South Dakota to Buffalo, Wyoming
Part of: Old West Road Trip
May 24, 2009
Rapid City, SD to Buffalo, WY
238 mi (4 hours) (not including accidental detour)
We loved Wyoming as much as we knew we would. Leaving South Dakota around 9:30am Sunday morning, we were soon over the border and on our way to Devils Tower National Monument.
This spectacular rock formation had a starring role in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and it is also a sacred site for Native Americans of the area.
There are lots of interesting legends about how it was formed, but most of them boil down to this: a giant bear came after some people, who climbed up on a large rock and prayed to the Great Spirit to help them. The Great Spirit answered, making the rock grow high into the sky. As it grew, the angry bear scratched down the side, making the vertical markings.
The geological explanation is that it is made of hardened magma, which formed over a mile under the earth's surface 50 million years ago. The softer rock around it gradually eroded away, leaving the strange-looking tower extending above the plains.
We spent a very pleasant hour or so walking the paved path through the pine forest around the base of the rock. The formation looks different from every side and we enjoyed spotting rock climbers way up there and watching kids climbing around on the huge piles of rubble at the base.
When we left Devils Tower, modern technology failed us. Granted, it was mostly human error - I accidentally chose Buffalo, SD instead of Buffalo, WY from the list in our sat-nav - but our trust in it resulted in us driving over an hour in the wrong direction, back to South Dakota! Oops. It was only when we began seeing signs for the state border that we realized my mistake. At least the scenery was pretty and I have a husband with a sense of humor!
After 3 more hours of driving, we arrived in the small town of Buffalo around 7:30pm. Buffalo was fairly significant in the Old West, but there isn't much to see there now. However, I had booked us in a historic hotel that I was pretty excited about, and it did turn out to be very fun.
It's called the Occidental Hotel and it was originally built in 1880. Past guests reportedly include Teddy Roosevelt, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Buffalo Bill Cody and Calamity Jane.
We stayed in the Teddy Roosevelt Room, which is not necessarily the one he stayed in (they don't know which one that was) but is themed with some old portraits of him.
Some of the furniture is original from the 19th-century hotel (including our wooden bed) and others are antiques from the same period. It was so much fun, like sleeping in a museum.
We had dinner in the hotel restaurant (The Virginian), where we got a great table in a little nook next to the window. The food was very good but not quite worth the high price.
Just outside the door of our room was one of those great hotel libraries, where people leave books for others to read. I picked up a copy of Anna Karenina and didn't get too far into its 800+ pages in one night, but I'm continuing it now with my own copy at home. We slept well in our creaky bed (the mattress was nice and modern) and looked forward to Yellowstone the next day.