Happy Birthday Marissa! Marissa turns 9 today and we had some special things planned for her.
We pulled out of Devils Tower early – 7:45am – so that we could get to Deadwood, South Dakota, by 9:00 for some horseback riding. Stephanie drove to ensure that we would make it there on time, which we did.
If you look up the top things to do in the Deadwood area, Blacktail Horseback Riding is # 1. We were not disappointed in our decision.
The owner, Barbara Jean, put on a 2 hour trail ride and experience for just the five of us. Several times she told us she appreciated us showing up and that our kids were well disciplined. She told us numerous horror stories of customers who canceled at the last minute because they gambled all their money away in Deadwood or they were too hungover to make it. It sounds too crazy to be true but she assured us this happens again and again.
Barbara told us some actual mining stories from the 1800s. The area we rode our horses was directly over an old gold mine that we took a tour of later in the day. Gold was found in Deadwood in the 1870s and it was an immediate boom town. Barbara told a story of how desperate people from Tulsa might get to Deadwood (they would walk and it would take 4 months) and what they would eat on the way (raw mice, squirrels, worms). It was very interesting.
We stopped about halfway through the ride and got off for a photo shoot with our horses. Barbara provided the cowboy hat.
When you go horseback riding with Barbara Jean, you meet her at the bottom of the hill near her operation. She drove down to get us in her old pickup. She drove us back down following our ride, and her next reservation was waiting to be picked up. Imagine our surprise when one of the boys in this family was wearing an Oklahoma State t-shirt. The mom was wearing an OKC Thunder shirt. And to top it off, they were from Albuquerque.
We drove into Deadwood in search of ice cream. Yes, it was only 11am, but it was Marissa’s birthday so there are no rules. Or calories.
We found a shop on Main Street that sold ice cream and clothes. When we told the person serving ice cream it was Marissa’s birthday she gave us her root beer float for free. Nice!
The Eastern European gentleman who ran the clothing part of the store heard this too, and he told Marissa to pick out any pair of sunglasses she wanted for her birthday. Wow, free sunglasses too! I wish it was my birthday!
We sat down next door in an open area that was part ice cream seating and part restaurant. There was a cowboy singing songs for the crowd and telling dirty jokes. This was by far Miles’ favorite part of the trip.
Our next stop was a tour at the Broken Boot Gold Mine. This was a functional gold mine in the 1800s but it has the distinction of making more money from selling fool’s gold than real gold.
The tour lasted about a half hour and it was interesting enough. There was not only gold, and fool’s gold in the mine but loads of graphite. If you rubbed your hand on the tunnel walls on the graphite, your hand would turn black. You can ask Stephanie for the details on that.
After the tour, Marissa and Mallory “panned for gold”. Emily, our tour guide, demonstrated the process for the girls. Both girls found a few flakes of gold in their pan. Hello Retirement!
We got out of there as quick as we could and tried to make our way to Custer, South Dakota. We desperately wanted to take the same remote road between these two towns that we drove on our last trip here. But everyone we asked for directions could not give us clear directions. We ended up at the Deadwood Visitors Center for directions and the old lady working there gave us the world’s worst instructions. Thankfully, there were just enough details to get us to the road.
The road we wanted to drive follows the Mickelson Trail. This trail is 108 miles of old railroad line that is now reused as a bicycle trail. It is a gorgeous drive and 15 miles of it are on gravel roads.
There are many trailheads located along the length of the trail where people can use the restroom or fill up their water bottles. We stopped for a picnic lunch at the Dumont Trailhead.
This trailhead had an old fashioned pump for water, a vault toilet and a shelter for people to rest in the case of bad weather. Nothing was locked and everything was in pristine condition.
Marissa was not interested in anything we had to offer for lunch, so I told her the story of when I used to make my brother lunch when we were younger. I called it the “Steve Sensational Sandwich” and I put every nasty ingredient I could think of on it. Of course, my brother loved it. And now, Marissa was ready to try one.
So I put some cream cheese, lunch meat and cheeze-its on a bagel and presented it to her. She did eat most of it. Mallory was so impressed, she insisted I make her one too. Why do these sandwiches always backfire on me?
As we drove through the forest area, it was obvious the pine trees were not in good shape. There were hillside after hillside of brown pine trees instead of the vibrant green. When we checked into our campsite, we asked the owner and she said it was due to the pine beetle.
Stephanie and I put up the tent while the kids napped in the car. It was nice to get to our campsite before 7:00 so we took our time and enjoyed the hot weather and dry ground.
We drove about 15 miles into Hill City for dinner at the Bumpin’ Buffalo Grill. We ate at this restaurant on our list trip here and had great memories of it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so great this time. We did enjoy sitting on the rooftop, but the service was slow, our buffalo burgers were dry, and a cold front moved through to make it chilly.
After dinner, we had to race back to the campground to beat the rain. The sky was lit up with lightning and for some reason we had not put the fly on our tent. Thank God, we beat the rain by five minutes and got the fly on before the downpour came.
We left the wet campsite and drove to Custer in the rain to get some end-of-day ice cream at the Purple Pie Place. We pulled up to their door at 10:00 and they were trying to close down but Mallory hopped out and asked them to let us in, and they did.
Afterward, Marissa told us that it was the “best cone ever”! Definitely a good ending to a long day.