Today’s adventures took us back in time via a Steam Engine Train Ride through the beautiful area of the Black Hills National Forest in western South Dakota.
We got an up close view of how a steam engine operates. And we also learned how each series of train whistles indicates different messages from the train conductor to the engineer.
But the most impressive part of the train ride from Hill City to Keystone, was the history and scenery among us.
The History of the Steam Engine Train Ride
You may be wondering if this steam train ride was solely generated from the tourism industry of Mt. Rushmore.
Although it does allow those that are visiting the Black Hills National Forest region to get within 3 miles of the famous Mt. Rushmore sculpture, the train served a more important purpose when it was first established in 1879.
The Black Hills mining boom hit in 1874. Gold was discovered in the area and the area become a popular site for several mining companies.
Then in 1879, the first steam engines were brought in by bull teams. And by the mid 1880’s there were several mining companies that had built single track railroads through the Black Hills area.
This was the only way that they could haul cargo and people up the steep embankments to the mining camps.
And today, you can enjoy a scenic steam train ride from Hill City to/from Keystone South Dakota. Although, these are the not the exact same tracks, the same path has been used since the 1890’s.
The Railway Scenery
As we waited to board the train, we got an up close look at the steam engine that would pull us from Hill City to Keystone.
We learned that the engine is powered by recycled motor oil and water. And the conductor that was controlling the steam engine train even dressed the part by wearing the traditional striped bibs and hat.
As the boarding bell rang, we headed to the Caboose rail car. As walked up the steps, we were both impressed with the condition of the rail cars.
Each one had been restored to show the beauty and functionality of passenger rail cars of the years past.
Then we found our seats and prepared to enjoy the ride through the Black Hills.
The hills were filled with pine trees that seemed to last for miles upon miles.
And throughout the landscape there were several rock formations that we passed along the way. Some of which were blasted through for the railroad to be built many years ago.
But then we got a close view of a beautiful mountain of untouched Harney Peak granite. This is the same type of granite that Mt. Rushmore was carved from.
This rock formation can only be found in the Black Hills of South Dakota and it is over 2 billion years old. It was simply breathtaking to see this spectacular granite formation among the massive Ponderosa pine trees that scattered the landscape.
As we continued with our steam engine train ride we noticed that there were several old mines that still had the frame to the entrance intact.
Of course, they are no longer active, but just the sheer fact that over 100 years ago this serene area was full of mining companies was simply amazing.
The Rest of the Day
After we returned to Hill City, we decided to head to the Crazy Horse Monument, which was only about 13 miles away.
Unfortunately, a storm cloud began to move towards us on our short drive there.
Then just as we pulled into the parking log, it began to sprinkle. We quickly jumped out of our vehicle and headed towards the entrance to the museum.
Crazy Horse Monument
However, as walked across the parking lot, in the far distance, you could see the side profile of the Crazy Horse sculpture.
The granite rock formation was much larger than I had envisioned and I realized I knew very little about the history of this sculpture.
I learned that in 1948 this specific granite mountain was chosen to be the location to memorialize the Lakota Indian warrior Crazy Horse.
Several Lakota leaders proclaimed that the mountain carving “would let the white people know that the Indian people had great leaders, too.”
Therefore, a young sculptor named Korzak Ziolkowski who helped carve out Mt. Rushmore, was asked to lead the process. He began the work by designing and carving out the first chunks of granite.
Although he has since passed away, his family continues to oversee this massive project.
However the carving of the Crazy Horse Monument is independently funded. Therefore, the admission fee to the area helps not only fund the carving, but also helps to run the museum and even the Indian University of North America.
However to get a closer look you must take a bus ride (for a small fee) to the base of the mountain. But unfortunately, due to lightning in the area, the bus tours were suspended at the time that we were there.
Although we didn’t get a chance to get a closer look at Crazy Horse, an informational movie and a self-guided tour of the museum gave us a better understanding of the history behind this amazing sculpture.
Happy Traveling – Jim and Mary
Current Trip Stats
- Day 9 of 365
- States Visited 2 / 50
- Stayed In : Hill City, South Dakota
- Miles Driven : 107
- Total Trip Miles To Date : 2045
- Total Gallons Used : 151.48
- Biking Miles : 0
- Biking Miles To Date : 27
- Hiking Miles : 5.0
- Hiking Miles To Date : 14.0
On September 9th, 2019, we set out in our NuCamp T@B 400 Teardrop Camper to travel to every state. You can check out all of our dates here : Dates for the States
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