September is a great time for a road trip. Not too hot, the kids are back in school and it’s a last chance to get out in the sun before fall and winter set in. This trip was my second up to the Black Hills. The first was in October 2009. It was cut short when I awoke to a foot of snow one morning. September seems much better time of year to visit this area. No snow on this trip, but it did hit a week after we got back.
I took this trip with my brother Steve who flew out from Vancouver and Cindy who decided to tag along at the last minute. Our route took us from Chester NE to Spearfish SD and back again.
The first scheduled stop was Dobby’s Frontier Town. We took the route through the sandhills and arrived in Alliance in the late afternoon. I wasn’t sure what we would find there, but it seemed like a good place to start a trip filled with touristy destinations. Dobby’s is a collection of salvaged buildings that have been collected and restored and used to create a frontier town with shops, a church and other businesses. We had a great time exploring the property and had the place to ourselves. We ran into a group of volunteers who were busy stripping the wood floor of the church. Below is a gallery of images from Dobby’s.
From Dobby’s, it was a short drive up to Carhenge. Carhenge is Nebraska landmark and monolithic tribute to Stonehenge – but constructed of cars. It’s been on my list of ‘things to see’ for some time now, and it didn’t disappoint. We had some great blue skies to shoot in the afternoon and after dinner in town, we went back for some post-sunset shots. The mosquitoes made shooting a little distracted, but some bug repellent soon fixed that. I shot a lot of images and had a blast looking for interesting compositions. Again, we had the site mostly to ourselves.
From Carhenge, it was a late night drive up to Chadron to stay the night. This would leave us on the doorsteps of the Black Hills and ready to start fresh in the morning.
We drove up to Hot Springs and headed to the Mammoth Site. This is an active dig that is uncovering dozens of mammoth skeletons from animals that fell into a sink hole thousands of years ago. They give a short audio tour, then you can explore on your own. The bones are still bones and not fossilized, so they’re fragile and hard to work with. They also have a Exhibit Hall with more fossils and displays. If you’re into natural history, this is a great stop.
After a fun time at the Mammoth Site it time to head into Custer State Park. Before we set out on this trip, the one thing that we all agreed on was that we wanted to see Bison. I’d seen a couple on my last trip, so I thought that we could at least see a few this time of year. We were in the park less than 30 minutes when we found a nice sized herd close to the road. There were about 50 bison just eating their way across the grassland and ignoring the few tourists that had stopped to gawk. The bison were also in the middle of a prairie dog village as an added bonus. Just a beautiful, amazing site to see.
We drove the park and enjoyed the scenery and saw more bison, more prairie dogs and some pronghorn antelope. From the park we headed north up to Mount Rushmore. Mount Rushmore needs no introduction, but it was great to see it all its glory. Once again, clear skies were the order of the day. We toured the area in the late afternoon and then found a room in nearby Keystone. We returned for the Evening Lighting Ceremony. The park ranger gave a great talk about the monument and asked active and retired servicemen (and women) to come up to the stage for the striking of the colors. A crowd of over 60 people took to the stage. It was a special moment.
After dinner and some beer and good night’s sleep in Keystone, we made our way up north to Sturgis. We headed out along the Needles Highway. The Needles are unique rock formation in Custer State Park (and original, planned location for a Mount Rushmore style monument). There are some a scenic vista pullouts to take in the wonderful scenery.
Our next stop was Deadwood. I really didn’t know what to expect, but it turns out that Deadwood is lot bigger than I had I thought. It is also home to a beautiful, historic cemetery called Mount Moriah. It is the final resting place for Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane and thousands of other interesting folk that met their maker in the Black Hills.
After Deadwood, we drove up to Sturgis for lunch and I had the largest burger I’ve ever seen dropped in front of me. I made it halfway through the ‘Knuckle Sandwich’ before admitting defeat. We headed west to Spearfish and then south on the scenic Spearfish Canyon Highway. This road follows the Spearfish Creek for just over 20 miles and is a place to see some waterfalls. We continued south and began our trek home. We drove past the Crazy Horse Memorial and continued south to Alliance for our last night on the road.
Another great road trip is in the books. As usual, I look back and wish that I had taken more photos, but it was a relaxing trip and car-mates were patient enough with my many requests to stop and linger for photos. Four days and three nights and countless memories.
Thanks for reading. If you have any questions about the places or photos, please post them below and I’ll answer them as best I can.