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October 25, 2012

Black Hills of South Dakota

McALESTER — I have never been on a drive more beautiful than Needles Highway on the southern edge of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

One of several scenic roadways leading through the Black Hills, Needles Highway, along with Wildlife Loop Road and Iron Mountain Road, winds through pine-spruce forests, meadows, mountains and pinnacles of granite. The land is populated by bison, pronghorn deer and prairie dogs. It is simply stunning, mesmerizing, and not to be missed.

There is one thing to beware of on these scenic highways, the tunnels are as small as 10’’8” high and 8’7” wide. They are not built for large motor coaches or motorhomes.

Sylvan Lake located along Needles Highway is gorgeous. Our group stopped for a quick walk and photo op and was amazed by the pristine beauty of our surroundings. There were fishermen, joggers, hikers, old and young alike love Sylvan Lake and you will too.

Custer State Park is home to one of the largest bison herds in America. This 71,000 acre park features fabulous scenery, fishing, swimming hiking, camping and four outstanding resorts in must-see settings.

Custer City is a must see. They say the popular refrain “Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play, where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day,” could have been written about Custer, South Dakota.  

Surrounded by millions of acres of the Black Hills National Forest, Custer has three parks, balls fields, horseshoe pits, volleyball and tennis courts, a community swimming pool, a public nine-hole golf course, a disc golf course, a skateboard park and is mere minutes away from the above mentioned Sylvan Lake. With a population of just over 2,000, Custer is a little piece of paradise.

Custer is home to many nice hotels, and even has a new 550 seat theater featuring a magic show that is quite entertaining.

Jewel Cave National Monument is the second longest cave in the world with over 160 miles of charted and mapped passages. Access is available only by ranger guided tours, where guests visit underground chambers decorated with calcite, nailhead and dogtooth spar crystals and other speleothems such as draperies, flowstone and stalactites.

Deadwood. What can I say about Deadwood, a place steeped in history and trying desperately to hang on to its authenticity? The Days of ’76 Museum is dedicated to retaining the historical story of Deadwood, and is certainly worth an hour or two of your time during your visit. The Adams House Museum is another must see, as is the Mount Moriah Cemetery, where Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are buried next to each other.

We opted for a street trolley tour that was driven by one of the most knowledgeable and entertaining men I ever met. If all of the streetcar drivers in Deadwood are anything like him, you are sure to learn a lot of interesting facts about Deadwood and have a jolly good time in the process.

Don’t’ miss Saloon #10 in Deadwood, where Hickok was shot and killed. Actually-he was killed in the old Saloon #10 just down the street, the one that is now open to the public is the new and improved Saloon #10 completed with a wide array of antiques, Old West memorabilia, and the chair Wild Bill was sitting in when he was murdered.

There are casinos at every turn in Deadwood, and several very nice hotels and restaurants as well. It’s a great place for at least one night during your trip.

For rugged natural beauty, nothing compares to Spearfish Lodge. Deep in the heart of one of the most breathtaking, beautiful canyons in the world, nestled alongside lofty pines and spectacular cliffs, you will find Spearfish Canyon Lodge. Built in the style of old world lodges, this lodge provides luxury accommodations along with both winter and summer activities sure to please any family. We can’t wait to return to Spearfish Canyon Lodge during the winter months and ride snowmobiles on over 300 miles of trails.

The Black Hills of South Dakota are beautiful, pristine, and worth several days of your time during your South Dakota vacation, coming up soon I hope.

Joy Gawf-Crutchfield is the owner of The Joy of Travel travel agency. For more information visit or contact her at or 918-339-4805. See her pictures of South Dakota at

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