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The Black Hills, South Dakota, United States

The Black Hills (Pahá Sápa in Lakota, Moˀȯhta-voˀhonáaeva in Cheyenne) are a small, isolated mountain range rising from the Great Plains of North America in western South Dakota and extending into Wyoming, USA.[1] Set off from the main body of the Rocky Mountains, the region is something of a geological anomaly—accurately described as an "island of trees in a sea of grass". The Black Hills encompass the Black Hills National Forest and are home to the tallest peaks of continental North America east of the Rockies.

The name "Black Hills" is a translation of the Lakota Pahá Sápa. The hills were so-called because of their dark appearance from a distance, as they were covered in trees.[2]

Native Americans have a long history in the Black Hills. After conquering the Cheyenne in 1776, the Lakota took over the territory of the Black Hills, which became central to their culture. When European Americans discovered gold there in 1874, as a result of George Armstrong Custer's Black Hills Expedition, erstwhile miners swept into the area in a gold rush. The US government re-assigned the Lakota, against their wishes, to other reservations in western South Dakota. Unlike the rest of the Dakotas, the Black Hills were settled by European Americans primarily from population centers to the west and south of the region, as miners flocked there from earlier gold boom locations in Colorado and Montana.

Today, the combined population of the nearby reservations and Ellsworth Air Force Base create a unique diversity different from that of the rest of Wyoming or South Dakota. As the economy of the Black Hills has shifted from natural resources (mining and timber), the hospitality and tourism industry has grown to take its place. The major tourist spots include Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, Crazy Horse Memorial, and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.



American Indians have inhabited the area since at least 7000 BC. The Arikara arrived by 1500 AD, followed by the Cheyenne, Crow, Kiowa and Pawnee. The Lakota arrived from Minnesota in the eighteenth century and drove out the other tribes. They claimed the land, which they called HeSapa (Black Mountains). Early European-American settlers found Paha Sapa (Black Hills or Bluff), easier to pronounce, as the term was less guttural. The mountains commonly became known as the Black Hills.

After the public discovery of gold in the 1870s, European Americans increasingly encroached on Lakota territory. The conflict over control of the region sparked the Black Hills War, the last major Indian War on the Great Plains. The 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie had previously confirmed the Lakota's (Teton Sioux) ownership of the mountain range. Both the Sioux and Cheyenne claimed rights to the land, saying that in their culture, it was considered the axis mundi, or sacred center of the world.

Although rumors of gold in the Black Hills had circulated for decades (See Thoen Stone and Pierre-Jean De Smet), it was not until 1874 that Brevet Major General George Armstrong Custer of the 7th US Cavalry led an expedition into the Black Hills in 1874 and discovered gold in French Creek. An official announcement of gold was made by the newspaper reporters accompanying the expedition. The following year, the Newton-Jenney Party conducted the first detailed survey of the Black Hills. The surveyor for the party, Dr. Valentine McGillycuddy, was the first European American to ascend to the top of Harney Peak. This highest point in the Black Hills is 7242 feet above sea level.

During the 1875–1878 gold rush, thousands of miners went to the Black Hills; in 1880, the area was the most densely populated part of Dakota Territory. There were three large towns in the Northern Hills: Deadwood, Central City, and Lead. Around these were groups of smaller gold camps, towns, and villages. Hill City and Custer City sprang up in the Southern Hills. Railroads were quickly constructed to the previously remote area. From 1880 on, the gold mines yielded about $4,000,000 annually, and the silver mines about $3,000,000 annually.

Inyan Kara is a sacred mountain to Lakota.

Following the defeat of the Lakota and their Cheyenne and Arapaho allies in 1876, the United States took control of the region in violation of the Treaty of Fort Laramie. The Lakota never accepted the validity of the US appropriation. They continue to try to reclaim the property.

On July 23, 1980, in United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Black Hills were illegally taken and that remuneration of the initial offering price plus interest — nearly $106 million — be paid. The Lakota refused the settlement, as they wanted the Black Hills returned to them. The money remains in an interest-bearing account, which now amounts to over $757 million, but the Lakota still refuse to take the money. They believe that accepting the settlement would validate the US theft of their most sacred land.[3]


The Black Hills are marked by vistas of adjacent prairie and mountains

The geology of the Black Hills is complex. A Tertiary mountain-building episode is responsible for the uplift and current topography of the Black Hills region. This uplift was marked by volcanic activity in the northern Black Hills. The southern Black Hills are characterized by Precambrian granite, pegmatite, and metamorphic rocks that comprise the core of the entire Black Hills uplift. This core is rimmed by Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic sedimentary rocks. The stratigraphy of the Black Hills is laid out like a target, as it is an oval dome, with rings of different rock types dipping away from the center.


The granite core of the Black Hills rises 7,424 feet (2.263m) at Harney peak

The 'bulls eye' of this target is called the granite core. The granite of the Black Hills was emplaced by magma generated during the Trans-Hudson orogeny and contains abundant pegmatite. The core of the Black Hills has been dated to 1.8 billion years. There are other localized deposits that have been dated to around 2.2 to 2.8 billion years. One of these is located in the northern hills. It is called Elk Creek Granite although it has been metamorphosed into gneiss. The other is called the Bear Mountain complex, and it is located in the west central part of the hills.

Angular unconformity near Rapid City

Making a concentric ring around the core is the metamorphic zone. The rocks in this ring are all very old, as much as 2.0 billion years and older. This zone is very complex, filled with many diverse rock types. The rocks were originally sedimentary, until there was a collision between the North American continent and a terrane. This collision, called the Trans-Hudson Orogeny, caused the original rocks to fold and twist into a vast mountain range. Over the millions of years, these tilted rocks, which in many areas are tilted to 90 degrees or more, eroded. Today we see the evidence of this erosion in the Black Hills, where the metamorphic rocks end in an angular unconformity below the younger sedimentary layers.


The final layers of the Black Hills consist of sedimentary rocks. The oldest lie on top of the metamorphic layers at a much shallower angle. This rock called the Deadwood Formation is mostly sandstone and was the original source of gold found in the Deadwood area. Above the Deadwood Formation lies the Englewood Formation and Paha Sapa limestone, which is the source of the more than 200 caves found in the Black Hills, including Jewel Cave and Wind cave. The Minnelusa Formation is next and is composed of highly variable sandstones and limestones followed by the Opeche shale and the Minnikahta limestone.


The next rock layer, the Spearfish Formation forms a valley around the hills called the red valley. It is mostly a red shale with beds of gypsum. These shale and gypsum beds as well as the nearby limestone beds of the Minnikata are used in the manufacture of cement at a cement plant in Rapid City. Next is the shale and sandstone Sundance Formation, which is topped by the Morrison Formation and the Unkpapa sandstone.

The outermost feature of the dome stands out as a hogback ridge. The ridge is made out of the Lakota Formation and the Fallriver sandstone, which are collectively called the Inyan Kara Group. Above this, the layers of rocks are less distinct and are all mainly grey shale with three exceptions: the Newcastle sandstone; the Greenhorn limestone, which contains many shark teeth fossils; and the Niobrara Formation, which is composed mainly of chalk. These outer ridges are called cuestas.


Fallingrock cliff on Dark Canyon. Paleozoic in age but it is capped with a Cenozoic gravel terrace.

The preceding layers were deposited in a horizontal manner. All of them can be seen in core samples and well logs from the flatest parts of the Great Plains. It took a period of uplift to bring them to their present topographical levels in the Black Hills. This uplift called the Laramide orogeny began around the beginning of the Cenozoic and left a line of igneous rocks through the northern hills superimposed on the rocks already disscused. This line extends from Bear Butte in the east to Devils Tower in the west. Evidence of Cenozoic volcanic eruptions, if this happened, has long since been eroded away.

The Black Hills also have a 'skirt' of gravel covering them in areas, which are called erosional terraces. Formed as the waterways cut down into the uplifting hills, they represent the former locations of today's rivers. These beds are generally around 10,000 years old or younger, judging by the artifacts and fossils found. A few places, mainly in the high elevations, are older, as old as 20 million years, according to camel and rodent fossils found. Some gravels have been found but for the most part, these older beds have been eroded away.


As with the geology, the biology of the Black Hills is complex. Most of the Hills are a fire-climax Ponderosa Pine forest, with Black Hills Spruce (Picea glauca var. densata) occurring in cool moist valleys of the Northern Hills. Oddly, this endemic variety of spruce does not occur in the moist Bear Lodge Mountains, which make up most of the Wyoming portion of the Black Hills. Large open parks (mountain meadows) with lush grassland rather than forest are scattered through the Hills (especially the western portion), and the southern edge of the Hills, due to the rainshadow of the higher elevations, are covered by a dry pine savannah, with stands of Mountain Mahogany and Rocky Mountain Juniper. Wildlife is both diverse and plentiful. Black Hills creeks are known for their trout, while the forests and grasslands offer good habitat for American Bison, White-tailed and Mule Deer, Pronghorn, Bighorn Sheep, mountain lions, and a variety of smaller animals, like prairie dogs, Yellow-bellied Marmots, and Fox Squirrels. Biologically, the Black Hills is a meeting and mixing place, with species common to regions to the east, west, north, and south. The Hills do however, support some endemic taxa, the most famous of which is probably White-winged Junco (Junco hyemalis aikeni).

Tourism and economy

The Black Hills opposite Mount Rushmore

The region is home to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Harney Peak (the highest point east of the Rockies), Custer State Park (the largest state park in South Dakota, and one of the largest in the US), Bear Butte State Park, Devils Tower National Monument, and the Crazy Horse Memorial (the largest sculpture in the world). The Black Hills also hosts the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally each August. Started in 1940, the 65th Rally in 2005 saw more than 550,000 bikers visit the Black Hills; the rally is a key part of the regional economy. Motorcycle riders are also attracted to the Black Hills simply for the many miles of awe-inspiring scenery.[4]

The George S. Mickelson Trail is a recently opened multi-use path through the Black Hills. It follows the abandoned track of the historic railroad route from Edgemont to Deadwood. The train used to be the only way to bring supplies to the miners in the Hills. The trail is about 110 miles in length, and can be used by hikers, cross-country skiers, and bikers. The cost is two dollars per day, or ten dollars annually.

Today, the major city in the Black Hills is Rapid City, with an incorporated population of over 70,000 and a metropolitan population of 125,000. It serves a market area covering much of five states: North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana. In addition to tourism and mining (including coal, specialty minerals, and the now declining gold mining), the Black Hills economy includes ranching (sheep and cattle, primarily, with buffalo and ratites becoming more common), timber (lumber), Ellsworth Air Force Base, and some manufacturing, including jewelry, cement, electronics, cabinetry, guns and ammunition.

In many ways, the Black Hills functions as a very spread-out urban area with a population (not counting tourists) of 250,000. Other important Black Hills cities and towns include:

See also


  1. ^ "Black Hills". Geographic Names Information System. U.S. Geological Survey. 
  2. ^ Black Hills National Forest - Frequently Asked Questions
  3. ^ Giago, Tim (2007-06-03). "The Black Hills: A Case of Dishonest Dealings". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2007-10-26. 
  4. ^ Joe Berk (January/February 2009). "Riding the Black Hills". Motorcycle Classics. Retrieved 2009-08-05. 

External links

Coordinates: 44°00′N 104°00′W / 44°N 104°W / 44; -104

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Black Hills National Forest article)

From Wikitravel

Black Hills National Forest and Black Hills Mountains are in the Badlands and Black Hills region of South Dakota.


The Black Hills National Forest is public land owned by the federal US government and operated by the US forest service.

The Black Hills national forest is one of the most road-built national forests in the country. Due to the odd history of South Dakota, the forest service land is actually patchworked in and out with private land, state highways, forest service roads, and etc all through the area.

Within the federal land are several cities, such as Deadwood, Lead, and Custer. On the edge of the Black Hills are towns such as Spearfish, Hot Springs, and Rapid City.

The Black Hills of South Dakota are a lone series of mountains in the middle of the Great Plains. The nearest rocky mountains, the Bighorn Mountains, are about one hundred miles to the west. The nearest mountains to the east or south are several thousand miles away. It was formed by unknown means when some kind of 'uplift' occurred many millions of years ago.

The Black Hills are possibly named black because of the Ponderosa Pine trees that grow there; young trees have black bark that turns orange as the trees mature.

The Black Hills are sacred to Lakota people and were a refuge during harsh seasons on the plains. The hills unique ecosystem also provided many plants not found on the prairies that could be used for foodmaking or medicine. Nowadays the Lakota live mostly on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation a few miles to the south.

The Hills unique formation of limestone rocks being shifted by the 'uplift', and then eroded and deposited-upon by water, make wonderful conditions for caves to form, and the area is dotted with many that you can visit. The federal government has taken over two of these via the National Park Service; Wind Cave and Jewel Cave. You can go on guided tours through these. There are several commercial caves owned privately by companies that also give tours.

Tourism is a big business in the Black Hills. In summer the temperatures rise and tourists flood in for a variety of reasons. Thus there are many touristy type shops, restaurants, casinos and so forth usually with a western theme, banking on the 'Wild West' image of Deadwood and the surrounding area.

There are also lots of mountain climbers, and therefore several mountain climbing schools and equipment supply shops. Devil's Tower which is a famous climbing destination lies a few hours to the West of the area in Wyoming.

The hills are mostly populated lower income white people, farmers and ranchers, and Indians, but in recent years lots of people from California, driven out by high land prices, have invaded the area. Many of the old citizens have sold their land to incoming Californians for a good price and have moved farther from the Hills.


The Black Hills stand in contrast to the wide sweeping prairies of western South Dakota, as they are covered with mostly Ponderosa or Lodgepole Pine. Stands of Aspen can also be found within the forest. Most of the Black Hills gently roll from 5000-6000 feet in elevation, however many peaks in the south central hills are over 7000 feet above sea level. Harney Peak is the tallest mountain at 7242 feet, which is also the highest point of South Dakota. Several trails can be taken to the top which has an old CCC fire lookout tower at the summit. In the southern hills, trees are sparse, and prairie grasses prevail. This is also where most of the larger cave systems are located, such as Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument.

Minerals of many types are found in abundance throughout the Black Hills, commonly found is: Granite, muscovite, and quartz. Gold and Silver were originally found in great amounts in the northern areas near the Wyoming South Dakota border.

Flora and fauna

North American Bison (buffalo), mountain goats, mule deer, cougar, and the occasional donkey can be found in abundance on the Wildlife Loop of Custer State Park in the southern-central portion of the Black Hills.

Prairie grasses, ponderosa pine, aspen, and numerous types of wildflowers such as prairie coneflower can be found within the Black Hills.


There are quite a few amazing things to see in the Black Hills. There is Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Custer State Park, the Needles highway, Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, many scenic overlooks and bypasses, tours of a recently closed gold mine in Lead, gambling trying to cash in on western legends in Deadwood, the massive Crazy Horse sculpture, Spearfish Canyon, and so forth and so on.

  • The Black Hills bicycle trail, the Mickleson Trail, is remarkable. It is gravel and runs along an old railroad track. It will have a very gentle uphill grade for several miles, and then a gentle downhill grade for several more miles. It stretches for 100 miles up through the hills hitting several cities such as Custer and Hill City, and passes right by the Crazy Horse monument.
  • Custer State Park offers a number of nice hiking trails, including several routes to Harney Peak, highest point in the state of South Dakota. Several of the trails that start in the state park continue on into the national forest's Black Elk Wilderness.

Stay safe

Wildlife poses the greatest threat in the Hills. Keep your distance.

  • Bison roam free in the region, and herds frequently cross and block highways. They are temperamental and unpredictable; if you get stuck in a line of cars backed up by a herd, stay in the car, roll your eyes, and wait for them to cross. Do not leave the car to approach the animals. A docile-looking bison can turn into over a ton of enraged, fast-moving muscle and horns before you know it and with no obvious provocation.
  • In the rare event you encounter a mountain lion, walk away backwards very carefully and slowly. Never show the back of your neck to a lion.
  • Rattlesnakes are not aggressive unless they are messed with. Be very careful not to surprise one when climbing. Encounters between hikers and rattlers are uncommon but not unknown, and the way to deal with an encounter varies according to circumstances. If you actually see the snake, back away from it a short distance (8-10 feet at most); rattlers can only strike about half their body length, so there's no need to go running in terror. If you don't see it but only hear it, best is to stop in your tracks until you know where it is, then back away. If you're hiking in a group, make sure your fellow hikers know the snake is there (say "Snake"), but there's nothing to get hysterical about. Pay extra attention when hiking at dawn or dusk, when the snakes are hunting (mice, not you).
  • The best reminder for people is that wildlife is just that - wild. Even the more innocent looking animals of the Black Hills like the Prairie Dogs are not pets, and tourists should avoid trying to touch these animals or crowding their holes. Rabies is common.
  • Deadwood is possibly America's most storied small town from the wild frontier days.
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a short drive away, and so is the even larger Crazy Horse Memorial [1].
  • Rapid City is a transportation hub for the region. It has a few museums, and plenty of cheap hotels and restaurants (chain and local).
  • Sturgis is the home of the famed Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August.
  • Wall (South Dakota) has Wall Drug, whose ubiquitous signs will be more than familiar to any visitor driving on Interstate 90.
  • Yellowstone National Park is just under 500 miles from Deadwood and 10 1/2 non-stop drive.
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