There’s gold in them thar hills.
There are flakes and nuggets in the streams and fools’ gold in the ore body, but the real gold is in the fall foliage around Spearfish Canyon Lodge, embedded deeply in the limestone canyons at the confluence of Spearfish Creek and Little Spearfish Creek, 20 miles from the town of Spearfish, South Dakota.
The largest gold rush in U.S. history was in the Black Hills in the 1870s – bigger than California. Placer miners found nuggets in Iron Creek and Squaw Creek, both side canyons to SpearfishCanyon, but no fortunes were found in Spearfish Canyon. However, the largest and deepest gold mine in the Americas in nearby in Lead was once owned by William Randolph Hearst. The Homestake Mine is now an underground science lab.
Spearfish Canyon Lodge fits snubetween limestone canyons.
Rent a Snowmobile at
The Snowmobile Center.
There is recreational gold also to be found around Spearfish Canyon Lodge. There is superb Rainbow and Brook trout fishing (catch and release) in the golden colored waters around the Lodge. There is gold in cold in the winter for snowmobilers because the Lodge has the largest inventory of snowmobiles around. Carefree winter days find snowmobilers on groomed trails throughout the Black Hills.
But for me the best time to visit Spearfish Canyon Lodge is in the Autumn when the birch and aspen trees that creep up the steep canyon walls radiate gold, red and yellow joy. The sun paints the canyon walls with an additional palette of gold and red; towering late season cumulus nimbus clouds light a heavenly brilliance.
Little Spearfish Creek.
Some of the colored leaves are spent currency, floating down the creek beds. Impressionist light refracts the wave forms of each ripple with dots of transparent lush vibrancy.
I hike briskly along gravel paths to Roughlock Fallsabout a mile from the Lodge where the last remaining tourists of the season gather and click digital cameras to prove they were there for the last of the fall colors. The ionizing falls have new deck platforms courtesy of the Forest Service’ delicate ferns and mints and tansies and watercress stay fresh from the trampling herd. Clumps of watercress float like evergreen islands as a lone fly fisherman catches and releases a brookie.
In the other direction from the Lodge Spearfish Falls races over a limestone ledge in a torrent, fluming and foaming and spraying the trail and bridges over Spearfish Creek.
You are in wildlife country.
About Spearfish CanyonLodge:
It is Fall in the Black Hills and it is a fabulous time to visit Spearfish Canyon Lodge for an OcktoberREST.
Spearfish Canyon Lodge is the only resort within the canyon. A few private home owners rent summer cabins along the creek, but there is no better location than the Lodge Fall photography.
The biggest gold rush in the Fall is making an advance reservation for one of the Lodge’s eight suites or spacious queen bedded rooms. The Suites are named after local and famous Old West charters such as Calamity Jane, Chief Black Elk, and General Custer.
Rooms with a view.
The Lodge offers special snowmobile, romance, and hiking packages throughout the year, and the resort makes a convenient base to explore hiking or deer trails, or the newer and more developed George Mickelson hiking, biking (and horseback riding) trail which has trailheads nearby. The recreational options are year around when using the Lodge as your base camp, including hunting and fishing, photography, snowmobiling and cross country skiing, or Alpine skiing nearby, or rock and ice climbing. The Lodge has a full service snowmobile center and in recent years the snow pack has been immense with winter sports lasting well into June. The Lodge has a small selection of bicycles for guest use.
It is a short drive to the Wild West town of Deadwood for the annual Oktoberfest with live German music free food, dancing, and the famous Weiner Dog Races. (800/999-1876). Call Dakota Taxi for 4WD taxis into the mountain town (www.dakotataxi.com 605/920-2020).
Hiker’s golden paradise.
I grew up in these mountains and the long Indian summer is my favorite season for hiking the paths around the Lodge. From a high altitude unused railroad bed the canyon spreads out with tree top scintillation. SpearfishCanyon is 12 times older than the Grand Canyon. The Black Hills are the oldest mountain range in the western Hemisphere. Even architect Frank Lloyd Wright praised the canyon marvels. (www.spearfishcanyon.com)
Spearfish Canyon Highway85/14A is registered scenic byway; drive the loop to the Lodge, stay overnight, and then continue the hairpins to Deadwood and back to Spearfish. Or take a comfortable guided tour with Discovery Tours from Spearfish (www.blackhillsdiscoverytours.com)
The Lodge’s lobby fireplace.
The canyons around the Lodge act like enormous noise dampers and from my room I listen to the trickle of Little Spearfish Creek.
Later I sip a cocktail from the nearby bar by the huge flagstone lobby fireplace with soaring windows that bring the outdoors in before I prepare for dinner at Latchstring Restaurant
Strike your own culinary grub stake at the Latchstring Restaurant across the street from the Lodge. A new Lodgepole-style building was constructed over the historic Latchstring restaurant and lodge that served its purpose since the Old West gold rush days but fell into disrepair.
The new airy restaurant includes space for meetings and conventions, including an annual wine tasting event. Meeting MidAmerica Magazine has awarded Latchstring with a Readers’ Choice Award for best place for meetings.
Latchstring Restaurant is the site of the original lodge.
The open beam ceilings and large windows look out over the canyon color and a hidden Spearfish Creek. It is still warm in the evenings, so guests also dine on the outdoor deck.
Latchstring’s fantastic menu includes unique starters, such as Asian Chicken Skewers, Asiago Cheese Dip, and Onion Chips. Splendid sandwiches are served during the day, including my favorite, Blackened Trout Sandwich, with the fish pan seared and served on a baguette. Or try the inexpensive Canyon Buffalo Burger made with fresh locally grown ground buffalo meat on a huge bun. You won’t find better grilled Indian flat bread any where else but here.
Latchstring is hewn
from native rock.
Every evening the Latchstring Restaurant features a feature – and this evening it is the 10 ounces of Buffalo Ribeye that I have been drooling for all day since my hikes to the falls. Served with baby reds and fresh vegetables and sautéed onions, you have to order this specialty early because it is so popular.
You can tell you are in wild game country by Latchstring’s entrée menu: Pan seared or baked Walleye; Blackened or Trout Almandine (served with the house blurre blanc sauce and wild rice); or the grilled Amaretto Salmon. Be sure to add on the Smoked Trout Caesar Salad!
The restaurant is also open in the morning for a spledilicious hearty breakfast such as the Little Spearfish, a hundred year old tradition – fresh grilled trout filet with eggs. This is trout country. I even buy a deck of cards from the Lodge gift shop with each card displaying an historic lure of days gone by.
The changing of the leaves advances rapidly from the canyons around the Lodge to the lip of the canyon 20 miles downstream. Nature’s stained glass murals only last a couple of weeks.
The paved roadway is packed with gawkers taking in the fall festival fantasia. The best way to catch the colors is on a mountain bike down the wide pavement – 100 pedals in 20 miles or 5 pedals a mile. Sometimes I race faster than the traffic.
Spearfish Canyon Lodge
& Latchstring Restaurant
10619 Roughlock Falls Rd.
Lead, SD 57754
— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.