A Dusty Road trip
Today we’re on a series of connecting gravel roads through the Badlands. We’re connecting towns such as Golva, Camp Crook and Deadwood.
The trail is known for carrying cattle herds, outlaws, buffalo hunters and gold miners. But that was 100 years ago. This summer, we’re exploring segments, and will put them together as one long effort re-tracing a 150 year old cowboy trail.
Beach to Black Hills route
If you want to get into the interior of the Badlands to see spectacular views, here’s the Beach to the Black Hills route — to Camp Crook (More in coming days so stay tuned).
Very few people see the vistas along the way — almost only the few ranchers in the territory see this part of the Badlands.
The color, culture and history are so rich, that we drive it a couple times a year. We aim for different weather conditions – sometimes winter’s white and sometimes summer’s green. Every time, before we go, we brush up on the history of the region. It was an important area for horse thieves, cattle drives, murderers, native tribes and the U.S. Cavalry.
The road starts in the far northwestern part of the state. Once upon a time, you could get on it at the northern end at Watford City, or Williston. Now, you can start near Alexander. It’s paved to Beach – -Highway 16.
Then, in the southwest, it follows a lazy course from Beach, to Golva, Marmarth, Camp Crook then Belle Fourche. Curves, hills and switchbacks make the drive an interesting and varied experience.
Catch a sense of the road with this video:
South of Marmarth it is the Camp Crook Road, and goes all the way to Belle Fourche.
If you don’t mind a dusty ride, this is the road to drive past Sentinel Butte, Rocky Butte, Pretty Butte, and along the west bank of the Little Missouri River.
The road that cuts through cattle herds, and past scatterings of mule deer and antelope.
Little Missouri River
In a rough sort of way the route follows the Little Missouri River Valley. On earlier trips, we found a couple of places to cross the river to get over to the Burning Coal Vein or the Logging Camp Ranch. This time, we’re exploring the west side, only.
Still, along the way, we’re never far from the river. In fact, we found the drive closely touches high points above the Little Missouri River. We took a a short drive on an access road on public ground to reach a steep overlook.
Cactus bloomed even on a piece of ground that was about to wash away in to the river during the next flood.
We have yet to tire of Marmarth. As many times as we’ve been there, Marmarth still captures our attention – and why not?
Marmarth used to be a major cow town with a 45-acre stock yard along the rail line. In one of its busiest months, more than 900 head of cattle were shipped out of Marmarth.
Back in those days, Marmarth had a brick plant, and a large business district with three banks. It also was a town that newspapers at the time called “wild and woolly.”
Newspapers of the late 1800s and early 1900s carry several stories of murders, fights, blind pig saloons and bawdy houses (brothels).
These days the wildness and wooliness is confined to one weekend a year, the annual Bottoms Up motorcycle rally.
Originally, Camp Crook was named Wickhamville after one of the original founding families. The town was renamed in April 1883 when the Cheyennes assumed a threatening attitude and their agent called upon the commanding officer of Fort Custer for protection.
Every year, the town hosts the county fair and rodeos here.
It’s also where we crossed the Little Missouri River. The river flows to the southwest to Devils Tower. The road we’re following heads a bit southeast to Belle Fourche.
On our most recent drive we were off to Camp Crook and by the time we got there, it was sunset. We lost our light before we hit Belle Fourche — so that’s our next road trip tale.
Exploring in the age of social distancing
This July we’re highlighting explorations and adventures for those people who want to social distance — and still want to get out of their normal world. We’ve listed 10 things you can do in the Badlands, and the Custer Trail Auto Tour — so you can stay in air conditioned comfort.
Now we’re examining the connection between the North Dakota Badlands and the South Dakota Black Hills. Stage coaches, mail runs, ranchers, cattle drives, outlaws, presidents, settlers, gold miners and at least four different Indian nations connected the two locations through history. We’re re-making the connection.
But don’t worry, we’ll be back home soon where we will continue to give you tips like these tips to stay healthy, or like this one about boots to wear, so you can explore North Dakota’s legendary Badlands from Marmarth to Mandaree.
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