Black Hills, South Dakota, July 2020

The Black Hills area, home to Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, Deadwood, Sturgis, and more, was by far the most touristy stop on this trip. Its a really pretty area with lots to see in a relatively small area, so I can see why it is popular. Normally it would be packed with tour buses, so this was probably a good year to go. The hiking and biking is excellent, and I’m told the rock climbing is exceptional.

There are a huge number of RV parks in the Black Hills region, and most looked to be full. We saw license plates from everywhere, including all the COVID hot spots (Florida, Texas, Arizona, etc.) In general everywhere we went employees were wearing masks, and customers were not. But most everything is outdoors, none of the indoor places we went were crowded, and in general the small towns felt quite empty.

There are several cute, historical towns in the badlands, each of which is competing for tourists. The town of Deadwood is like Tombstone, AZ meets Reno, NV. Lots of historical buildings turned into casinos. They also do reenactments of gunfights, as this is the town where “Wild Bill” Hickok was killed. We only spent about 2 hours in Deadwood.

We also went to Sturgis, SD, home of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle rally. The town is pretty unremarkable, and really loud, with the sound of Harley and Indian bikes everywhere. There is a really great motorcycle museum, if you are into that sort of thing. I had no idea Sears sold that many types of small motorcycles. We went to the local brew pub, which was mostly empty (great beer, terrible pizza). We also got some take out Chinese food, which had to be the worst Chinese food I’ve had in 30+ years.

This August will be the 80th anniversary of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which typically attracts about 500,000 people. They currently plan to hold the event, despite the COVID risk. WTF?!?! This years event includes concerts by Night Ranger, Great White, and 38 Special. Aren’t all of those guys in the ‘high risk group’ for COVID? (The original concert lineup included ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Willie Nelson, and REO Speedwagon, all of whom were all smart enough to cancel). Check out this photo from a few years ago. I suspect this event will end up in the news in a few weeks as a super spreader, and the people of Sturgis will regret letting this go forward. Again, WTF? I’ll be interested to see this year’s attendance numbers.

Trump is VERY popular in this part of the world. Trump hats, shirts, bumper stickers, etc were for sale everywhere, and we saw a lot of Trump flags on houses and trucks. It seemed best to avoid talking politics with anyone.

Overall western South Dakota reminds me of what it was like living in Iowa in the early 1980s. Crappy food. Crappy beer. Friendly people. Being here feels like I’ve travelled back in time 40 years, which I guess in some ways was better then, but overall, not so much. I spent some time in Sioux Falls in the 1990s, and it felt way more modern in terms of food and beverages than this area seems today. But maybe I’m going to the wrong places.

For camping in this area, we did 2 nights at a very nice, new, RV park in Custer, then Christine found an AirBNB in Sturgis for 5 nights for some alone time. I found a nice dispersed camp site outside of Lead near Spearfish Canyon. While we were in Custer a Tornado hit Spearfish Canyon, taking out 1000’s of trees. Glad we missed that.

Arrived before 8am to beat the crowds
Cathedral Spires

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