Rapid City is where the plains and the Black Hills meet. The stretch continues to present kitschy billboards for miles and small no-name motels with odd names like Lamplighter, Big Sky, Budget Host, Penny Motel, Powder House and Holy Smoke Inn.
There really wasn’t any “true city” experience anywhere in South Dakota. The towns became a blur….we stopped in Sturgis, which is known worldwide as the annual gathering ground of up to 500,000 ‘hog’ (Harley-Davidson motorcycle) lovers. We just missed the Sturgis Rally & Races event, but some of the color remained as we witnessed one night at One-Eyed Jack’s Saloon on Main Street, a biker bar that served little other than buffalo burger and happy hour beers from 4-7 pm.
Just before we reached the Wyoming border, we hit Spearfish, which is at the mouth of the scenic Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway (US 14A). Spearfish was closer to the actual Dances with Wolves film site than the ghost town that housed most of the props up the road.
The drive was beautifully but sadly serene in an old Wild West kind of way. Run down buildings, old character, charm and colorful history bled from these towns…..Sturgis, Spearfish, and then just beyond a beautiful body of water called Pactola Lake, we hit Deadwood.
Settled by illegal gold rushers in the 1870s, Deadwood is now a National Historical Landmark. Its Main Street is lined with many restored gold-rush-era buildings. The town had a hell-raisin’ reputation for years, however it apparently has been replaced by a gentler crowd of poker players. Old red brick buildings lined the main drag, which in many ways reminded me of parts of Gloversville.
Deadwood is most known for the shootings of Wild Bill Hickok, Jack McCall, the drifter who shot Hickok, gunslingers Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, and lest we forget the brothel owner Poker Alice Tubbs.
Also worth noting was a 944 foot deep open cut of the Homestake Gold Mine a few miles away in Lead.