“If your dog is fat,” the old saying goes, “you aren’t getting enough exercise.” But walking the dog need not be just about a little exercise. Here are 15 cool things you can see around the Black Hills while you hike with your dog.
ABANDONED MINES. The old rail lines-turned trails are good places to see vestiges of old mines. Along the Deerfield Trail you can see the remains of the Black Tom Mine and there are traces of several mines on the Mickelson Trail. Chief among them are the White Elephant Trail, where feldspar was pulled from the ground, and the Wasp Mine, that collapsed on the rail line in 1927.
BISON. When hiking the prairie trails through the Black Hills it won’t be long until you see North America’s largest land animal. Herds that once numbered in the millions were reduced to as few as 15 animals in the 1880s before conservation efforts began. Now Custer State Park is home to more than 1,500 free-roaming bison, one of the world’s largest public bison herds. Another small herd is in Bear Butte State Park.
BRIDGES. Railroad builders used bridges to level out the rollercoaster terrain of the Black Hills. There are more than 100 wooden trestles on the Mickelson Trail alone. The largest was the Sheep Canyon Trestle, 126 feet high and 700 feet long. Therickety trestle was considered so dangerous that engineers and brakemen would walk over the bridge instead of riding the train.
COLD WAR RELICS. In Memorial Park in Rapid City stands America’s largest exhibit devoted to the Berlin Wall – double 12-foot segments of the concrete wall. On the ground on either side of the Wall are tank traps. Photos and interpretive panels tell the story of the dominant symbol of the Cold War. Memorial Park is on the Rapid City Recreation Path.
DAMS. Flood control has been a theme in the Black Hills since the 1930s. Dams across streams and rivers have spawned water recreation areas that are favorite destinations for an outing with the dog. The largest such lake in the Black Hills is the Pactola Reservoir with trails along much of its 14 miles of pine-scented shoreline. Others include the dam at Cold Brook Lake Recreation Area on the Fall River and the Cottonwood Springs Dam.
FAMOUS CABINS. The Badger Clark Historic Trail in Custer State Park starts at the former home of Charles Badger Clark, South Dakota’s first poet-laureate. Clark rook five years to build the stone-and-frame cabin and lived here for 30 years. He also laid out most of the footpath. In Wyoming, along Sand Creek, publisher Moses Annenberg built historic Ranch A, now used for meetings and classrooms. Canine hikers can view the log home at the Dugout Gulch Botanical Area.
GHOST TOWNS. Mining towns came and went very quickly in the gold rush days of the 1880s in the Black Hills. The most intact deserted town in the region is Tinton, visited on the Big Hill Trails. There is an old miner’s hall, a post office and the Black Hills Tin Company store to explore. At the Mystic Trailhead on the Mickelson Trail is theMystic Townsite, where seven buildings and 14 foundations remain from a gold mining community.
HISTORIC BUILDINGS. Hikers can check out the Bulldog Ranch on Rochford Road that was a favorite stopping point for travelers in the late 19th century. Proprietoress Sarah Anne Erbe was known as “Madame Bulldog” for two dogs she kept died up out back to dissuade chicken thieves. Another building from that era that can be inspected up close is the Kroll Meat Market and Slaughterhouse in Spearfish City Park.
LOFTY PEAKS. There are many mountaintops in the Black Hills that can be reached with your dog. Harney Peak, at 7,242 feet, is the highest and Bear Mountain (7,153 feet) is right behind. Ski enthusiasts have carved 16 miles of year-round trails at Bear Mountain. The craggy peak of Flag Mountain serves up expansive views, including a long look to the east of Reynolds Prairie, the largest of three open grasslands in the vicinity. Crow Peak may only be 5,760 feet high but what it lacks in height, it makes up in difficulty. Your reward for a grueling climb is 360-degree vistas at the summit.
LOGGING FLUMES. Water flumes served two purposes in the Black Hills: to transport logs to railheads or to move water into isolated areas for hydraulic gold-mining. The latter is best exemplified by the Rockerville Flume, that operated in the 1880s. An 11-mile trail (the flume was 20 miles long) in the Black Hills National Forest now follows the route of the wooden flume. Remnants of the Warren-Lamb flume used to float logs can still be seen along the Deerfield Trail.
MOVIE SETS. For the 1990 Oscar-winning Dances With Wolves, star/director Kevin Costner filmed the Indian winter camp was set up in Spearfish Canyon in the Black Hills National Forest; the exact spot of the final scene where Costner and Mary MacDonnell leave the tribe was once marked by signs but have long since succumbed to souvenir-hunters. The opening sequence, where Costner receives his orders at Fort Hays to travel to Fort Sedgewick, was filmed on a private ranch east of Rapid City. Two of the set pieces, the major’s house and the blacksmith shop have been moved to this tourist spot known as the Fort Hays Film Set (four miles south of Rapid City). The Sage Creek Wilderness Area in the Badlands National Park was the backdrop for the wagon trip through Sioux Indian country to Fort Sedgewick.
OLD FORTS. As you hike through Fort Meade Recreation Area you can still see stone jumps used to train horses in the old cavlary outpost. If you look closely, you may also notice some circular depressions in the hillsides created by exploding shells from artillery practice. The Old Fort Meade Cemetery is still on the grounds as well.
PRESIDENTIAL FOOTSTEPS. Calvin Coolidge became the first United States President to spend the summer west of the Mississippi River, selecting the State Game Lodge in Custer State Park for his “summer White House.” Today, the Grace Coolidge Walk-In Fishing Area is an easy three-mile walk on a dirt path along a creek to Center Lake. Earlier Theodore Roosevelt was a frequent visitor to the Black Hills and a short trail leads to Friendship Tower on Mount Roosevelt, named in his honor. Alas, dogs are not allowed on the trails at Mount Rushmore and can experience this presidential memorial only from the car.
PUBLIC ART. As you walk your dog around Belle Fourche you can see bronze statues of some of the famous rodeo performers – human and animal – that have visited town. The favorite subject in Deadwood is Wild Bill Hickok and you can see his likeness several times as you hike through the historic gaming town.
RAILROAD SOUVENIRS. Anyone can appreciate obvious reminders of the railroad age in the Black Hills like the caboose in Edgemont Park but a more discerning eye can see more fascinating relics. For instance, on the Mickelson Trail near the White Elephant Trailhead, a canine hiker can see a sign with a “W” emblazoned on it. This is one of four places in the more than 100 miles of track that engineers were instructed to blow their whistles to warn people and animals. And near a bridge trestle you can see one of the original mile marker signs made of heavy metal and painted white with a numeral that pinpointed a train’s location on the line to .01 of a mile. Only a few of these old markers remain.