Thursday June 7, 2018
We left Billings on Tuesday, and Wally Docked at the Walmart in Sheridan, Wyoming, that night. The next morning, we drove to Days End Campground in Sturgis. And yes, I know I gave them terrible reviews, but you cannot beat the price: $30 a night. Our mission for staying in Sturgis was twofold: catch up on laundry, and drive the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, something we had missed on our way to Montana due to inclement weather.
Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is a 22-mile stretch of highway that snakes through Spearfish Canyon on Highway 14A in Spearfish, South Dakota. The byway begins off I-90 in Spearfish and connects to the mouth of the canyon, ending at Cheyenne Crossing outside of Lead (pronounced Leed). The paved road lining the canyon floor is built on top of an old rail bed that dates back to 1893, when the Grand Island & Wyoming Railroad Line opened Spearfish Canyon for the first time. The engineering marvel consisted of three hundred and seventy-five curves of up and down hill climbing. The line spanned thirty-three bridges to reach Spearfish from Deadwod. Shortly after its construction, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad bought the line for $2 Million.
The canyon is a deep, but narrow gorge carved by Spearfish Creek, which parallels 14A. Early European explorers found Spearfish Creek so swift and reliable they referred to it as a river, distinguishing it from some other Black Hills streams that were mere trickles by late summer. Stories the visitors heard about the Lakota people and other native peoples spearing fish in the creek gave Spearfish its name.
Towering thousand-foot-high limestone cliffs border the highway as it winds its way through the chasm. The byway offers visitors views of pristine natural wonders, including Bridal Veil Falls, which can be seen from the roadway. The name of this 60-foot waterfall stems from the shape of the water as it cascades over the edge of the steep cliff and thinly veils the limestone and other rock layers like gossamer lace.
Not far from Bridal Veil Falls, the creek has been impounded, making a small reservoir for catch and release fishing. Once you pass the fishing area, the creek starts flowing much faster. Mid-canyon, you reach the abandoned Homestake Mining Company Hydro Electric Plant No. 2, which once helped power the Homestake Mine. The Homestake Mine was a deep underground mine founded during the Black Hills Gold Rush in 1876. Over its 125-year run, which ended in 2001, the Homestead Mine produced more than 40 million troy ounces of gold.
As Spearfish bleeds into Lead, you reach the community of Savoy, home to the Spearfish Canyon Lodge and Latchstring Restaurant. The parking lot for the Roughlock Falls trailhead is just past the lodge. The overlook to the falls is also handicap-accessible by car, utilizing a gravel road that roughly borders the trail, but we braved the heat and made the one-mile hike
The tranquil setting in a side canyon makes Roughlock Falls one of the most photographed spots in the Black Hills. The falls got its name from early pioneers who had to “rough lock” their wagon wheels by attaching a chain around the rim of a rear wheel and fastening it to the wagon reach to keep the wheels from speeding out of control on the canyon’s steep grade.
The trail to Roughlock rises and falls as it meanders through the woods. A canopy of lofty pines shades most of the path, but occasionally there is a break in the trees, affording spectacular views of the nearby craggy cliffs. Colorful wildflowers and native shrubs border the well-trodden pathway. Created by Little Spearfish Creek, the waterfall plunges off a 50-foot limestone ledge in a series of spectacular cascades. A wooden viewing notch offers spectators a fairly close-up look at the falls.
After trekking back to the car, we drove across the street to Latchstring Restaurant, the parking lot for the trailhead to Spearfish Falls. The three-quarters of a mile trail descends into the canyon at a steep incline in places to reach the 47-foot waterfall, the most impressive of the three falls in the canyon.
Spearfish Falls was one of the most popular tourist stops in the canyon in the beginning of the 19th century, when a Burlington Railroad line took passengers directly over the falls. In 1917, the waterfall was actually “turned off” as water from Spearfish Creek was diverted to the nearby hydroelectric plant that helped power operations at Homestake Gold Mine up until November of 2003.
Thankfully, once the power plant closed, the water was reverted back to the creek, restoring Spearfish Falls to its former glory.