Sturgis 2006 Day 6: Spearfish Canyon & Deadwood

by on August 21, 2006
in Sturgis 2006

See all photos from day 6

If I had any thought that the frustrations of the previous day were going to continue for the rest of the trip, I was, happily, incorrect. We didn’t have a firm plan for Thursday until right before we went to bed Wednesday night. Garry and Shirley had planned to return to Sturgis, and Steve and I decided that we would spend the day on another scenic ride, this time through Spearfish Canyon and down to Deadwood, where we’d visit the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.spearfish canyon streamWe left Belle Fourche heading south on Hwy 85, a short 10-mile jaunt down to Spearfish. In Spearfish we picked up the Canyon Road near the east end of town and headed south. Even more than Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway, Spearfish Canyon Road showed off the unique landscape of the Black Hills: sheer, fossil-rich bluffs topped with evergreen Ponderosa and Spruce pine trees, and Spearfish Creek ambling along the side of the road with its crystal-clear mountain water. The road is a two-lane path of gentle turns and sweeping curves, always with a beautiful bluff around the bend. Again, though, because of the traffic and the unpredictable frequency of the turn-outs, it was impossible to know when a photo opportunity would present itself. We spearfish canyondid get a few very good pictures (see gallery linked above), but I also located this great website that tells about the Canyon and shows it off far better than we could capture.

We enjoyed a 14-mile cruise through the canyon down to a wide spot in the road called Savoy, where my internet guides had suggested we take a turn-off down a short gravel road to a spot where we would be able to view Roughlock Falls, a lovely waterfall featuring a moss-covered drop and a well-maintained trail for close-up viewing. (The term “roughlock” was a method used by pioneers for locking the wheels of their wagons so that they could slowly and effectively “skid” down the steep hillside in a controlled manner without overpowering the horses.) We took several pictures at the falls and along the road leading to the viewing area. A little of the hurried pace from the previous day still remained, but we managed to relax a little in spite of it. We left the Savoy Lodge area and continued on down Spearfish Canyon Road to Cheyenne Crossing, where we then picked up Highway 85 east to the small town of Lead and then into Deadwood. We parked in a city lot and walked through a narrow alleyway onto Main Street, coming out at the entrance to the Bullock Hotel and across the street from the original location of Nutall’s #10 Saloon.

deadwood, south dakota photoFires and floods were a fact of life in Deadwood’s early history, so the original #10 (named for it’s location on the original city plat map) where “the assassin Jack McCall” shot and killed Wild Bill Hickok in August, 1876 is long since gone. While the #10 relocated to a better spot up the street following an 1879 fire, in its original location is now a small tavern called the Eagle Bar which tells the story of Wild Bill’s last moments (and McCall’s subsequent trials for the killing) in an interpretive exhibit and daily re-enactment. We drank a toast to Wild Bill and browsed the exhibit, then left the Eagle Bar in search of lunch. Despite our love-to-hate relationship with Ian McShane as the sleazy and murderous Al Swearingen on HBO’s “Deadwood” TV series, The Gem today proved a little too swanky for our lunchtime needs so we had cheeseburgers and buffalo burgers across the street in Wild Bill’s Cafe. Sitting at lunch, we talked about how it was difficult to really become immersed in the history of the town when the streets were lined with gleaming motorcycles and the casinos rang with graves at boot hill of wild bill and calamity janethe notes of computerized slot machines. Still, it was interesting to note that the entire town is a National Historic District, with modern gambling funding virtually all of the restoration of the town’s buildings. After lunch we stopped in a few shops along Main Street, where I bought a couple of books that might tell us more.

After an hour or so of browsing and people-watching, we headed back to the bikes to locate Mt. Moriah Cemetery (“Boot Hill”) and the graves of Wild Bill and Martha “Calamity Jane” Cannary Burke. We didn’t have a detailed map but I had recalled seeing a sign pointing the way so we headed in that direction. It was stop-and-go up Main Street, and in fact we had to make the pass a couple of times to find the right turn. Because our waiter back at the cafe had mentioned that Mt. Moriah was set in a hillside, I knew we had found the right road when we turned a corner and the road became a steep incline. This was a bit of a challenge on the bike, especially because the top of the hill featured a sharp left with an immediate downward angle. We got the bikes parked and paid the small fee (funds used to maintain the grounds, since all burial plots have long been sold) and took the short walk to Hickok’s and Burke’s adjacent graves. The well-maintained graves are surrounded by iron and chain-link fence. We took several pictures, and I also walked a short distance to an overlook where one could get a nice photo of much of Deadwood. Other early Deadwood leaders, including Sheriff Seth Bullock and Preacher Henry Weston Smith, are also buried here.

highway outside belle fourcheWe stopped briefly in the small gift shop adjoining the cemetery and then left Mt. Moriah behind, deciding to ride Spearfish Canyon again in the return direction. Again, though the turn-out locations were unpredictable, we stopped a couple of times for photos and then cruised into Spearfish, where we picked up 85 North for the short 10-mile ride back to Belle Fourche. We took the opportunity of the remaining daylight to return to Highway 212 at the north end of town, where we rode a few miles west of town and took pictures of each other on the bikes. We got some very pretty pictures as the sun began to set, then ended the day with supper at a very good steakhouse in Belle Fourche. It was a day that peaked my interest in learning the true history of Deadwood (as opposed to the HBO version). For our last day of leisure, we would return to Sturgis for the Rat’s Hole Custom Bike Show, then (hopefully) return to our rooms early to pack for the trip home.

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