Every summer, 605 buckles up into the almighty Jeep Wrangler, (lightly) arguing over whether to play EDM music or the Tron: Legacy soundtrack, and heads somewhere in our great state to explore. Realizing the majority of us had never been through Spearfish Canyon, we decided it was time to change that. And after being splashed and caked with mud, discovering that goat cheese and blueberry flavors mix impressively well as ice cream, and conquering a fear of heights (and testing our pride) – we’re very glad we did.
Our full time team now consists of a trio – publisher Alana Snyder (me), director of sales and marketing John Snyder, and art director Liz Painter. Timing out perfectly, we had meetings and a news appearance in Rapid City (what’s up, KOTA Territory News), so we went right from work to the fun/vacation work.
Making a pit stop for bratwursts and other German goodness at The Sled Haus in Lead, we kept west on Us Highway 14a (which turns into Us Highway 85), and drove 200 yards past the country-cozy Cheyenne Crossing until we saw the wooden, campground-like sign for Wickiup Village Cabins on the right. As we slowly pulled through the self-explanatory cabin village, we saw groups grilling outside at picnic tables, people walking along Spearfish Creek, and we passed a woman waving from a golf cart.
Manager Starla Heller handed us our key and gave us a tour of our three-bedroom cabin. Each of the 20 cabins has their own name, as they’re all unique. Cabins are available for two, four, or six people.
“We call all of them ‘rustic modernized,’ because we upgraded them,” explained Heller. “They used to just have wood-burning stoves inside, no bathrooms, and a shower house.”
Now they all have bathrooms, kitchens, and many have smart TVs. One of the cabins that “goes fast” is right on the creek and has a screened-in porch and hot tub.
“We cater to people who want to camp, but they still want all of those luxuries of home,” she said. “They’re like me… I like to camp, but I need a bathroom, dangit!”
The village, which works for reunions, weddings (some show up and elope on one of their beautiful bridges), or simple getaways, is celebrating 80 years this year. The latest owners, Les and Jackie Wolff, have owned it for 11 years and live on the property. Heller, who has been there for three years, explained how close they are with visitors, and that she loves to help plan her “campers’” trips over the phone before they get there if they have questions.
“I actually get more holiday cards and gifts from my campers than from my friends,” she laughed.
Before calling over Jackie and Les to introduce them, she took us by the creek and explained that attendees can use the community fire pit and picnic shelter and can fish and rent tubes.
“I get high-fives from parents at night, because their kids are pooped,” she said. “Last year I had nine adults rent tubes for a reunion, and they were floating with their beers and margaritas.”
We said hello to the owners – who were the golf cart drivers – before we went for a beer nearby at Recreational Springs Resort (which we would be returning to in the a.m.).
When we returned, Les was chatting it up with a group of fishermen, who stay annually. After mentioning we were hoping to have a bon fire, Les and Jeremy (one of the fishermen whose last name I didn’t catch), jolted to work, grabbing firewood in the dark and quickly stoking a fire for us.
It was like an old Western movie, with canned beer around the fire, talking to strangers who’d become fast friends. We were genuinely depressed when we found out we were missing the fishermen’s goodbye BBQ by one day.
ON THE TRAILS
We said our goodbyes to Les, Jackie, and Starla and were already in talks to make a return trip to the place that felt like home away from home. We took the (very) short drive to Cheyenne Crossing. The quaint tourist shop is also a restaurant. I later found it has been a landmark since 1878 when the Deadwood-Cheyenne stagecoach stopped there on its regular route to and from Cheyenne, Wyoming and Deadwood, South Dakota. The café was added in the 1930s, and the newer, larger facility opened in 1960 after a fire destroyed the original the year before.
Priding themselves on “old-fashioned hospitality and down home cooking,” we were stoked for their breakfast. I ordered the housemade Sourdough Pancakes with an egg and a side of sausage. Tasting like it came right from the campgrounds (in a delicious way), and expanding out the width of the entire plate, I inhaled it. We also dabbled with the table games (and Liz solved the marble puzzle in 60 seconds – kudos again).
Making our way back to Recreational Springs Resort (a.k.a. Rec Springs) for a UTV ride, we found out there were some issues with a UTV, and the team wouldn’t be back to ride with us and rent them out for at least 30 minutes. We got all checked in and wrote our life away (just kidding … kind of) and grabbed a much needed cup of coffee after our bon fire.
Rentals manager Daren Nattress and owners Anita Sandberg and Will Chamley (and son Charlie Chamley) were all accounted for and ready to go, so we all were fitted for helmets, put on our proper eyewear, and were off down the highway. I road with Nattress, luckily, and Liz road with John as the driver.
After 5-10 minutes, we turned onto a trail at what felt like high speeds. I realized I stopped breathing for a few minutes, because you’re literally in the Hills. It felt like we were barely making it through between the 80-foot spruce trees. As I typed my notes about it, a branch came into the UTV and smacked my helmet. The irony wasn’t lost on me.
The first stop was the summit of Terry Peak – the second highest peak in the Black Hills (the first being Black Elk Peak – formerly Harney Peak). Nattress took us up to the observation deck and told us you can see five states from there.
“On a clear day you can see Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana,” he said, as he pointed.
Walking back down the stairs after taking in the breathtaking views (I lost a lot of breath that day), Sandberg told me this is their third year of rentals. They have 12 UTV RZRs (we drove the brand new RZR 900 with two, four, and eight-seaters available), and have 30 snowmobiles for the winter.
While they can’t give guided tours, they can help you plan your own.
“We’re fortunate to have Daren, because he’s so familiar with the local places. If you say you want to ride for two hours, for example, he can suggest places, spots of interest, and mark them for you on the trail map,” she said.
Liz switched to driver at, unbeknownst to her, the worst time. The way down the trail was insanely steep, with a trail made completely of rocks. When I asked Nattress if this was one he would recommend to novice riders, he laughed, “Oh, no. If I were to rate this, I would rate it at expert level.”
Liz and the rest of us made it, and we continued through the winding roads, overlooked canyons (where I finally got the courage to take the wheel), and muddy puddles. It was cute at first, but then it began to rain. I take that back – it began to pour. Liz had swapped into my UTV to keep me calm as I got used to driving (which ended up being a blast), and we were “old lady tavern cackling” as we soon were drenched from the deep puddles. We didn’t care anymore and just booked it through them, dousing us.
After stopping to (briefly) look at the gorgeous Annie Creek Falls, we high-tailed it out of there, as it was downpouring at that point. Driving down the highway back to Rec Springs, we were screaming bloody murder as much as we were laughing. Since this UTV only had half a windshield, we were getting hammered with large raindrops, which felt like knives stabbing our faces.
Those 10 minutes felt like a lifetime. Once we arrived back, we changed clothes, thanked our amazing hosts, and headed to Spearfish to warm up.
A CHANCE TO WARM UP
Since we love Harriet & Oak in Rapid City, we had to stop by one of owner Aaron Neiman’s two establishments in Spearfish, Blackbird Espresso. It had the staples: great coffee, homemade poptarts and other treats (Liz wouldn’t shut up about the chocolate chip cookie she ate), and thoughtful hand-stamped marketing touches (is it weird that I’m obsessed that most of Neiman’s businesses have free lemon water?).
Charged by caffeine, and thawed out from the coffee’s heat, we headed to lunch at Dough Trader Pizza. The Bell family has owned the building since the 1950s, and I didn’t realize I was speaking to the Kristen Bell, who told me to call her “K Bell” after chatting for a few minutes. She was super chill and so easy to talk to.
The Italian restaurant makes their sourdough crust fresh daily from an 1880 sourdough starter, and they have been named “One of the Midwest’s Best Pizzerias” by Midwest Living. Needless to say, we were jazzed to be there.
After ordering a craft beer and some wine, we let Bell pick the menu. Her amazing team brought us one of their gourmet, specialty pizzas – the Betty Rizzo. The beauty, served on a high platter for room and convenience, had Alfredo sauce, a cheese blend, garlic, grande pepperoni, Roma tomatoes, purple onions, basil, and a balsamic glaze. The glaze … the beautiful, beautiful glaze.
On the healthier side, we had the chance to try the Epic Kale salad with kale, rainbow quinoa, purple onion, cherry tomato, Parmesan, and lemon with homemade creamy ginger chive dressing. Trying to fight being full, we also had the Bacon Beets Goat salad, with spring greens, purple onion, cherry tomato, roasted beets, goat cheese, candied bacon, and homemade sweet ‘n’ savory dressing.
I can’t wait to go back and try even more pizza options, and I’ll pretend I’ll try more salad (but that pizza).
Did you think we were full? You’re right! But we still needed local craft beer! We waddled on over to Crow Peak Brewing Company to say hi to co-owner and head brewer Jeff Drumm. He gave us a tour in the back, and mentioned they’re looking to expand their production side soon. We ordered a few beers and enjoyed them outside.
Wishing we could hang out with Drumm longer for one more, we needed to get back into the canyon to check in to Spearfish Canyon Lodge.
FISHING FOR A GOOD EVENING
When you drive up to Spearfish Canyon Lodge, it’s a moment. The serene backdrop of the Hills with the enchanting lodge alongside Spearfish Creek was like a painting or a postcard of something that didn’t seem real.
We checked into the Custer Suite, which had photos going along with the theme, a fireplace, a comfy futon, and two folded robes on the bed for the hot tubs with Dakota the Bear (stuffed) atop them greeting us.
Walking back to the epic lobby with the renowned 40-foot fireplace, we met up with maintenance supervisor Mark Gouldner to give us tips on fly-fishing. Spearfish Canyon Lodge offers packages for snowmobiling in the winter and fly-fishing in the warmer months, and also now offers UTV packages.
The fly-fishing package includes two-night’s lodging, a fishing license for two (one-day licenses), a cocktail for two, and breakfast for two at the Latchstring Inn. It’s steps away from the entrance to fish for mountain suckers, long-nose suckers, rainbow, brook, and brown trout.
Luckily we didn’t actually have bait, because – while Liz excelled – I was rough (roll casting was a challenge for me). Gouldner was so patient, and tried to help me as best as he could. I’m up for the challenge again when I’m back.
We headed back into Spearfish for dinner at Killian’s Food & Drink. While it could sound Irish, it shares its name with the co-owner Nick Caton’s son. The modern, fresh restaurant just finished a remodel as of May 2.
The eclectic menu (think Frog Legs, Sashimi Nachos, and Lamb Toast) seemed to have a little of everything, so it was right on the nose when the “about” portion said it was “an eclectic little drinking hole focused on craft beer and craft food.” It also says, which I now can attest to, that they pride themselves with blending “old” and “new,” from classic French cooking techniques to gluten free, farm to table entrees and sides.
“We cook everything from scratch, so it was really easy to take that leap,” said Caton of their menu freedom. “Vegetarian? No problem. Gluten free? No problem.”
First up were the Brussel Sprouts, Bacon, and Goat Cheese. Confession: I’ve never tried brussel sprouts, and this was the best introduction. Second up was the Gouda Jalapeno. This flavorful twist on a burger had house-pickled jalapenos, gouda cheese, and jalapeno aioli. Talk about a good burn! My bratwurst tour continued with the Banger ‘n’ Mashed, which had a grilled bratwurst on mashed potatoes, with braised cabbage, and au jus. The star, for me, was Funk’s Salmon, which is in memory of late artist Shawn Funk*.
A stop at Killian’s is always special, since you never know exactly what will be on the ever-evolving menu. And that’s a good thing.
“The key is to keep people guessing and keep people coming back,” said Caton.
Back to the Canyon we went, and we bellied up to the bar at our lodging. We sat next to a brother and sister in their 30s who always wanted to come to the area, and had taken a one-way ticket to Wyoming to start at Yellowstone and work their way through South Dakota along the (long) way home. Unprompted, we gave them our two cents on what they should stop at, which – looking back –was unrealistic.
RISING TO THE CHALLENGE
Exhausted from the previous day, we rose around 6:30 a.m. to check out and head towards our old friend, Cheyenne Crossing, to meet Will Buckman to go rock climbing. He was taking us as a friend, but on a normal day, he is a certified instructor with over 10 years of experience and can guide throughout the Black Hills.
“Dude, you have to try their burrito,” he said as he sat down to let us finish our meals (see Cheyenne Crossing tip).
We wrapped up and followed Buckman to a parking lot, where he pulled out a tub of rock climbing shoes. Liz (and I … but I didn’t say anything) is leery/terrified of heights, so our stomachs began to turn as we tried on sizes.
To ensure it didn’t mess with the purpose – to grip on the rock – we used a caribiner to clip them to our backpacks and keep them off the ground. “This is a short but steep hike,” warned Buckman.
He wasn’t kidding about the steep part. We arrived to the summit Sylvester’s Sidewalk, and Buckman started showing us how to get into our harnesses and how to calm ourselves. “While it’s physical, it’s also very mental,” he said. “It’s like chess or checkers, where you’re always strategizing.”
Liz, the most anxious, was volunteered to be the belayer. This keeps a climber from falling too far by using friction on the rope, including the rope, anchors, a belay device, and the actual belayer. I was third hand to help hold the rope in case she panicked, since she had never done it before.
Buckman was our lead climber, who goes first without support at the beginning and clips rope to bolts, and rappels down when he’s finished. He made it look like a cakewalk, and I swear at one point he slithered to one side of the rock.
John nearly reached the top his first go. I, on the other hand, used my chalk bag several times on my sweaty hands, and could never find the right ledge or grip. Everyone cheered me on, though, and Buckman had the great tip to always extend my legs completely to gain strength, and to have the chance to find somewhere to grip.
I almost got halfway, and was very proud of myself (even though Buckman gave me three to four more chances to keep going after falling/slamming against the rock to keep going).
On our hike back, we stopped at Pakistani. For background, there is the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS). The Class 5 portion (5.0 to 5.15) is typically rock climbing (others are walks, hikes, etc. in the United States and Canada). We found out Sylvester’s Sidewalk was a 5.7 and Pakistani was a 5.9**. Buckman gave it a (successful) whirl, and John got past halfway his first try. Of course.
As we hiked back to our cars, Buckman said, “This is what I love to do, to show people how rad the Black Hills are from the end of a rope.”
We bid adieu in the same parking lot, and Liz made plans to hopefully do more climbs with him in the next year in Custer, which I’m also very interested in.
A SWEET ENDING
We swung back into town and stopped by High Mountain Outfitters, since that is where Buckman also works and is recommended for climbs (his individual business is Buck Wild Climbing Guides). After checking out their outdoor essentials and grabbing some t-shirts and stickers, we went next door to the Leones’ Creamery.
People said, “You can’t miss Leones’,” and they weren’t just saying that. The adorable shop has “Scoop it Forward,” where you can “treat a friend anonymously” and buy them however many scoop, and it goes on a chalkboard. The flavors of the day were Vanilla Bean, Coffee & Cookies, Piña Colada, Dark Chocolate, Ginger Chocolate Chunk, Toasted Almost Chip, Blueberry Goat’s Cheese, and Lemon Poppy Seed (vegan). To try something new, I did a scoop of Lemon Poppy Seed and Blueberry Goat’s Cheese in a waffle cone. And you know what … it all worked.
Since we were only 17 miles from Belle Fourche, we kept driving and went to find the Geographic Center of the Nation. The monument is located in Belle Fourche (definitely worth checking out), but we wanted to see the actual center that is technically on private property. Off we went (21 miles) from Belle Fourche to Butte County along Us Highway 21, which was declared as the center of the nation in 1959.
As you pull up, there is a wooden fence with a handwritten sign that says, “Center of the Nation.” We walked on through the open fence, and there is a lone wind-tattered American flag. We celebrated with a group photo taken by Minneapolis brothers, who pulled up their camper and were also checking it out. It was a worth the drive.
And there you have it. Another successful 605 road trip. Tell us about yours with the hashtag #605roadtrip, and see you on the interstate! Safe travels, everyone!
For more Spearfish ideas, visit visitspearfish.com.
605 ROAD TRIP GUIDE
Like where we went? Check it out yourself!
Wickiup Village Cabins
Buck Wild Climbing Guides
High Mountain Outfitters
Spearfish Canyon Lodge
1 (877) 975-6343
Crow Peak Brewing Company
Killian’s Food & Drink
Dough Trader Pizza
Recreational Springs Resort