14 June 2012 | Black Hills National Forest, SD
What an activity-packed day and as I write this, hard to believe we did it all in one day. We rose with the sun and birds. Devil's Tower, right in front of our eyes as we exited the tent, seemed so close and so imposing, it was nearly surreal. We headed east to South Dakota this morning stopping for a quick look at the century-old Aladdin General Store which had everything but hot coffee (the only thing we were really in need of).
Our first stop across the South Dakota border was Belle Fourche (unfortunately pronounced Bell Foosh by the locals and truth be told, the stop was actually after we got a cup of coffee). After Hawaii and Alaska became states, the US Geologic Service determined that a spot in a field outside of Belle Fourche was the new “center” of the nation. Since the field was not convenient for visitors, the town built a huge Visitor's Center and “moved the center” (just a few miles) to the new location. Hmmm! Like moving the equator to suit tourists, huh?
We headed to Deadwood next. Here's a good look at what gambling money can do for a town. Deadwood was a mining town and gambling town and though the mining industry is gone, the gambling remains. The main street is pleasant albeit touristy with lots of casinos. Many of the historic buildings have been beautifully restored and are used for commerce today. The town was well-known as the place where Wild Bill Hickok was shot in the back while playing poker at the Saloon 10. It gained much recent acclaim because of “Deadwood”, a raunchy, foul-mouthed, well-written, based on fact, HBO series that we really enjoyed. We climbed to the top of the hill overlooking the town to visit Mt. Moriah Cemetery and the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane among others. All have been tastefully re-interred and seem to be resting peacefully.
Further south, we arrived at Pactola campground in the Black Hills National Forest. We pitched camp in a grove of aromatic pines and collected firewood for the evening then headed to Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. The distance wasn't far and we arrived around 2pm. We had visited Mt. Rushmore with the kids around 20+ years ago and it's really changed (duh!). Managed by the National Park Service, and once again they've done an excellent job of preserving while making the memorial accessible. We took the Presidential Trail which winds through the forest lands and offers unique views of the largest sculpture in the world from different vantage points.
June 14th is Flag Day. It's easy to forget days of the week, never mind minor holidays, when you're traveling. We noticed a crowd of people in the amphitheater with dignitaries on stage. We were subsequently honored to witness 111 people from 38 different countries swear allegiance and become citizens of the USA. It was a moving, emotional ceremony. We have observed in our travels that it is usually only Americans who openly show their emotions on such patriotic occasions. We enjoyed the afternoon so much, we returned in the evening for the lighting of the Memorial at 9:30pm.
By the time we returned to the campground at 10:30, it was pitch dark on the narrow, forest road. We spotted several deer en route, but thankfully none jumped in front of the headlights. We snuggled down into our sleeping bags exhausted and listened to the night around us as we fell asleep.