Saturday, July 9, 2011

Blue Skies and Red Rock: South Dakota Trip, Part 4

I’ll get to some red meat from an old-school steakhouse at the end of this, my final South Dakota vacation post. Meanwhile, this post is dedicated to "Moi and the Blogettes," who I hope are enjoying a fine blog summit in magnificent red rock country farther south than where I vacationed last month.
This was my day to explore the northern part of the Black Hills, and after studying my maps, I felt a strong tug to head across the border into Wyoming. From my Rapid City motel, I took Hwy. 44, then 385 toward the Deadwood and Lead, then followed 14A up Spearfish Canyon. There’s a series of falls along 14A (also known as Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway). Saw two of the falls, and somehow missed two. Oh, well, that’s what happens when you don’t plan your trip to a T, just follow the road and look for signs.
Near Savoy, a short dirt road and an easy walk take you to Roughlock falls.

A little farther north I pulled off to snap a photo of Bridal Veil Falls, no easy feat without a tripod, given the crazy wind that morning that had the aspen blowing sideways, not to mention dirt roads whipping up a frenzy of dust.

I arrived in the town of Spearfish before noon, and by that time I was a woman on a mission. I wanted to see Devil’s Tower, in eastern Wyoming, up close and personal. During my family’s cross-country trip in 1970 along this route, we stopped there early one morning. We could see this natural wonder jutting up into clear blue sky from miles away, and the surrounding red rock gleamed in the morning light. Having gotten my first taste of red rock in the Badlands just a day or two before, I was a sulky 13-year-old when Dad said we didn’t have time to hike around the base of Devil’s Tower – also known as Bear Lodge. We had a long travel day ahead of us in 1970 that would take us across the entire state of Wyoming to Yellowstone, which would reveal yet more wonders to my young eyes. This time, however, I was in charge of my own itinerary, and I had until nightfall to get back to my cabin near the Badlands. I was going to take that hike around Devil’s Tower!

When I talked to my dad after this trip, he asked how long the trail around the Devil’s Tower took me. About an hour – just as he had estimated. We didn’t have that extra hour to spare on our family trip, but it was a memorable hour I’m glad I got back 41 years later.

“Big Wyoming” is very big indeed, and I was reminded of the state’s motto as I wound my way back to I-90, detouring west to avoid a road closure, on sparsely traveled roads across the prairie. Some 100 miles east, I returned to a comfy cabin in Wall, and watched a big South Dakota sky as the sun set and a thunderstorm rolled across the prairie.
The following day was my chance to see the Badlands in sunshine. This time I did manage to spot a back road recommended on Tripadvisor, Sage Creek Road (between Frontier Cabins and the “official” entrance to Badlands National Park). At first it looked like just a paved rural road. Then a sign suggested I should follow it left, where it eventually led me to this dirt road.

More prairie, with glimpses of both free-ranging buffalo and the Badlands in the distance.

I reached the western edge of the park on that road, then doubled back east toward the more traveled, and paved, parts of the Badlands. I had dutifully paid for my 7-day pass the Monday before, and had it at the ready, expecting to go through an “official” entrance for the Badlands. But somehow I did not encounter one on my route. I did, however, encounter sights like these, which still leave me awestruck, even if my mid-day photos don’t do justice to the light, the rock, the magnificence of this place.
The Badlands remind me of the Grand Canyon not only for the geological formations but also because photographs simply cannot capture this place. My limited photog skills notwithstanding, if you don’t see this place with your own eyes, it’s hard to understand the power and beauty of this place. But that didn't stop me from taking more photos, which you can find on my facebook page.

Near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, I attempted a bit of hiking, on the Notch, Window, and Door Trails. I'm guessing this is explains how Notch Trail got its name.

Despite this sign near the trail entrance, fortunately the only rattlesnake I encountered in the Badlands was this dead one on Sage Creek Road.
Snakes didn't deter me, but when I came upon this steep set of stairs, I decided to turn back. If there'd been a handrail, I might have persevered to see the views from above. But without something to hold on to, I could easily imagine my klutzy self losing my balance, landing in a pile of hurt, and proving true my friend Cindie's worries about me taking this trip alone.

Alas, I was near the end of the Badlands loop road, and it was time to get back on I-90 and begin my trip home. Fortunately, I eased into my return trip with a stop in Mitchell, SD (home to the Corn Palace) and a fine dinner at Chef Louie's.
Chef Louie's Steak House is so old school it doesn't have a website. I wouldn't have known about it if my sister hadn't recommended it as having the best steak she ever ate after her trip to South Dakota last summer. That's high praise when you come from Nebraska and Iowa! It's less than a mile from I-90, and that "Welcome as Your Are" part of their vintage neon sign is no lie.

I brought my appetite with me that night, and was glad I did. First up, great bread and butter.
Next, from the appetizer page of the menu, I couldn't help myself and chose escargot with melted gouda and some fine crispy bread.

Entrees come with soup or salad and a side, so I settled in for the house salad with blue cheese.

And because I'm always a sucker for Bearnaise and asparagus, I opted for the Filet Oscar.

Chef Louie's is actually a very unpretentious place, and in addition to having a delicious meal after a long day, one of the things I most appreciated was the service, which was both welcoming and efficient. I chatted with the manager, who was kind enough to give me a copy of the menu to pass along to a co-worker who is organizing a trip to South Dakota in September. One of the things he said to me was: "We just try to offer good old Midwestern hospitality." When I told him I was born in Nebraska, he nodded and said, "OK, then you get it."

Because one can never get too much of a good thing, I of course had to indulge in dessert, this lovely creme brulee.

Hope you're enjoying your summer, wherever you are! And please stop back for an announcement in the next few days . . .


Roses said...


Just wow.

moi said...

How cool of you to dedicate this post to us. The Bloggettes and I had a wonderful time!

So happy that you found great food in Spearfish. Now I know where to go. And isn't Devil's Tower something?

Sharon Rudd said...

Roses, yep, those landscapes leave me speachless too :)

Moi, glad to hear you had a fine summit with Bloggettes. Were your collective ears burning when I posted this in your honor?:)

P.S. After a glitch yesterday, the extra photos of Devil's Tower and the Badlands are now up on my eggy fb page:

LaDivaCucina said...

Fabulous photos, Eggy, we sure do live in a diversely beautiful country, don't we? I'm so glad you got to hike around the Devil's Tower after so long! I'm also glad you didn't run into any live rattlesnakes (that you know about, that is!) haha! Those stairs would be easy enough to climb up but down is where I'd freak out, you were wise not to risk it! What a lovely holiday you have and so brave to travel alone (which I think opens one up to more people and experiences!) xo

LaDivaCucina said...

Oh and the Chef Louie sign and food is FABULOUS!

Caroline said...

It looks like you had a great time in South Dakota! My family has a trip planned the beginning of June and I stumbled across your blog looking for information. I have added several things to my itinerary so thank you for the great write up!