Remember that time you booked the trip of a lifetime to Thailand and a pandemic shut down the entire planet, except for the Trump Kool-Aid drinking South Dakota part and you decided to check out camping in another state instead? I mean, the Black Hills are sort of like Thailand. Except for literally everything. But 2020 was a bitch and at that point, South Dakota was pretending like all was well (before they led the nation in Covid-19 deaths) so we packed up and headed northeast into the unknown.
The drive from Denver is reasonable and we saw a lot of Wyoming-esque landscapes. Rolling hills dotted with America’s fastest land animal, the pronghorn antelope went on for hours until we gained elevation into an island of towering ponderosa pines and into the Black Hills. We had reserved a spot at Grizzly Creek Campground and had a sweet spot right at the end along the aptly named Grizzly Creek, which I suspected held some sort of cold water fish.
The campground is very close to Mt. Rushmore, our most blatant slap in the face to Native Americans imaginable, so there is a bit of traffic on the road and oddly in the air as well. It seems that ogling the presidents towering over the landscape isn’t cool enough so you can buy a helicopter ride to examine their scalps as well. The choppers flew over often enough we stopped noticing them. The campground itself is very clean and green and not large enough for anything larger than a car so it keeps all the RV folks at bay.
Custer State Park (seriously, we can’t change the name?) is just down the road so we drove through extremely thick fog in what I assume was beautiful landscape with sweeping vistas, but all we saw was the forest through the fog until we were lower in the valleys. Fog, to me, is rare enough that it is beautiful and mysterious all in itself, but adding a narrow winding strip of road with eye of the needle narrow tunnels, the drive was incredible, and probably completely different on a sunny day.
Sylvan Lake in the settling fog leaned toward the eerie, yet serene. It was worth hiking all the way around the lake and exploring the towering rock formations some with spots of chalk from the rock climbers that were attracted to them.
The Black Hills hold some of the most beautiful scenery in the lower 48, yet if you are just bored of natural beauty, you can always find an amusement park or t-shirt shop (currently with discounted Trump on the back of a Tyrannosaurus Rex shooting machine guns shirts). And Mt. Rushmore, of course, is there and it’s impossible to miss. Crazy Horse is also down the road as a rebuttal, and will be more slightly more representative of our nation’s struggle once finished. But back at camp away from the tacky little towns and desecrated mountains is where we enjoyed most of our time. Cutting wood, hiking through unfamiliar forests, and casting dry flies.
Fiddle ferns unfurled their spindly tentacles along the creek between Ponderosas so tall it seemed they had never seen a forest fire. Nobody else fished the tiny creek because it was congested with growth and the fish were too small for poachers to eat. I strung up my nimble 3 weight with a size 16 Yellow Sally and caught brook trout every day that were longer than my hand and beautifully spotted, and wild. I would sneak over to the creek each night after I poured myself a glass of Arcola Whiskey just to watch them rise.