South Dakota: Day 7
Today was our last day of touring and sightseeing before heading back east to Sioux Falls for our flight home! It was a busy day, again, with lots of driving.
John, Cassie and I started out early (8:30 a.m.) and drove north, up through Deadwood (we didn’t stop), to the interstate as we headed to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. It was actually not that long of a drive (it’s about 120 round trip from Spearfish). Plus, we got to check another state off our list – Wyoming!
Devil’s Tower wasn’t quite what I expected. From the photos I had seen, it seemed like the formation was out in the middle of the plains, with nothing surrounding it. However, it’s actually right on the edge of a small canyon that was formed by the Belle Fourche River and there are other “peaks” in the area, though none with the columns like Devil’s Tower. This was actually the first national monument in the U.S., declared so by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906!
At the monument, they have two different trails you can walk/hike and we chose the shorter, paved path around the formation. It was neat to see how it looked at different angles and to see some of the columns that had fallen, which gave us a better idea of exactly how big these columns are.
We stopped at a touristy store right at the entrance to the monument and got Sarsaparilla (it feels so wrong drinking from a “beer” bottle while driving!). The drive back to Spearfish was uneventful, though we were pretty hungry by the time we got there.
We decided we wanted to eat at a place called Taco John’s. I had seen these all across the state, especially in the larger towns, and was curious because they boasted about the “fresh taste of West-Mex” and I wanted to know what South Dakota “Mexican” food tasted like! Plus, it was named after John, and I really wanted to take a picture with him and the sign (he wasn’t so thrilled with that idea).
The food wasn’t too bad – kind of a mix between Taco Bell and Del Taco. I tried their Chicken Bacon Club Burrito, which had grilled chicken, bacon, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes and a ranch sauce. It was actually pretty good, though not exactly “Mexican.” John got a combo meal which included these tater-tot like bites that were super salty, but oh, so addicting! Once we finished eating, I coaxed John into taking a photo with the sign…I think the other patrons in the restaurant thought we were nuts!
After a quick stop for gas and a souvenir “South Dakota” shirt (from Walmart!), we started down Spearfish Canyon, a scenic drive through the northern Black Hills. In doing some research, I think it’s one of the top 25 most scenic bike rides in the U.S. I ended up driving again, so John and Cassie took most of the “scenic” photos, but it was nice to be able to enjoy the scenery without having to worry about getting the “perfect” shot. We did stop at one of the waterfalls along the way. It was a little disappointing, and I did hear someone say nearby say they had been there before and a lot of the trees at the bottom of the waterfall didn’t use to be there, so you could actually see the entire thing. Anyway, I was able to get a few shots of the waterfalls – and experiment with different shutter speeds to capture the waterfalls in motion rather than freezing them. For some reason, I have never had much success doing this, but I was pleasantly surprised at the results here!
Once we ended our drive through Spearfish Canyon, we drove to Deadwood and headed back south toward Keystone to Rushmore Cave (it’s actually about 5 miles east of Keystone). First, it was neat to see the more touristy town near Mt. Rushmore – cute little town. It was also neat to go on the tour of the cave, even if Cassie and John seemed unimpressed by it.
I had never been in a cave before. I’m sure there are more spectacular caves and formations in the world (I’m told Wind Cave is really cool – it’s on the “to visit” list for our next South Dakota trip), but hearing the stories behind how the cave was discovered and formed (even if I don’t agree with how long it actually took) was really interesting! It was about an hour tour and there were A LOT of stairs – just the hike up the stairs to the entrance of the building was rough! It was also fairly chilly in the cave, at first anyway. Once you got climbing up and down all those stairs, it really started to warm up!
After our cave tour, we drove back to Hill City via Mt. Rushmore for one final look (and to get the National Parks Passport Stamp we missed the day before) and then had dinner at Desperados. My sister won a free drink by figuring out who was cheating in the poker game under the plexiglass at the table we were sitting at…and chose to have an iced tea!
Once dinner was over, we went back to the hotel and visited with some relatives who were out in the Black Hills from Minnesota and Sioux Falls for the Crazy Horse Volkswalk the next day (this would be really cool to do sometime!). Since we all had an early start the next day, we called it a night and went and packed and went to bed.