Leaving the Badlands, we drove to Spearfish, South Dakota a must see place. Along the way, we saw hundreds of acres of sunflowers, their ripened heads bowed as though awaiting sacrifice to the plow. It was a beautiful day and the geography changed from the pink sandstone of the Badlands to treeless grasslands to rolling hills covered by evergreens in spots. In the draw of the hills, golden leafed trees caught the eye reminding us that fall is in the air and on the trees.
Spearfish is an iconic “cowboy” town with a historic downtown complete with cowboy bars and outdoor outfitters. We stayed in the City Campground which is next to the City Park and across the street from the W.B. Booth National Historic Fish Hatchery. The campground is large with many sites that were appropriate for us but, we were shoved into site 24 that left a little to be desired. Still, for the first time in several days, we had a full hook up and cable. Spearfish creek runs through the campground and is a perennially rushing stream that generates electricity for the town via a hydroelectric plant. There is a 7.5 mile bike and hike path through the town and it was a lovely walk along the creek and through forests whose leaves were showing off their fall color of brilliant yellow contrasted with the deep green of the lodgepole pines.
The National Historic Fish Hatchery is a wonderful spot. First, it is free. Second, the fish that either lay or fertilize the eggs for the hatchery are clearly visible swimming in the ponds or by looking at them underwater through a glass window. I was bowled over and surprised when I strolled over to the hatchery, looked over the railing into a pond and spotted trophy sized fish just milling about. There are rainbow, cutthroat, brook and spotted trout with the males easy to spot because of their hooked lower jaws. These fish are huge weighing an average of ten pounds (!) each. When they jump above the surface of the pond, their re-entry is not just a splash, but a thunk.
In another pond, the 8-10” trout reside, ready to be placed in their new homes in the state’s trout streams. Other troughs contain smaller fish, not yet ready for release.
The Visitor Center and Museum is an old beautifully restored Victorian mansion and the grounds also contain a restored rail car used originally to haul the fish across the state. The grounds are lovely with paths up the surrounding hills to views of the hatchery below. Nestled on the grounds are incredibly realistic bronze sculptures; one of workers releasing fish into a stream and another, called “Generations”, a moving depiction of a grandfather and granddaughter going fishing with cane poles resting on the man’s shoulder and a look of rapt attention on the face of the young girl.
Spearfish Canyon is easily accessible from the town along Hwy 14A, a national scenic byway. When we traveled the road, we were struck by the limestone cliffs and columns peaking from forests of lodgepole pines. At the lower elevations and crowning the tops of the mountain turrets, quaking aspen and paper birches added washes of golden yellow to the otherwise barren slopes. In the canyon, Spearfish Creek rushes by but in its quieter pools, trout are clearly visible.
We hiked to Spearfish falls, a lovely tall waterfall with a surprising volume cascading over its top to the floor of the ravine. We also hiked to Roughlock falls, a 2 mile walk along the creek to another falls. The views along the hiking path were absolutely stunning. Above us, high cliffs rose straight up on each side of the canyon walls while below, a watery meadow hosted the creek. All around, brilliant yellows mixed with vibrant greens and deep reds; autumn’s colorful wardrobe.
We had lunch at the Latchspring Restaurant, part of the Spearfish Lodge. The meal was wonderful. I had a delicate grilled trout covered by a light lemon sauce and resting on two grilled corn cakes. Bob had the signature stew but it wasn’t as good as expected. Still it was divine sitting on the outside deck soaking in the sun and wonder of this beautiful place.