After twelve days we left South Dakota and headed to Wyoming. We enjoyed our time in South Dakota but sure experienced some scary weather there. On our next to the last night in South Dakota we were hit with another frightening thunderstorm with winds over 45 mph, lightning, heavy rain and even more hail than we had in the Badlands.
We arrived in Sundance and checked into a nice campground. Wyoming is the least populous state in the country with approximately 544,270 residents spread out over more than 97,000 square miles. It is nicknamed “The Cowboy State” because of the estimated 11,000 farms and ranches. The Black Hills are 90% in South Dakota but this small area of northeast Wyoming, including Sundance, in part of The Black Hills. Our main reason for stopping in Sundance was to visit Devils Tower National Monument. This granite formation rises 1,267 feet from the prairie and has hundreds of parallel cracks making it one of the finest traditional rock climbing areas in North America. The site is sacred to the Lakota and other tribes. Legend has it that the rock rose up just in time to save seven young Indian girls from a bear and the rock rose higher and higher out of reach of the bear. The marks on the tower were caused by the bear’s claws. The girls were pushed up into the sky where they became seven stars (the Pleiades constellation).
The Devils Tower was proclaimed the first national monument in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. Devils Tower is best remembered as the one of the sites in the 1978 Spielberg movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. I had never seen the movie and as luck would have it the campground office had it for rent so we watched it before going to see Devils Tower.
We walked the Tower Trail that circles the tower where you can see rockfalls of gigantic columns that have fallen. Devils Tower is 1,000 feet in diameter at the bottom and 275 feet at the top. It was formed 40 million years ago when a column of molten lava pushed through the limestone. As the rock cooled, it fractured into vertical columns. The limestone eventually eroded away revealing the towering formation seen today. It is a wonderful example of erosion.
After leaving Devils Tower we drove to Aladdin, population 15. Yes, you read that right. Population 15. The town is currently for sale if you want a town.
Sundance, population 1,182 is the largest town in the area. In 1879, Albert Hoge, a Prussian born immigrant staked his claim and named the town Sundance in honor of the “sun dance” performed by the Native Americans. Perhaps what Sundance is best known for is the Sundance Kid, friend of Butch Cassity. The Sundance Kid, born Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, got his start as an outlaw when he stole a horse, gun and saddle. He spent the next eighteen months in the Sundance jail, earning him his name. Outside the former jail is a statue of the Sundance Kid lounging in his cell. Not many towns have a statue of a horse thief and notorious bandit as the focal point of their town!
We drove to Belle Fourche (pronounced “Bell Foosh”) which is located in southwest South Dakota and therefore a closer drive from Sundance than from the Badlands. We came here because there is a Center of the Nation Monument in the shape of a compass rose carved out of South Dakota granite. We were the only ones there at this 21 foot in diameter monument surrounded by the flags of all 50 states. We love geographical places like this even though the real geographic center is located twenty miles north of Belle Fourche on private property. This is the geographic center of the United States if you include Alaska and Hawaii. It was interesting to read that when Alaska was admitted to the union the geographic center shifted 439 miles northwest and when Hawaii was added it shifted 6 miles west-southwest. Along with the monument was a nice visitors center and an original 1876 log cabin from the gold rush days. The cabin was hosted by an elderly gentleman, a Korean War Veteran, and since we were the only ones there he had plenty of time for us. We certainly enjoyed spending time talking with him about the area and we found a geocache behind the cabin.
While we were in Sundance the ARRL (American Radio Relay League) was having their annual Field Day. For 24 hours amateur radio operators contact as many other amateur radio operators around the world. It is a popular contest and challenge among amateur radio enthusiasts. An AARL group was getting together in the small town of Upton about thirty miles from Sundance so Bill drove over and spent some time with them. He had a great time talking with fellow amateur radio enthusiasts!
On our last day in Sundance we drove the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway which took us briefly back into South Dakota. We stopped at two waterfalls, the only waterfalls we saw in South Dakota. The Spearhead Falls was especially beautiful and had a cool refreshing mist blowing on us from the falls. The sign said Spearhead Canyon was older than the Grand Canyon.
We drove through Deadwood, a western town much like Tombstone, Virginia City or any other tourist attraction with fake gunfights and plenty of places to spend money. Wild Bill Hickok was killed here in Saloon #10 and is buried in a cemetery nearby.
Before heading back over the border into Wyoming we drove through Sturgis, famous for one of the largest annual motorcycle events held in the world. Motorcycle enthusiasts from around the world come here in August. This year will be the 75th anniversary. We heard the tiny town makes 90% of their income for the year during that one week in August! The streets were relatively quiet and we could only imagine what the town is like during that week in August!