Wonders of The Black Hills and Badlands
The western reaches of South Dakota combine rolling prairie, jagged Badlands spires and the soaring, pine-draped Black Hills in a magnificent, ever-changing landscape. Once, the vast region was the domain of the Sioux nation, and more than 30,000 members of the tribe still call the area home.
This 270-mile route starts in Badlands National Park, just off I-90 about 50 miles east of Rapid City, which is the area's largest community and the gateway to this region. You travel along back roads through the preserve's lunarlike landscape. Farther west, byways pierce hills that appear black from a distance. The combination of the deep shadows and pine forests that blend in the mountains' high reaches gave the Black Hills their name.
In the 1870s, the cry of "Gold!" brought would-be prospectors stampeding to the hills. They established towns such as Deadwood and Lead, which retain the character of those wild days. Today, speculators still hope to hit it big in Deadwood's casinos. Visitors also can view Victorian-style homes perched in the hillsides, or descend into a shaft to see how miners extracted the precious metal.
You'll discover other manmade wonders that draw visitors from around the world: the colossal presidential faces at Mount Rushmore, as well as Crazy Horse monument, still a work in progress after 50 years. In Custer State Park, visitors settle into lodges and cabins before they hike mountain trails or try their luck fishing in tranquil Sylvan Lake.
The true riches of the Black Hills and Badlands region still belong to Mother Nature: meeting a big buffalo face to face, soaking in the soothing mineral waters at the town of Hot Springs or stopping beside a glistening falls in Spearfish Canyon. But they're all yours to share.