Thursday, June 20, 2013

Custer City, SD - Day 25 and 26

I left Sheridan and continued my eastward trek to the Black Hills of South Dakota.  I enjoyed Wyoming and now it was time to see some new terrain.  I stopped in Deadwood to check it out and see what it had to offer.  Deadwood was established 1876 once the US government had taken the Black Hills away from the Sioux.  Deadwood sits in a gulch and was the center of the Black Hills gold rush craze which began in the 1870’s.  It was a rough and rowdy mining town with lots of saloons, opium dens, and brothels.  Wild Bill Hickok was killed there after being in town for less than 3 months. Once the gold rush was over, it focused on general mining but suffered a steady decline.  The brothels were finally shut down in 1980 and gaming was tried in the late 80's as a way to revitalize the area. 

Today the town is small (pop 1,200) with a historic main street lined with stone facade buildings.  It’s a tourist destination with the focus on gaming.  I found it to be a bit seedy with just about every other building housing a cheap bar and small slots parlors.  It seems like Deadwood is stuck in the mode of catering to the biker crowds that fill its streets during the Sturgis Bike Week rally every August.

Main Street Deadwood
I moved onto Custer City, which would be my hub for exploring the Black Hills.  There's lots of camping choices with 6 campgrounds in Custer State Park, numerous National Forest Campsites, and plenty of RV parks.  The campgrounds in Custer SP are in very pretty settings, but are a little remote.  I stayed at a small park near town (Fort Welikit) so I would be near the stores and restaurants.

My first exploration was the Badlands National Park, which is about 40 miles east of Custer City.  After leaving the Black Hills, which are a collection of big rocky outcroppings covered with pine trees, the terrain changed to slightly rolling grass land.  I drove to the east entrance of the park and drove the scenic loop road from east to west.  What a change of scenery!  It looks like a highly eroded area denude of most vegetation.  It is a dramatic landscape so different from what surrounds it.  The scenic loop road is about 30 miles long and you can pretty much see it all from this road.  Its an easy day trip.

Tunnel 5 Needles Highway
My next exploration was Custer State Park.  This state park is huge and the scenery rivals some national parks.  Key things I did were to drive the Needles Highway and Iron Mountains scenic roads.  I also did the 18 mile Wildlife Loop road.  The scenic roads take you through (literally) the stone outcroppings climbs over some of the peaks.  There are six short and narrow tunnels and I can attest that a Roadtrek 190 will fit through all of them.  Tunnel 5 is the most narrow at 8' 4" wide.  I takes about an hour to drive each one and its worthwhile.
Needles Highway

The Wildlife Loop Road was a little disappointing for me since I had seen lots of wildlife in Yellowstone.  I did run into a traffic jam caused by a buffalo herd.  It took a few minutes for them to clear the road.  They seem oblivious to the cars and RV's, but I did see a big bull chase after a Class A RV after it reved its engine.  I also got a good close up of some pronghorns.

I drove the Iron Mountain Road from south to north.  At the end, it comes out near the Mt. Rushmore National Monument.  I can say I've been to and seen Mt. Rushmore.  Its pretty dramatic.  Not much to do but stare at it and take some pictures.  Made me what to watch the Hitchcock movie North by Northwest with Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint.

I stayed three days in Custer City.  After 26 days of being on the road, I needed a down day of no travel to do laundry, get a haircut, walk the streets, go to the local library, and stay still for a day.  Tomorrow, I head south to the Sandhills of Nebraska.

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