Saturday, September 25, 2010
After another scenic and delicious breakfast, we packed up Rover (our rented minivan) and bid farewell to the Holiday Inn Express in Custer. It was a great home base for the past three days. Entep, the cheerful staff member who was there to welcome us when we first arrived, was also there to wish us safe travels when we departed. Thanks to Entep and all of the Holiday Inn Express staff for making our stay a memorable one.
On the road again, we headed out of Custer via the breathtaking, winding Needles Highway. Driving in the brilliant morning light, the perspectives and colors were completely different and as equally spectacular as yesterday’s drive. We stopped many times along the route to take pictures of the scenes surrounding us.
Winding through the stunning rock formations and breathtaking vistas, we came to beautiful Sylvan Lake. The contrast between the rocks and the water was dramatic.
Descending the mountain brought a change from the towering pillars of rock to the vibrant colors of the Black Hills National Forest.
As we swung down into the valley, the deep blue waters of the Pactola Lake reservoir glistened like a gorgeous sapphire. It was surreal to realize that below those pristine waters lay the submerged town of Pactola, a mining camp and military outpost first settled in 1875.
We trekked north through the Black Hills to Deadwood--site of Wild Bill Hickok's murder. Today, Deadwood looks a lot different than it must have in Wild Bill’s day; it’s more of a modern day “wild west” town filled with hotels, saloons, and casinos.
Wild Bill's Bar marks the location where Hickok was gunned down during a lethal poker game. According to legend, he was holding two pair--aces and eights--now commonly referred to as the Dead Man's Hand.
Moving on from Deadwood, we passed the Homestake Mining Company, one of the largest gold mining businesses in United States from the gold rush of 1876 until 2002.
Nature greeted us with even more splendor as we drove through Spearfish Canyon to the town of Spearfish. The brilliant yellow of the autumn aspens made a striking contrast against the towering stone walls and pines of the canyon. It was truly magical.
On the recommendation of a gentleman that Bruce and Kim had met in Custer, we stopped by the Crow Peak Brewing Company on our way out of Spearfish for a sampling of their craft brews and a little snack. Bruce liked their Spearbeer Pale Ale and 11th Hour Golden IPA while Ted’s favorites were the Pile-o-Dirt Porter and IPOD Black IPA. All four of us gave high marks to the pickled buffalo sausage.
As we crossed the border into Northeast Wyoming, the terrain flattened out into broad plains speckled with buttes and gulches.
Then the terrain changed once again as we began to climb.
As the land dropped away into a picturesque canyon on our right, Devil's Tower National Monument appeared boldly in the distance.
No matter how many times we’ve seen Devil’s Tower in photos or watched Richard Dreyfuss make a mashed potato model of it in Steven Spielberg’s movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, nothing gave us a sense of the enormity of this monolith or the spectacular setting surrounding it.
It is no wonder that Devil's Tower, like the Black Hills of South Dakota, is sacred to American Indians. It is a place of deep stillness and awesome majesty. Human beings are tiny creatures in the presence of this towering monolith. It was a humbling experience. Gazing upon the tower at dusk, we noticed a few tiny pin-pricks of light about half-way up one side. Each light was an intrepid climber...attempting to reach the top of this colossus.
From Devil's Tower we drove west to Gillette, Wyoming, an area rich in coal resources that calls itself the "Energy Capital of the Nation." Needing some energy ourselves, we stopped for dinner at Las Margaritas Mexican Restaurant. We admired the brilliantly-colored wall murals as we enjoyed delicious Mexican cuisine.
Our energy replenished, we continued west to Buffalo, Wyoming and our final destination: the Historic Occidental Hotel. Walking through the front doors of the Occidental was like stepping into a time machine. The 21st century melted away at the threshold and the Old West of legend and lore welcomed us in.
-- Ted and Laura, Bruce and Kimberly