2022-07-18 Devil’s Tower & The Black Hills

Devil's Tower - Scenery
I conducted a hasty tour of the Black Hills in South Dakota after I finished my 2022 tour through Canada. For as long as I can remember, the Devil’s Tower was a place I wanted to visit. Being so close to the Black Hills, I could not resist the urge to swing by and see it.
Crazy Horse Monument - Scenery
After I finished my 2022 tour through Canada, the Crazy Horse Monument was one of those ‘Must See’ places for me.
Mount Rushmore - Scenery
Mount Rushmore

I crossed south of the 49th parallel on Saturday, July 16. It took me two days of driving south to cross the broad prairies of eastern Montana, and I found my way into the Custer National Forest where Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota convene. This is where the rolling plains surrender to the uplifted rocky vulcanized sky islands of the Black Hills.

The Custer National Forest off of Montana State Highway 323 is a big change to the ecology. I suspect it has to do with the proximity to the Black Hills. On Montana Route 7, heading south from Baker, I passed an interesting-looking location called Medicine Rock State Park. I’d have liked to explore the place, but I continued south instead, with plans to see the well-known wonders I’d known of most of my life. The habitat was radically different from the grass prairies around it. I would think that the junipers and other trees around there might provide habitat for some species not seen on the prairies.

2022-07-18 Monday

I paid for an RV hookup and spent Sunday night parked in Alzada Montana, which was about 40 minutes from Devil’s Tower. The weather had been unbearably hot the past few days. Even the evenings have hovered near 90°F, so I kept the air conditioner running through the night. When morning came, and after attending the RV’s holding tanks, I continued south on Highway 112. I was looking forward to having breakfast at the Camp Stool Cafe at Devil’s Tower, but on arriving, I learned their grill wasn’t working and they weren’t serving breakfast. 

The KOA Campground, the store, and all the local establishments at Devil’s Tower were crawling with tourists. I thought to myself, “What have I gotten myself into?” But, such is the cost of sight-seeing in iconic places. I wanted to see the Devil’s Tower, and as I drove in from the north, I stopped at two roadside pullouts and snapped a few shots. After my disappointment at breakfast, I drove away, heading for Mount Rushmore. But before I left the region, I took a few more photos of the tower from the south-side.

The route I chose to approach Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorials traversed some extraordinary landscapes. Much of it was piney woods and hill country. After several hours of driving, I arrived in Custer, South Dakota, only to find another infestation of tourists. But who was I to judge? I was one of them, wasn’t I!

I was still hungry, but breakfast was no longer an option. So I found a Mexican Restaurant on the main drag and took my chances with their menu. My go-to dish at Mexican restaurants is the Chili Relleno, but I learned that while they were on their menu, they were out. So I settled for a veggie burrito. You can never be sure of what kind of food you will get when you choose a Mexican restaurant. In Mexico, there are many styles of food preparation, mostly defined by region. And when the cuisine is exported into the USA, it undergoes a transformation. As the exported cuisine travels further north, the more drastic the transformation. I’m not a purist regarding Mexican food. A purist might stick their nose in the air if their dining expectations are not met. I prefer to treat the experience with a certain sense of adventure, and try to enjoy the encounter.

I left Custer, and drove north into the Black Hills, and a mere five miles later, I reached the Crazy Horse Memorial. The mountain-sized rock carving can be seen from the highway from more than two miles away. I paid my $15 and looked for angles to capture images. The scale of the project is impressive, but there remains so much work before the carving will be complete, one wonders if it will ever get done.

Sixteen more miles north, and I found the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. This iconic carved mountain has been fully developed, and the approach is dramatically framed by a gallery of international flags. Most of us have grown up with images of this monument in our textbooks, magazines, and in films. As impressive as it is, carved mountains have their detractors. The pristine natural formations in these mountains are beautiful in their own right. With this in mind, I can appreciate the point of view of those souls who disagree with such projects. However, there’s no putting the toothpaste back in the tube now.

I left these hills and drove south, back the way I came, and found a quiet place on the roadside to camp for the night. I looked forward to exploring the Sandhills in Nebraska, and I wasn’t disappointed. But that story will come later.

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