A Family-Friendly and Budget-Friendly Destination

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The tunnel is a large yawning gap in the side of the mountain. Guide David Gausman leads his band of explorers—ages two to 91—into the unknown, equipped only with trust in Gausman, hard hats and the electric lights strung overhead.

This is South Dakota, the Black Hills, a gold mine.

Gausman is a good tour guide and knows how to mix facts with a little humor and historic perspective as he paint a vivid picture of the two German immigrants who mined the Big Thunder Gold Mine—originally called Gold Hill Lode—from 1892 to 1927.
“There are different types of mining: placer mining or panning where gold is retrieved from the sand and gravel of a creek, and hard-rock mining,” says Gausman. “And there are three types of hard-rock mines—open-cut mining where the earth’s surface is removed, shaft mining where a shaft goes straight down into the mine, and drift mining where the tunnel goes straight back into a hillside. Big Thunder is a drift mine.”

Gausman walks just ahead of his small band of explorers showing and explaining the different ways of mining including the use of explosives.

In the end, after 35 years of working the mine, the two men found a total of 10 ounces of gold netting them $200. The nearby Holy Terror mine discovered a pocket of gold netting its owners $1.3 million of gold.

For lucky miners—and unlucky miners—the Black Hill Gold rush began when, in 1874, General George Custer and the 7th Calvary were sent here on an expedition to see the land the government had given the Sioux Indians in the Treaty of Fort Laramie. “While camped on French Creek, gold was discovered,” Gausman says. “It was illegal to enter the Black Hills, and for a time, the government stationed soldiers around the Black Hills to try and keep miners out.”

But in 1876, after Custer and the 7th Calvary lost their lives in the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the number of miners increased, the government broke their promise and opened the Black Hills to mining and settlement.

The tour ends with an explanation of how gold is removed from ore and a lesson in panning for gold which everyone is invited to do.

Men of the Mountains
From gold mining and rock climbing to buffaloes and a historic train ride, the Black Hill offers a wide variety of out-of-the-ordinary adventures at a budget-minded price.

One must-see, and what some might say is the centerpiece of the Black Hills, is Mount Rushmore—the bigger than life statues of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt carved on the side of a mountain. Almost three million visitors, from across the country and around the world, visit the monument every year.

As sculptor Gutzon Borglum is quoted as saying, “The purpose of the memorial is to communicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States with colossal statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.”
No matter what time of year, visitors come to marvel at the carving and to learn about the birth, growth, development and the preservation of the United States. Mount Rushmore—designated a National Memorial on October 1, 1925—has become a symbol of America and freedom.

All year round there are special programs provided for guests. During the summertime there are park ranger walks and talks, and every evening a spectacular light show.

Crazy Horse Monument is another sculpture being created in the Black Hills. When complete, this will be the world’s largest sculptural undertaking; a memorial of Lakota leader Crazy Horse. Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear officially started Crazy Horse Memorial June 3, 1948.

The mission of Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation is to protect and preserve the culture, tradition and living heritage of the North American Indians. In addition to the ongoing progress of the sculpture, the foundation provides educational and cultural programming, and acts as a repository for American Indian artifacts, arts and crafts through the Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Educational & Cultural Center.

As Korczak did, his wife Ruth and members of their family continue to keep the promise of honoring all North American Indian people. That pledge that started with a simple handshake between Korczak and Chief Standing Bear is alive and well today.
1880 Train

“All aboard!” There is something thrilling about a train ride for train buffs, children and everyone in between. A ride on the 1880 Train offers a great opportunity to see the Black Hills from a different prospective and to learn the importance of rail travel to the development of the area.

The train travels between Hill City and Keystone several times a day. The two hour and fifteen minute round trip includes the narrative of an onboard tour guide offering information about landmarks along the way including the remains of Good Luck Tungsten Mine, Holy Terror Mine, Indian Cliffs and Harney Peak—the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains.

After the gold rush began in earnest, the Homestake Mine Company created the first narrow-gauge railroad in the Black Hills in 1881 to haul its cargo and the public from Lead to several mining camps. In 1885, the first standard-gauge railroad reached Buffalo Gap, Dakota Territory, and was extended on into Rapid City the next year.

The standard-gauge Burlington branch, which the 1880 Train travels on, was built in several portions between Hill City and Keystone during the central Black Hills mining boom in the 1890s.

Custer State Park
Custer State Park is a popular destination in the Black Hills. It is the second largest park in the United States, spanning 71,000 acres, and is home to several scenic roadways.

Needles Highway is known for the slender granite formations framing the scenery. The road, SD Highway 87 between Sylvan Lake and Legion Lake, winds along the mountains and through narrow granite tunnels.

After experiencing the beauty of the jagged mountains, take the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road that winds around the southern edge of the park. This 18-mile loop goes from forests to prairie grasslands. Animals often seen along the loop are bison, pronghorn, deer, elk, burros and prairie dogs. The park is home to nearly 1,300 bison, commonly called buffalo.

Completing the scenic circle is Iron Mountain Road, a 17-mile winding road with hairpin curves, pigtail bridges and three tunnels that frame Mt. Rushmore in the distance.

There are extensive hiking trails throughout the park and guests can climb the summit of Harney Peak. There are four park lodges and campgrounds. Park visitors can enjoy kayaking, canoeing and paddle boating in the mountain lakes. The park also offers horseback riding, Buffalo Safari Jeep Tours, chuck wagon suppers, gold panning demonstrations and fishing.

In 1876, as miners moved into the northern Black Hills, they came across a gulch full of dead trees and a creek full of gold; Deadwood was born. Many tourists are visiting the historic town for the first time after watching the HBO series Deadwood which chronicles the town’s early years when residents played by their own rules attracting outlaws, gamblers and gunslingers along with the miners.

Wild Bill Hickok was one of those men who came looking for fortune. But just a few short weeks after arriving, he was gunned down while holding a poker hand of aces and eights, forever after known as the Dead Man’s Hand. Calamity Jane also made a name for herself here and is buried next to Hickok in Mount Moriah Cemetery.

Main Street is lined with historic gaming halls and gift shops. Gaming halls feature Blackjack, poker and Texas Hold ‘em tables, and slots. A portion of the gaming income is put back into preserving Deadwood.

If you go:
Rapid City makes a perfect hub for vacationers. All the attractions are within easy driving distance.

The city is known as the City of Presidents. Life-size bronze statues of U.S. Presidents stand on nearly every street corner in Rapid City’s historic downtown. In front of furniture stores, hotels and banks the likenesses represent a specific time in history. With the exception of George W. Bush and Barrack Obama, every president is represented.

For more information on these and other Black Hills attractions, accommodations, restaurants and special discounts check the website


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