Part 11: Black Hills, SD to Philipsburg, MT


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The Trip

While staying at the home of fellow moggers Bill and Cindy in Deadwood, SD, we took several side trips to see the surrounding Black Hills and some of the sights.  From Deadwood, we headed west to Devil's Tower, SD.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

We attempted to do the cave tour at Jewel Cave and were immediately asked "do you have reservations?".  We replied no.  They replied no tour slots were available that day, so we bought tickets for the following day and decided to a bit of off-road to pass the time.  We headed north from the cave area on Forest Road (FR) 117 through the Black Hills.  From the top of the first pass, we could see the extent of a recent burn.  The photo above is looking to the southwest from the high point.  The fire generally cleared all the trees in this area.  One symptom of excessive undergrowth is a hot fire that burns everything in it's path.

We traveled north on FR117 and passed many awesome meadows with nice flowers.

Most of the FR117 route is "open range" which means that you may encounter livestock on the road at any time.  Above, a substantial herd decided that it was time to cross the road, 1017 be damned.  They were not intimidated by the noise of the truck and I literally had to gear down and push my way through the herd.

Crossing most of the length of the Black Hills took several hours on FR117.  We returned to our host's place and had a nice dinner in Deadwood.  Next morning, we left early for the 1.5 hour trip back to Jewel Cave.  Since we had both reservations and tickets, we went on the tour.  To be brutally honest, the cave was large, but the tour was unimpressive.  The cave was nowhere as decorated as the name would suggest.  I saturated on the tour guide droning on and on about historical anecdotes that were not relevant.  Then, after having to listen to her inane rambling, I was told that we could not take photos since that delayed the progress of the group through the cave.  I was tempted to advise her that a small reduction in her dialog would go along way to solving the situation, but elected to bite my tongue instead.  The blood that resulted was bitter indeed.

The cave had quite a bit of dog tooth spar, but little else.

We were advised repeatedly not to touch anything for fear of damage.  Really not an issue since the NPS did all the damage themselves during the construction of their stairs and walkways.

A naturally broken section of the dog tooth spar.

Some of the passage ways were quite large.

More stairs and supporting infrastructure.

Finally, some formations worth photographing, much to the chagrin of the rangerette.

There was some flow-stone formations, but they were not very large in comparison to other caves.

A reasonable bank of flow-stone.

Flow stone over the dog tooth spar.

There was one, precisely one, bacon formation visible on the tour.  This one actually looked like a slice of bacon.

We waited a long time and drove a lot of miles for a somewhat underwhelming cave tour.  When we got above ground, we pointed the 1017 north and went through Hill City and had a great lunch.  The owner of the Desperado restaurant was totally impressed with the truck and was surfing our site before we even left our booth.  He suggested that we visit the local railroad museum to see what was there, so we followed through.  Above is one of the rolling stock inventory.

The museum had a large yard and several locos that were functional.  The museum restored the water tower and it is used for their steam engines.

A nice diesel electric loco.  Kathleen, being a train buff, checked on the availability of taking the steam train tour to Keystone and found that the train was currently on a tour.  But, she discovered that the back road to Keystone crossed the tracks about 20 times and there would be plenty of opportunities to see the steamer en-route.  So, we headed out to cross paths with the train.

At one of the grade crossings we passed this road-railer that belonged to the museum.  This truck is used as fire control for the steam engine.

The fire control team knew the location of the train with great accuracy and told us where to go.  We reached the appropriate crossing and parked the truck and waited.

We only had to wait about 5 minutes until the steamer arrived.  Since the tracks cross the road multiple times, we heard him coming miles away.  Rules dictate that the engine must "signal" at each crossing with the steam whistle.

They run the engine backward on the return trip since there is no turntable in Keystone.

Kathleen waves at the passengers on the train.

On the way  back to Deadwood, we passed this odd statuary.  The right item is some kind of Sasquatch thing, although not anatomically correct.  The smaller statue on the left is highly correct in an anatomically sense.  So correct in fact, that I elected not to show the other photos of it.  Lets just say that the sculptor's imagination got the better of himself.

From Deadwood, we headed west to see Devil's Tower.  The tower is a column of volcanic material that solidified under ground and was exposed by later erosion.  The material is similar to basalt, which forms nice columns as can be seen in the photo above.

A closeup of the columns shows the hard-edged nature of the large crystals.

We spent the night at the NPS campground at Devil's Tower.  The place was clean and mostly empty.  Next morning, we got a better view of the tower from the south side.  It is an imposing structure.

As we left on the road to the south side, the exceptional shape of the tower relative to the surrounding terrain becomes obvious.

We traveled many, many miles on dirt country roads and came upon this herd of antelope.  Given their keen eye sight and the noise of the truck's engine, I am shocked that we surprised the herd.

To underline the fact that herbivores are not that smart, the herd ran parallel to the truck's path and crossed the road in front of us several times.  I would have expected them to run radially away from our path, but they did not.

To the north, just below the Montana border, we passed huge fields of hay being harvested and dried for the winter.

This antelope buck was aware of our presence, but did not really care.  I think that he saw plenty of farm traffic on the county road and had been accustomed to vehicles.  That night, we did a side-of-the-road camp at a Forest Service camp near U.S. 12.  The camp was unremarkable, but clean and we had the place to ourselves.  Next morning, we rolled out toward Helena, MT.

Our destination was Helena, MT and our friends Ben and Krista.  We failed to make it there in one travel segment, so we elected to camp for the night at a reservoir near White Sulfur Springs close to the highway.  The place was essentially deserted, so we parked on the edge of the water.  The water was cool, but not so cold that it took your breath away.  We had a nice night, but the winds came up after dark.

To our west were a range of mountains that still had snow.  Recall that the date is early August.  We arrived in Helena the next morning and hooked up with Ben at his shop, the "Hobby Garage".  Ben has the largest RC Hobby store in the state with an impressive inventory of radio controlled toys and accessories.  We spent a couple of days with Ben and did chores.  Sadly, Krista was out of the state with the kids so we missed her.

This is an 8-wheel drive "Land Tamer" owned by the Forest Service and was spotted on a trailer at a fuel stop.  This rig has both wheels and a rear propeller to allow travel in water.  The tank contains herbicide.  Why the USFS is doing weed control is a mystery to me, but it is another likely case of the government doing things that it should not be doing with the public's money.  After some reflection, I am pretty certain that the bark beetle crisis that we have in our western forests is a direct consequence of fire suppression policy implemented by USFS.  Somehow, man thinks he can manage things better than nature can.  And in nearly every case, man's "management" actions have resulted in a catastrophe.

This is the rear of the vehicle.  The bottom assembly is the propeller that drives the rig while in the water.  The engine above is the pump motor for the sprayer.  I wonder how much we paid so these fellows could spray weed killer?

Thanks to Ben for hosting us in Helena.  We always enjoy our time with him.  We managed to meet all of our repair and maintenance objectives in Helena thanks to Ben's guidance.  We also had a couple of tasty dinners.  From Helena, we headed to Philipsburg, MT an old mining town.  We stayed in a generic RV park, but the accommodations were nice despite the winds and rain.

Tomorrow, we head west through the mountains on dirt roads toward the Missoula area. 

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2011, all rights reserved.
For your enjoyment only, not for commercial use.