Tuesday, September 01, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments

CANADA OR BUST, Chapter 22:  
Day 25:  Gillette, WY to Rapid City, SD
On the way to give the devil his due, we left the Fairfield Inn in Gillette just after 8 a.m.  Devils Tower National Monument would be our first stop.  Named Devils Tower in 1875 due to a misinterpretation of a native name for the area, efforts have been underway for ten years to rename the 1,267-ft rock formation Bear Lodge—the actual Native American name for the monolith.  Sacred to various Native American tribes in the area, the dome was called Bear Home or some variation of that name for hundreds of years.
No matter what you call it, it's easily found.
As we approached, we never wondered whether we were going in the right direction because the tower rises so abruptly from the surrounding area.  As we walked the 1.5-mile paved trail around the base of the tower, we observed three groups of climbers ascending.  None was more than about a third of a way toward the summit when we observed them around 10:30.  However, we're confident they made it since more than five thousand climbers from all over the world scale the massive column each year.
Prairie dog town
Half a mile from the tower was a prairie dog town along both sides of the road.  As they always do, the little critters were busily popping out of their holes, scouting the vicinity, and popping back down to share what they'd seen.  A half dozen cars were parked in a layby when we pulled over, all watching the little rodents from their vehicles.
Several of the critters approached a car from North Dakota begging for a handout, but those residents of the Great Plains knew better than to be lured in by the cuteness.  Just as we were driving away, a busload of foreign tourists were exiting their coach into the pullout.  Goodness only knows what kinds of treats they served up to the little ones.
On the way up to visit Ranger Karen
Ken loves exploring forest service roads, and the area around the tower is crisscrossed with many.  After two park rangers discouraged us from attempting an unmaintained gravel road that climbed deep into the Black Hills National Forest, we took a paved forest service road to the top of Warren Peak (elev. 6,696), where we found two letterboxes and Ken climbed to the top of the fire tower to give Ranger Karen a break from her solitude.  Half an hour later he escaped and we moved on to the smudge on the map labeled Beulah (pop. 33), where we found a letterbox at the old one-room schoolhouse.  
Bidding a fond farewell to the scenic Wyoming, we crossed into South Dakota on I-90.  Chasing letterboxes, we exited south on US-85 and drove into Deadwood, the gambling mecca where every hotel has a casino and every casino has a hotel.
Deadwood's Main Street
We found a letterbox outside the local library and drove to the cemetery where Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane are buried.  The letterbox hidden there was inaccessible today so we were leaving when a tall, friendly, silver-haired tourist noted our Georgia license plate and noted that he lives north of Atlanta.  A couple of sentences later we had reached two degrees of separation when it was revealed that, while a professor at Georgia State, he taught one of Ken's fraternity brothers in the 1970s.  Two more letterboxes near Deadwood and we finally had lunch about 4 p.m. at a National Forest Service picnic area atop Mount Roosevelt (named for TR, of course).
Is Sturgis ever motorcycle-free?
After seeing all the bikers moving across the country last month on their way home from one the world's largest motorcycle rallies, we wanted to check out Sturgis, this town of 6,883 people that can handle a guest list up to one million.  A month after the big event, the town appeared business-as-usual calm.  Yes, there were more tattoo parlors and motorcycle shops per city block than the average American metropolis.  But today things were quiet enough for us to stealthily find one letterbox and confirm the missing status reported on another.
One final letterbox in a rural cemetery near the wee village of Piedmont (pop. 222) and we called it a day as we rolled into the parking lot for the Rapid City Residence Inn.  Tomorrow we continue east toward home.


Daily Stats
  • Miles driven:  215
  • Miles walked:  4.4
  • Letterboxes:  10 found,
  • Weather:  60° to 86°, sunny
  • Canada geese:  too many
  • Wall Drug signs:  39
  • Pronghorns:  164
  • Prairie dogs:  87
A closer view of Devil's Tower