Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Head for the Hills!

The Black Hills in southwest corner of South Dakota, to be exact!  This week we have plans to explore the Black Hills by rail and by trail and vehicle as well.

Last Sunday, we moved the Dawntreader from Wall, SD to a campground near Silver City, SD.  Along the way, we stopped at Culver's in Rapid City to eat lunch and use their free wifi.  Internet connections in campgrounds are notoriously bad due to the number of people trying to use these networks.  Whenever we can, we patronize businesses who offer wifi for free.  Not only did I need to publish the post I wrote about The Badlands, but we also wanted to map out our activities for our five days in the Black Hills and begin to plan our Spring 2017 road trip.  The manager at Culver's in Rapid City graciously pointed out the electrical outlets in the dining room.  We plugged in our laptop and our office was up and running.

Within three hours, we achieved most of our objectives.  We're still in the process of planning next spring's road trip, but at least we've settled on a proposed route.  Calling campgrounds to make reservations can wait until another day.

After a stop at the grocery store in Rapid City, we headed for the hills.  Our temporary home for the week is a campground near Silver City, SD.  Upon our arrival, the manager told us he no longer accepts big rigs with lengths over 40 feet.  Yikes!  From bow to stern, the Dawntreader measures 45 feet, five feet over his limit.  Luckily for us, he made an exception and even acted as the ground crew while Tim maneuvered our RV into the campsite.

Monday morning we had reservations to ride the 1880 Train on a 20-mile round trip, vintage train ride from Hill City to Keystone, SD.  

Once the crew filled the locomotive's water reservoir, the locomotive backed up to the line of vintage railcars where it was coupled for the trip.  Passengers boarded and we were off!

I wished my dad had been free to make this trip with us.  My dad is a railroad buff with an extensive knowledge of rail lines.  A ride on the 1880 Train with its choices of three steam and two diesel locomotives would have been a treat for him, had he been able to accompany us.  We invited him to join us on this trip, but he declined in order to care for my mother.

During the heyday of mining the Black Hills, the route of the 1880 Train connected the mines with the ore mills.  

Later, it was used to haul equipment to Mount Rushmore where sculptor Gutzon Borglum was undertaking the massive carving of the mountain into likenesses of four presidents. 

The railcars built during the 1890s have been restored to their former opulence with stained glass transoms and lamps that mimicked those of the era. 

Steep four-percent grades and lots of sharp curves made for an entertaining trip.

Thanks to Will, our conductor, everyone had a great time!  

After the 2-hour train ride, we picnicked on the lawn of the 1890 Hill City Depot before unloading our bicycles to ride the George S. Mickelson Rails-To-Trails bike path.  

This trail with its four tunnels and more than 100 converted bridges 

follows the historic Deadwood to Edgemont Burlington Northern rail line, passing through the very heart of the Black Hills.  

The line was abandoned in 1983, but a group of local residents, along with then-Governor George S. Mickelson, rallied support to convert the railbed into the 109-mile pedestrian/biking trail it is today.

Improvements such as water pumps found along the trail are financed by the $4 day passes sold on the honor system from metal boxes placed at every trailhead. 

We rode only ten miles north of Hill City.  Most of the way was uphill but the return trip was a breeze.  

Traveling into the Black Hills by rail and by trail reminded us that these hills were once the destination of miners swept up by gold fever.  An expedition led by General George Custer confirmed rumors of gold in these hills. "We have discovered a rich and beautiful country," Custer wrote to his wife Libbie.  Indeed, General Custer, indeed!


  1. Great byline, Cindy. Enjoyed your various accounts in SD.

    1. Thanks, Terry! Other than our one-night stay in Sioux Falls last October to establish residency, I'd never been to South Dakota before. Now I'm kinda proud of my home state.