For the longest time, I have had an interest in the Black Hills region. The history buff in me thinks about the early nineteenth century when Deadwood was one of the last towns of outlaws and gold rushes. The lover of natural beauty in me is drawn to the tree covered rolling hills and large granite formations popping out from the earth. This is a part of the country that has something that almost anyone can embrace. So, when I decided to take a trip to the Black Hills, I decided that I would spend three full days taking in as much of the history, beauty, and nature that I could. Now I think that I might need another day or two.
Day 1: I arrived in the Black Hills from the west, leaving Wyoming on Highway 85. As you start to go up, down, and around the tree covered hills, you come into Spearfish Canyon. The canyon is a narrow, deep canyon of limestone and shale that was cut by Spearfish Creek the flows at the bottom. The speed limit is only 35 through the canyon due to the tight turns and foot traffic that is present. The one thing I kept seeing was the amount of people that were fly-fishing in the creek. Apparently, it is one of the best spots for wild run brown and rainbow trout. As you wind through the canyon along the banks of the creek, there are plenty of places to pull off and do some light hiking and sightseeing. About halfway through you come to Bridal Veil Falls which tumbles off the cliff wall into the creek below. So, after I made my way through the canyon and got to the town of Spearfish, I stopped by Crow Peak Brewing Company for an evening nightcap. They had a great selection and the beer was fresh and available to purchase to take home. After a couple rounds I made it back to the hotel and turned in since I knew that tomorrow would be an active day.
Day 2: I headed out from Spearfish into the hills, and the first destination I came to is Deadwood. It is the same Deadwood that was made famous on HBO, but now obviously has a very different feel that the town that was at the center of the gold rush in the late 19th century. Main Street is still lined with casinos, bars, and hotels, but there is much more of a tourist feel now. Images of Wild Bill Hickok are plastered everywhere and there are signs telling you where he was killed, where he had his last meal, and a number of other places. The town’s next-door neighbor, Lead, is very similar with the tourist’s attractions, but does have an interesting sight. The Homestake Mine was the largest, deepest mine in the country until it closed 15 years ago. Once I left Lead, I headed south toward Mount Rushmore when along the way, I stopped at Pactola Lake. The lake is the primary water supply for the area, but also offers some great hiking and photo ops. The only movement on the calm lake was a couple kayakers going out for an early paddle.Now while I would recommend everyone to make the trip to see Mount Rushmore, you will need to prepare yourself to weave in and out of the huge crowds that are there as well. They have done a great job in presenting the monument, but the commercialization of the location is obvious.After dealing with the crowds of Mount Rushmore, I decided that I needed to get out into some wide-open spaces and headed east to Badlands National Park. The two major entrances to the park are on the north side of the park, but there is another entrance from the south. Sage Creek Road is a long dirt road that rides along the rim of a ridge into the back door of the park. While it is a little nerve racking driving the winding turns on loose gravel with no guardrails, the views are just amazing.So, after a day of going and seeing, I made my way back to Rapid City and checked into my hotel. Now this evening looked like it was going to be the same as a lot of others, I soon realized that I would be presented something rather unique. I walked over to a quiet bar and sat down, ordered a drink, and started conversating with the bartender. After about 45 minutes of talking bars, drinks, and whatever, the bartender stopped and pulled out his wallet and handed me a card. The only thing on the card was a phone number and stated to text before 5pm. He didn’t go into too much detail, but said that I should send a message. So, I headed to my room not sure what it was all about, but I was pretty sure I was going to find out.
Day 3: My final day in the region started with a round of golf at the Club at Red Rocks. The course was just named as the best public course in the state and I understand why. The course is in great condition, and is challenging, but reasonable. They paired me up with three gentlemen that were members and had a great experience. As I finished my round, my thoughts switched back to the night before and the card the bartender gave me. I decided that I would go ahead and message the number. A few minutes later, I received a series of texts giving me instructions to go to a certain bar, go to the back door, down the stairs, enter a safe code, wait by the light, and give the passcode to the barkeep. I realized that I was just invited to a private speakeasy! Harkening back to the days of Prohibition, I knew that I was going to have to go check this out. I spent the rest of the day wandering around downtown, checking out some of the local shops and just taking it easy. So, later that evening I made my way to the bar and went through the steps and found myself walking into a time from long ago. There were lights with stained glass on the bar. The walls showed the old exposed stone, and there was Louis Armstrong playing on the speakers. The only thing that I told the bartender was that I preferred bourbon and for him to surprise me. They started serving me drinks such as the Bee’s Knees, The Riverman, and Kate’s Bustier. All the ingredients were fresh and the drinks were fantastic. The other great thing that was a standing rule was that there were no cell phones allowed. No pictures, no selfies, none of that. The only thing you had was good food, good drinks, and good conversation. It was one of the most unique bar experiences that I have ever had and one that I will not forget.
So, as I leave Rapid City and the Black Hills, I think about how this is a place with such history, scenery, and adventure. I look forward to when I can come back and experience everything once again, and hopefully, maybe something new as well.