Thursday, July 10, 2008

Reminiscing about South Dakota

Thought I'd post something different for a change. Before moving to Texas in July of 2004, I lived in the Black Hills of South Dakota. If you've never been there, it's definitely worth a visit. Yeah, it's a little out of the way and kind of in the middle of nowhere, but still worth it. Mt. Rushmore is truly awesome (in the true sense of the word), not to mention the panoramic views, huge pines and rustic beauty. I miss it very much, especially my little house in Hill City. Hill City has a population of about 650. That's right...not like in 650,000, 65,000 or even 6,500...just 650. It's known as "The Heart of the Hills." My house sat on a hillside overlooking the town. (By the way, all but two of the pictures in this post were taken by my friend Paul, who lives in South Dakota. He sends me pics every now and then to revive my memories.)

But what I miss most about it is the back deck. Oh, my gosh, I loved that deck. I'd sit out there with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and listen to the wind whistle through the pines. And the sweet smell of those pines is something you never forget.

Going to the Black Hills is like stepping back in time. Life is slower and everyone is friendly and helps each other out. I had a job as a loan assistant at the local bank. One morning after a big 12-inch snowfall, I heard some noise outside. I looked out the window and there was my boss, the bank vice-president plowing my driveway. Go figure. Even though it doesn't snow in Texas, I doubt if my bank vice president (or my ex-boss) would plow my driveway if it did.

Everything is streamlined steel and glass here. It's all about wood and warmth. This is going down the road by my house into town. It's one of those towns where if you're on a road trip, you pass by and say, "Aw, isn't this a cute little town? Let's stop here for lunch."

So you drive down the main sreet. And it actually IS called Main Street.

...and find a place to eat lunch. There it is...the Hill City Cafe. Now this is what "Americana" is all about...the little diners in the small towns. Run by locals, you're not going to get Outback Steak House quality food. No way. As the sign says, you're going to get steak and shrimp for $7.95. Of course, there's no guarantee what quality that steak and shrimp is going to be, but it is $7.95 so you take what you get. The Hill City Cafe definitely has a history. The "regulars" sit at a booth near the kitchen and gossip. Don't try to sit in that's off limits. When Paul and I went there for breakfast one morning, it turns out there was a fire in the buffet table. After waiting for awhile, the volunteer fire department decided it was safe for customers to come in. We enjoyed breakfast while watching the local electrician fix the buffet table with a view similar to that of the Dan Akroyd's portrayal of the Norge refrigerator repairman from Saturday Night Live. I'm not going to go into any more details on that one. I still have visions of it.

Maybe it's just best to drive on by the Hill City Cafe.

Here's the school sign. It's worth noting that the Hill City High School is the only school in the country allowed to use "Rangers" as a name. During a forest fire many years ago, students from the high school helped to fight the fire and after that, they were known as the Rangers, with Smoky the Bear as their mascot. An honor only they can claim.

Since the Sturgis Rally is so big in the Hills, Harley-Davidson put in a little store in Hill City a couple years ago.

Out of Hill City into the Hills. Iron Mountain Road, near Mount Rushmore, is a twisty-windy road through the hills. You go through little tunnels dug into the hills which give a pretty cool photo op to Mt. Rushmore.

Then you come to the "Pigtail Bridges" which were built in the 1930s to allow the road to negotiate sharp changes in topography in limited space, having the road crossover itself.

Then we get to Keystone, which is actually the location of Mt. Rushmore...well, just outside of it. Remember "North by Northwest" with Cary Grant? Yep...this is where it was filmed.

If you go around the back of Mt. Rushmore towards Hill City, you get this view of George. Kind of a different perspective that most people don't know about.

If you think Hill City is small, well Keystone is half that size. These towns thrive on tourism during the summer. When winter comes around, they roll up the sidewalks and become ghost towns. Kind of an eerie feeling. You can tell from the pictures that they sell themselves on the "old west" attraction. There's a lot of history here.

This place is just a couple miles northeast of Hill City on the way to Rapid City. It's actually pretty famous for being the "ultimate Christmas store." You can get any type of Christmas decoration ever made at this place...and it's open year-round. Definitely worth a stop if you get out that way. I still have some ornaments that I bought there that I take very special care of. (And, yes, Paul likes getting his bike in the photo ops as well.)

This is a sad one. My son used to work at a restaurant in Hill City called the Chute Rooster. He enjoyed working with the people there, one of which was a drifter named Torb. About six months after we moved to Texas, we found out that Torb had been hit by a car while walking home one night. This is his gravestone. There are a lot of people that come and go in the Black Hills. It's hard to make a living there...wages are very low. People come in to start a business...many of which fail. And yet, it is one of the most beautiful areas in the country I've ever lived in.

I'm sorry that I wasn't more into photography when I lived there. I did get some shots after a snowfall one morning. I have them hanging on my wall to remind me of the beauty of nature I don't see anymore.


Paul said...

I've ridden motorcycles all over this country, and parts of Europe. You'd be hard-pressed to find any place better than the Black Mountain Hills of Dakota....where all the men are good looking, all the women are strong, and all the children are above average.

carl/debbie said...

some of the pic's look like Norman Rocwell, others like a Hallmark card. and yet others look like they came from the movie Kalifornia(yikes)
great reporting Deb. carl

Isla Deb said...

Thanks, Carl. I can't take credit for the photos this time but I will pass along the compliment. Now I just have to find the next destination!

Jill said...

Wow Deb- this reminds me exactly of where Erik and I just spent the week...the Methow Valley in Eastern Washington...small towns, slow vibe, and beautiful lucky you were to have lived there. We were trying to scheme how we could move to the Methow :)

Isla Deb said...'s definitely different. Some good things, some not so good. Nonetheless, I miss it. Sounds like you had a great time "roughing it."

Jeffrey said...

Wow, brings back memories... you're going to have to go back there soon.