Chief Scientists and Site Director they were able to protect the site and eventually uncover the bones of 61 mammoths. This is still an ongoing excavation process with volunteers of all ages. In addition to uncovering the mammoths they have found the bones of many other Ice Age animals.
The sink hole was formed by natural hot spring water which created a warm pond only 65 feet in depth and 120 ft long by 150 ft wide. Along the outskirts of this pond grew slippery vegetation. When the Columbian Mammoths, all male, ventured over to the pond to seek warmth and water they slipped in. Unable to escape due to their size and large flat feet they died in this sink hole.
This site is a great learning experience and the largest of its kind in North America. Tickets cost us $12 per person, with discounts for military, seniors and kids. Due to Covid-19 they were not conducting any tours, but offered a 20 minute movie alternative prior to conducting our own self tour. We walked around the rim of the sink hole and were able to take the stairs (or elevator) to step inside to get a closer view of the bones. There is also an adjacent museum to tour before exiting through the rather large gift shop.
From there it was off to Custer to check into our cabin. Last time we stayed in Custer State Park however this time we decided to stay closer to town. Our cabin was less then 2 miles from the downtown area and about 4 miles from the park. We decided to eat at The Custer Wolf restaurant because of the outside seating availability and the beautiful weather. Located on the corner of the main road, the food was delicious and reasonably priced. Since we had a cabin with a full kitchen we decided to do some grocery shopping and make most of our meals there.
Of course we did visit some breweries and the first one was the Mt. Rushmore Brewing Company right in town. Again, we were able to sit outside to enjoy our brew. They had a variety of beers with creative names to include: Washington Cherry Tree, Black Hills Gold and Buffalo Snot. Their restaurant is located upstairs and appropriately named The Founding Fathers. While we sat outside we saw a family of deer walk through the parking lot. Interestingly enough like many of the other restaurants in the area Mt. Rushmore Brewing Company is not open year round and was about to close for the season, reopening in May.
During the next couple of days we visited Custer State Park and attended the Buffalo Roundup. (Click on the link to read my blog on the Roundup.) In addition to the wild turkeys by our cabin we saw plenty of bison in the park along with prairie dogs, burros, bighorn sheep, antelope, deer and a variety of birds.
On the outskirts of the park we found Mt. Collidge Lookout and Fire tower. Built in the late 1930's it sits atop a peak of over 6,000 feet high. To get up there you have to take a narrow 1.7 mile gravel road up to the top. It is still an active watchtower and on a clear day they say you are able to see as far as 60 miles over the park and Badlands.
On the last full day of our trip we took the hour and a half ride on the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway to the town of Spearfish and then on to Deadwood. Although it rained that day the drive was beautiful with many places to stop and take pictures of the scenery. At the end of the Byway was Spearfish home to over 40 restaurants, breweries and coffee shops. We, of course stopped at the Spearfish Brewing Company where we shared a flight of beer and purchased a couple of t-shirts. They had a large variety of beer with a rotating tap of 16 brews. From there we ate lunch at Killians Food and Drink where I had chicken fried poutine (Hand cut fries with white cheddar cheese curds, chicken fried steak topped with brown gravy). Not much to look at but, delicious!
Approximately 20 minutes away was Deadwood. Since this was our second time visiting we didn't stay too long. We were however able to witness the 1st Annual Corn Hole Classic Shootout as well as (and probably more historically significant) a reenactment of when Wild Bill Hickok was shot and killed. Wild Bill was playing poker in the Nuttal & Mann Saloon No 10 holding what would later be known as "the dead man's hand". The reenactment was played out on the street in front of the original saloon. After witnessing this horror we drove up the hill to the Mount Moriah Cemetery to visit Wild Bill's gravesite. For a $2 entry fee that goes towards the preservation of the cemetery we were able to tour the grounds. Calamity Jane is buried next to Wild Bill has per her dying request some 27 years later.
Back to the cabin we drove to rest up before going out to dinner. We decided to dine at The Powder House in Keystone approximately 30 minutes from Custer. We remembered going there on our last trip and how delicious it was and this time it did not disappoint. After having a cocktail while we waited for our table I ordered one of their specialty dishes, the Powder House Chicken served with artichoke hearts and Dave ordered the Porterhouse steak. We sat at a table by the window where we watched some deer grazing in the woods while we waited for our meals. We finished it off with their delicious crème brulee for dessert.
The next morning we woke up early and had breakfast in Rapid City before heading home. These are just the highlights of our trip, if I included everything people would stop reading before reaching the end of the blog. We had a wonderful time visiting South Dakota and since this was our second time we were able to enjoy more and not rush to visit as much as possible. Until the next trip!