on journey: medora to devils tower to deadwood, south dakota

I was too slow getting going this morning because of a restless night’s sleep.  I had biscuits and gravy for breakfast after taking my sweet time getting ready.

From Medora, I had a long drive south with nothing much to see. It would be over three hours to Belle Fourche. I saw painted horses grazing in flat pastures.  A sign said SAVE THE BABIES: LIFE BEGINS AT CONCEPTION.  I bumped over a six mile stretch of road with loose gravel. A big butte loomed to the east, and White Lake and white chalky buttes were to the west.

The town of Amidon was established in 1913 and it looked like it was still stuck there. I passed Mo’s Bunker Bar and a bunch of silos.  At the National Grasslands, I saw the Mah Dah Hey trailhead. I passed more buttes amidst green and gold grasses.

Near Bowman County, cows were grazing around badland-like formations. I drove amidst sunflower fields and the Brooks Angus Ranch, Stuber Ranch, and more golden grasses. The landscape began to roll wide and gradually.  I was welcomed to Bowman and saw airplanes on metal poles.

Rilo Kiley sang about a silver lining.  The Sweetwater Golf Club passed outside the window.  I was on 85S the entire way today, greeted by brown cows with painted white bellies and scatters of buttes looming on the horizon.  Bruce Springsteen sang about the ghost of Tom Jones.

Finally the sign informed me: WELCOME TO SOUTH DAKOTA.  GREAT FACES. GREAT PLACES. A lone oil rig bobbed up and down in a desolate landscape. Sporadically, bright yellow grasses glowed alongside the road. To the west, buttes were marked with crenelations like a fortress.   I passed through the town of Buffalo, population 380.  Semis, campers and pickups were my road companions.  Sandy patches marred the land near the North Moreau River.  This was a landscape that put you to sleep, with some rocky rises here and there.  Otherwise, there were long gradual inclines and declines.

Redig was all delapidated wooden buildings. Finally, I reached the Crow Buttes Mercantile at 12:38. The Crow Buttes commemorates a battle between the Sioux and the Crow.  The Crow ran up on a butte and the Sioux surrounded them until the Crow all died of thirst.


It was a cute Mercantile with friendly proprietors. They talked me into going to Devil’s Tower, which had been a longshot on my itinerary.  Roads stretched to infinity.

I saw two bicyclers today on 85S, some of the few that I’d seen in some 3,700 miles of driving.

Finally, I reached Belle Fourche, which was supposedly pronounced “Belle Foosh,” population 5,594. Mountains lay ahead.  I took 34W, a scenic highway past the Stone House Saloon.  Green buttes were dotted with pine trees.  Ranches abounded, one was the Santa Maria Ranch.  I wondered if the forested hills were the Black Hills.

Soon I crossed into Wyoming.


Welcome to Wyoming

I saw the exit for Sundance and giant haystacks and hay bales.  There was a historical marker for the Custer Expedition and the Black Hills National Forest. My heart was leaping at this scenery, it was so beautiful. I saw pretty red rock cliffs and cattle.  In Alva, population 50, elevation 3,995, a bunch of mobile homes squatted. I was welcomed to 4H Country (or was it county?).  A dead deer lay along the roadside.

I crossed the Belle Fourche River.  When I first glimpsed Devils Tower I was surprised.  I didn’t imagine it would be so big.

At the Devils Tower National Monument, I went into the Visitor Center to get a sticker and cancellation stamp for my passport. It had a very small museum and no film. There were exhibits about the Tower’s history and geology.

Devils Tower, rising 867 feet from its base, is an excellent geologic example of an igneous intrusion, exposed by the erosion of sedimentary rock.  It stands 1,267 feet above the river and 5,112 feet above sea level. The area of its teardrop-shaped top is 1.5 acres. The diameter at the base is 1,000 feet.

Located on the banks of the Belle Fourche River in Wyoming, Devils Tower National Monument encompasses 1,346 acres and was established September 24, 1906 as our nation’s first national monument. It has special significance for traditional Northern Plains people.

The 1.3 mile paved Tower Trail offered close up Tower views.


Devils Tower National Monument


Devils Tower National Monument


Devils Tower National Monument

Bear Lodge is one of many American Indian names for the Tower.  Colonel Richard Dodge named it Devils Tower in 1875.  He led the military expedition sent to confirm reports of gold in the Black Hills and to survey the area.  Scientists then thought Devils Tower was the core of an ancient volcano.  Recent data suggests it is an igneous intrusion.

The geological story is that about 50 million years ago molten magma was forced into sedimentary rocks above it and cooled underground. As it cooled, it contracted and fractured into columns.  An earlier flow formed Little Missouri Buttes.  Over millions of years, erosion of the sedimentary rock exposed Devils Tower and accentuated Little Missouri Buttes.

On July 4, 1893, William Rogers and Willard Ripley made the “first” ascent of Devils Tower, using a wooden ladder for the first 350 feet. However, since there was already a flag for hoisting Old Glory atop the tower, it seems the first ascent might have been a day earlier.

The Tower became a 4th of July meeting place for ranching families.  In 1895, Mrs. Rogers used her husband’s ladder, and became the first woman to reach the summit.

Some 5,000 climbers come every year from all over the world to climb the massive columns.  There are over 220 climbing routes.

I saw four climbers getting ready to rappel down today.

Black Hills pine forests merged with rolling plains grasslands around the Tower.


View from Devils Tower


View from Devils Tower


View from Devils Tower


View from Devils Tower


View from Devils Tower


Devils Tower

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower the first national monument under the new Antiquities Act.  His action made Wyoming the home of both our first national park – Yellowstone in 1872 – and our first national monument. He acted to protect the Tower from commercial exploitation.

Devils Tower is perhaps best remembered for the award-winning 1977 movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which was filmed on-site and became a breakout hit for Steven Spielberg.

It was a beautiful day to walk around the Tower.

All information about Devils Tower is from a pamphlet and signs by the National Park Service.

I left Devils Tower at 4:45 and stopped briefly at the Devils Tower Trading Post, where I got a single scoop of butter pecan ice cream on a cake cone.

I stopped in Hulett, a cute park gateway town with a population of 383 and 3,755 feet in elevation. I took some pictures and bought a few postcards.

One painting in Bob’s Rogues Gallery was of Russell Means, Lakota name: Oyate Wacinyapi (“Works for the People”). The painter, Bob Coronato, quotes Means: “An upside down flag is an international sign of distress… now we, the Indian nations, are in distress.  I will wear this flag upside down as long as my people are in distress.”

According to a write-up about the painting, Russell Means, part of the AIM, the American Indian Movement, “stood up for unfair racism, and abuses against Indians and made definitive stands against the [tierney] (tyranny?) of the cops, government, racist judges, and citizens who felt that Indians were second class.”


Russel Means, Lakota name: Oyate Wacinyapi (“Works for the People”) by Bob Coronato

On the way back to South Dakota, I passed a historical marker for Custer’s 1874 Expedition: “During the summer of 1874, General George Armstrong Custer led the first official government expedition to the Black Hills, which the Sioux Indians claimed as their territory.  Although the United States Government officially sent this expedition of more than 1,000 men to scout for a new fort location, the presence of engineers, geologists and miners indicated that recording the topography, geography, and location of gold deposits were other important goals.

“The expedition’s discovery of gold had wide reaching effects on the area and its future. Miners rushed to the Black Hills, ultimately helping to open northeast Wyoming Territory to settlement. The encroachment of settlers on Native American territory broke the terms of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. The Sioux turned to war to defend their lands and, in June 1876, they defeated General Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana.  However, they surrendered to General Terry by October of that same year.  In 1877, the United States officially confiscated the Black Hills lands from the Sioux, an action of which the legality is still being disputed in courts” (from the plaque at the site).


Custer Expedition

At Aladdin (population 15), I saw a cute general store.  I stopped into the Aladdin General Store just to check it out.


Aladdin General Store

I was welcomed back to South Dakota.


Welcome to South Dakota


I passed the 2Y Ranch, Birkelands Ranch and many other gates signifying ranches. I reached Belle Fourche, population 5,594, at 5:19 and then had another 11 miles to Spearfish.  I passed the Branding Iron Steakhouse, Stagecoach Road, and then arrived in Spearfish  (pop. 10,494) and passed the High Prairie Lodge and red earth hills covered in pine trees.  A sign notified me I was in the Black Hills National Forest.

A sign welcomed me to “Deadwood: Where the Wild West Lives.”

I wondered what a “tin lizzie” was and found later it is a a small inexpensive early automobile; the term is especially used as a nickname for the Model T Ford.

I checked into The Hotel by Gold Dust in Deadwood.

I walked up and down the streets of the historic town.  Deadwood is a gambler’s paradise, with slot machines in almost every establishment. People dress in cowboy garb and call people into their saloons. There are Wild West shootouts on the street, but I didn’t see any. It’s a bit hokey but cute at the same time.

I ate dinner at Deadwood Social Club on the 2nd floor above the famed Old Style Saloon No. 10.  I sat at a table next to about six men talking the whole time about mining.  They were apparently talking about Homestake Mining Co, which was founded in 1877; it was acquired by Barrick Gold in December 2001. It was one of the largest gold mining businesses in the U.S. and the owner of the Homestake Mine in Lead, South Dakota.  It was quite boring, their talk, so I tuned them out as best I could.  It was all technical stuff.


Deadwood Social Club

I had a dirty vodka martini: Titos, dash of olive juice, olives.  For dinner, I had Buffalo Ravioli with brown butter and sage.  It was yummy, but so filling, I could only eat half.

Below is my journal spread for this day.


Monday, September 16, 2019


*Drove 324.9 miles, making my total drive so far on this trip 3,757.8 miles*

*Steps: 9,870, or 4.18 miles*

*Monday, September 16, 2019*