~Deadwood, Devils Tower, and Buffalo ~

We are now in Buffalo, Wyoming, at the Deer Park Campground. Skies are smoky and night temperatures have cooled to something more reasonable that the 95 degrees we found when we arrived at 7 pm.
day 12_095DSC_0095Somehow this day seemed to be a study in contrasts.  The streets of Deadwood thundered with the sound of motorcycles and the crush of people, and the same sounds accompanied our views of Devils Tower.  Yet, as we approached this mythical mountain, I felt much as N. Scott Mornaday did when he said, “There are things in nature which engender an awful quiet in man, Devils Tower is one of them”.
finding Devils Tower on a cloudy dayWe approached from the south leaving Interstate 90 at Sundance so that we could make the loop back to Moorcroft without having to backtrack on our way to Buffalo.  The land rises slowly, with low rolling ridges lifting upward and shadowed by the dark pine forest of this far northern tip of the Black Hills.  The road is a good one, and the views open up to the west for a hundred miles of Wyoming space, but Devils Tower doesn’t make it’s first appearance until we are several miles north of the interstate.  When it does, it seems small but still not insignificant, even shrouded in the darkness of an afternoon thunderstorm moving east.
a little bit of light on Devils TowerControversy surrounds this vertical dome of rock, even to the geologic origin of the porphyritic igneous gray stone filled with large white crystals of feldspar.  The simplest explanation is that it is an intrusion of magma that wasn’t ever really a volcano, and probably never erupted on the surface of the earth.  It cooled and was later exposed by erosion.   That is the simple version, and there are many others written up in the various geologic references to the dramatic vertical tower.
In addition to the creation controversy, there are conflicts over the name, which has a negative connotation that doesn’t sit well with the local tribes who revere the monolith as a sacred place.  Bear Lodge is one of their many names for it.  There is also controversy over the several thousand people who come each year to climb the huge columns.  Just yesterday a young couple ascended the east face with their ten month old on board.  That puts a whole new spin on the “baby on board” thing, doesn’t it!  What about child endangerment??
the Legtend of Bear Butte (Debils Tower)If you ever saw “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, a classic and a favorite of mine, you saw this place.  It is the kind of place that triggers imagination, whether that of Steven Spielberg or the many Native American tribes who have an equally mythically compelling story of 7 sisters who were chased to the top of a tall tree by their brother who had transformed into a bear.  Eventually the sisters were raised safely to the sky, and became the Pleiades, or the Big Dipper, depending on who is telling the story.
rigs in the coming stormThe road to Devils Tower past the entry gate (where we used our Senior Passes for free entry) wasn’t too narrow, but when we saw a sign “Large Vehicle Drop-Off) we whipped around and took advantage of it and unhooked the toads for the trip to the visitor center just 2 miles farther up the road.  It was a good thing we did, because there wasn’t any parking at all up there and barely any turnaround space. I enjoyed the visitor center, and the proximity to the tower. I could have stayed there much longer, but the day was escaping and there was still some 130 miles to go before we settled in for the night in Buffalo, our destination for the day.  I somehow didn’t plan this leg of the journey quite right because my short little hour for the town of Deadwood, turned into three hours of delight and fun.
great buildings on the streets of DeadwoodLeaving Hermosa this morning right on time at 8am, we caravanned north on Highway 40 to Keystone.  The town was still sleeping and yet the rock shop was open and we spent some time wandering among the big bins of rose quartz and petrified wood so that I could take back a big hunk of that gorgeous rosy rock that comes from the heart of the Black Hills.  I saw several outcroppings of the stuff as we wound our way around the hills, and remembered the huge bins I have seen in Quartzite of Black Hills rose quartz.  Of course that would be my souvenir! So much better to get it here right in the hills than down in the desert.
Deadwood from Mt Moriah CemeteryThe drive north toward Deadwood opened up a completely different part of the Hills, with deeper forests and less rangeland, more water, a big reservoir, and green valleys in between.  Yesterday we spent time in Custer State Park, buffalo country, gorgeous rangeland, and the difference was significant.  The Black Hills stretched north, and felt much bigger today than they did until now.  I’ll be writing about Custer City and Custer State Park eventually, but tonight this day is foremost in my mind and vision.
Thunderstorms threatened us all day, with huge dark clouds just out of reach, and just an occasional burst of raindrops on the windshield.  By the time we got to Deadwood, the skies were clearing and the air was fresh and cool.  I had no idea what to expect of Deadwood, but Mo thought we definitely needed to at least drop in and spend an hour or so. 
We were here on August 2ndDeadwood reminded me so very much of Wallace, a north Idaho mining town where I once lived.  The big difference was the influx of money from casinos and gambling into Deadwood. Like Wallace, the entire town is a National Historic Site, but the money from gambling seems to give a big boost to the Deadwood economy.  The town was lively and fun! After walking up and down the streets I did begin to notice that there weren’t any real “shops” anywhere in Deadwood, just a LOT of bars, and saloons, and restaurants, and casinos, and just a few shops with kitschy stuff and a boutique with diamond studded leather everything.  In the midst of this, however, it was obvious that underneath all that was a real small town, with a courthouse, and an athletic center, parks, and some old wonderful neighborhoods.  Just like Wallace. 
Mt Moriah Cemetery from the trolleyWe wanted to see Boot Hill, or what is now called the Mt Moriah Cemetery, where Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are buried, side by side.  Instead of climbing the long steep hill to the top, we decided to enjoy the Boot Hill Tour trolley. Lucky for us, they were dog friendly, and Abby and Jackson were perfect dogs on the trolley and in the cemetery where they sat on the stone steps and slept while we all listened to stories of Bill and Jane, who actually only met once and were barely acquainted!  A shocking revelation to me.
Abby and Mo on the dog friend Boot Hill TourBack down the hill we settled in for lunch on the patio of one more very dog friendly spot before loading up and heading out of town.  I was so glad that we stopped at the first big parking area on the southwest side of town as we entered, because we discovered there would have been no place to even think of parking a motorhome any closer.
smoke filled skies as we approach the Big Horn MountainsWe drove from Deadwood to Buffalo with the Devils Tower loop in about eleven hours, and it was only 275 miles.  I was excited to once again see the Big Horn Mountains, my reason for traveling this way, but on this August afternoon I was to be disappointed.  Fires in the west are wreaking havoc, and at the moment there are several burning in Montana just north of us and in Wyoming and Idaho.  The smoke got thicker as we approached Buffalo and we could just barely see a thin faint outline of what was supposed to be Cloud Peak, the crown of the Cloud Peak Wilderness and the Big Horn Mountains. 
Big Sigh…
We have scheduled three nights here in Buffalo, with day trips into the Big Horns big on the list. Smoke in the summer in the west… I knew it could be a problem on this trip, but so far we have been really lucky.  We will see what the next three days have in store for us.  Looking at the murky skies over Buffalo, I wished we had planned instead for a night or two just feeling whatever it is that you feel at the base of Devils Tower.  Map Hermosa to Buffalo

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Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

16 thoughts on “~Deadwood, Devils Tower, and Buffalo ~”

  1. Oh wow! I wish I would have known you were staying in Buffalo… we love the Indian Campground and would have recommended it to you! We would also recommend a drive through Crazy Woman Canyon while you're there! We've done that twice on our visits and enjoyed it both times! Have fun!

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  2. Sorry to hear of yet more fires burning…Enjoyed hearing your perspective of Deadwood and the surrounding areas. We were there two years ago and really enjoyed it. Glad you took the trolley tour and told us some great new information! We didn't do that tour but I wish we had.

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  3. Great description (as always) of the area. Can't wait for your Custer State Park post! In spite of the touristic aspects of the Black Hills, it is an area to which I am always willing to return, and Custer State Park is the gem. What a shame about the smoke! That has sometimes been a problem for us during summer travels, too. So, you'll have to go back one day.

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  4. Great post. We head out Sunday and will be in Custer State Park next wednesday so I look forward to your post. From there on to the west, I hope we don't have too many troubles with the fires but it sure has been a year for that.

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  5. You accomplished a lot in a short amount of time. We spent a lot of time is this area last summer and you give such an accurate description. Looking forward to reading about your time at Custer State Park.

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  6. Devil's Tower looks like one fantastic place; so inspiring. Hope the smoke doesn't make it too bad for the next couple of days. We had that problem when we went to Jasper National Park a few years ago; so disappointing, but we made the best of what Mother Nature threw in our way.

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  7. Bear Lodge was one of my very favorite places. I could have stayed there for days and was so disappointed that because of my broken ankle I could not even walk around the base. This is a place I want to return to and camp until I just don't want to be there any more. So glad you got to see it.

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  8. Walked around the entire base of the Devil's Tower back in May of 92. I was amazed at all the specks of climbers on the sides. Would love to return to that whole Black Hills area one day. Great narrative & photos.

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  9. This is a terrific entry.

    Thank you Sue, for taking the time to create a valuable source of info for the clueless. Your input helped me decide whether to stop overnight at Devils Tower (Yes!) and to visit Deadwood. We tend to shy away from towns, but this one sounds charming. I haven’t yet read very much of your travels, but I love your geology geekiness and gorgeous pictures.
    Erin directed me to your blog, and just keeping up with her, Judy, Sherry and now you ‘Ho’s has become a full time task :))
    Happy Camping!
    Regards, Mary Z.

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