Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I think one of the things I love about the Black Hills is that it's layered, sometimes in a contradictory way.

The first thing people think of is usually the tourism industry: Wall Drug, Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, Reptile Gardens, and more. They're things everyone tries to hit when they go, depending on who they are with and how often they go. Each one will have tons of people, will likely have kids, and will probably sell you souvenirs. There's nothing wrong with this of course - I made it to Wall Drug and drove by Mount Rushmore when I went. I always like to stop at Wall Drug, in part because there's not a lot before when driving from the east.

The next "layer" I think of is the natural one - the ones that are largely not man-made. The Beauty of Custer State Park and the leisure of driving the loop is the first thing I think of. The buffalo usually find just the right spot in the middle of the road to stop and stare at the cars.

Of course, the caves and forest are another part of this layer. Here, the crowds thin out a bit (although maybe not too much, since the cave tours sold out frequently in the summer), and you're likely to find your own place to explore. This is where you spend the afternoons and evenings when you've spent all of your money and want to enjoy the scenery.

And then there's the third part: the outskirts.

I don't know why this amazes me, but less than an hour away from the crowded parking lots of Mount Rushmore and tourist shops of Keystone are little towns that are about as authentically "Old West" as you can get. Personally, I recommend taking time on a trip like this to drive through some of the older parts of the area that don't get the usual attention. I remember vividly driving through Fairburn and Buffalo Gap with my grandparents -- both towns looking like they've withstood a few lifetimes of population surges, violent bar fights, the post office moving in, the post office moving out, and a few people who still live there who can remember most of it.

Before I hit Wall Drug (already about an hour behind where I wanted to be), I decided to drive by a little dot in the map called "Quinn." There's not much there, but as soon as I was off Interstate 90 I went from smooth pavement to mud and dirt roads - some even going through cattle yards (with the cattle staring at me as I pass through their fields) and ended up in front of this bar:

Every little town miles from anywhere should have a bar called "Two Bit."


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