Deadwood and On To Montana Big Sky Country

Week of August 22, 1999
On Sunday, we moved on to Spearfish, South Dakota, about 10 miles from the Wyoming border. We drove through Spearfish Canyon, a very scenic area with high cliffs on either side of the highway. We admired Bridal Veil Falls next to Highway 14 and hiked around Roughlock Falls on 222 (a washboard dirt road with BIG potholes). Further down on 222, we saw where the winter scenes of "Dances With Wolves" were filmed. I wanted to spend more time exploring, but we had too many other sites on our schedule to see. That night, we took a casino shuttle into Deadwood, South Dakota. Deadwood is a famous old west town where Wild Bill Hickok met his demise in Saloon #10, and is buried at the famous "Boot Hill" (also known as Mt. Moriah) along with other famous old west characters such as Calamity Jane. The cemetery, which overlooks the town (at the top of a steep steep hill), contains many other notables from Deadwood. Many of the buildings in Deadwood date to the year 1900 or earlier. We watched a re-enactment of a gunfight on Main Street. The town is thriving with the addition of casinos. In fact, you can see slot machines everywhere in the state, from grocery stores to fast food restaurants. We walked around exploring for awhile. In the Boot Hill cemetary near dusk...

Devils Tower, with buzzards circling above

The next day, we drove out to see Devils Tower National Monument in the Northeast corner of Wyoming near Sundance (home of the Sundance Kid). The tower resembles a huge stone tree trunk which rises over 860 feet from its base. In the forest around the base we saw many mule deer, prairie dogs, rabbits, and even a badger as it scooted up a tree in the parking lot. There were many buzzards circling the top of the tower. Rock climbers view the tower as a challenge. The tower is a sacred place for many Native American Indians, and you may see prayer bundles left around the its base. Scientists believe the tower was created by lava from a volcano which turned to stone many million years ago. The ground around it gradually eroded away, leaving the tower rising above the prairie. You may remember seeing Devils Tower from the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" where aliens landed on earth at Devils Tower.
We saw numerous prairie dogs all around. They were quite playful and stood up on their hind legs barking at us. Gus the golden retriever(official Southpoint mascot)didn't like them though. He was itching to go chase some. I'm cute, but get close and I'll bite your finger off!
Site of the Battle of Little Bighorn We departed from Spearfish and drove across the northeastern corner of Wyoming admiring the Big Horn Mountains on our left up into Montana. We stopped at the Battle of Little Big Horn to see where Lt. Col. Custer and over 260 soldiers were defeated by Chief Sitting Bull and several thousand Lakota and Cheyenne warriors in a fateful battle. After this setback, the U.S. government forced the Lakota Indians to give up the Black Hills area for good. We made it to Billings, Montana, and spent the night at the KOA. We learned that it was the very first KOA in the country, which opened its doors in 1962. It is on the banks of the Yellowstone River. We were pleased to find out that there is no sales tax in Montana. After an oil change and a steak supper, we planned out the next day.

We made it to Great Falls (Montana is a BIG state) after being delayed by several areas of highway construction. The state has received additional federal highway funds so it is taking advantage of it. After we turned onto Interstate 15 and drove through Helena, the state capital, the mountain views became more scenic as it followed the Missouri River. Great Falls contains several museums, including the Charlie Russell Museum, a famed western artist who lived here. We stayed at Dick's RV Campground where we checked our email and loaded up on groceries before we headed further north. We had to back in our 34 foot fifth wheel RV for the first time (always ask for a pull-through), so that was an experience. Gus got a kick out of trying to chase the rabbits in the campground. With the wind blowing, we could hear the rustle of an aspen tree's leaves next to our RV. We had another problem appear with our truck not starting, turns out it was the solenoid relay switch. The good people at Fleet Maintenance Service (1-800-288-6435) in town were able to get us back up and running within an hour. They are a full maintenance shop, able to service trucks, cars, and RVs. The local Ford dealership had told us that it would be three days before they could look at it. We will head to St. Mary on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation (near the eastern entrance to Glacier National Park) tomorrow for a few days and then on into Canada.

We got to St. Mary after driving the winding and at times steep road to get here. It is a small town with basic services. We were told that the snow would start by next month. Earlier this year, the snow drifts along Going To The Sun Road were 75 feet high. The drifts took worker crews several months to clear. There had been three recent reports of grizzly attacks along a hiking trail in the park. A mother grizzly was being protective of her cub, and hikers got too close. It is always a good idea to make some noise while you are hiking on a trail so as not to surprise a grizzly. Grizzlies don't like surprises. During the last several years, nine people have been killed by grizzlies in the park. See more on grizzlies later. We spent the first night at Johnson's RV Campground with views of St. Mary's Lake and the surrounding jagged peaks of Glacier National Park.

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