Ardmore, South Dakota (Ghost Town) and Route 71


Don’t expect a big welcome as you cross the state line from Nebraska into South Dakota.  In fact, your arrival in a new state might make you feel quite lonely, or even make you wonder if, somewhere along Toadstool Road, you drove through a rift in space and time, dropping you on some desolate look-alike planet, where every other human has vanished.

If someone printed up a brochure for Ardmore, South Dakota, that’s how they could advertise it.  But there is no chamber of commerce, and no rest area filled with brochures and maps.  There is, quite honestly, no one here at all.

I’ve visited a few ghost towns.  Most of them involve a dusty desert, a gold boom, and an abrupt abandonment decades, or even a century ago, when it all went bust.  Ardmore is different.  It wasn’t terribly long ago that the people who lived here either drove off or passed away.

According to Wikipedia, the last time the U. S. Census Bureau found anyone living in Ardmore was in 1980, when it recorded 16 residents.  The article also says that Ardmore survived the Great Depression without a single resident on welfare, and President Calvin Coolidge once visited, way back in 1927.  If you know anything more about Ardmore’s past, email me, I’d love to hear about it.

I guess this used to be Ardmore’s Main Street.

Nowadays, at least a dozen houses, and several more commercial buildings still stand.  As you saw in a picture up the page, the water tower is still there, too.  There’s also dozens and dozens of junked cars, some of which have transformed from rusting hunks of metal to antiques over the years.  But it’s all abandoned — completely abandoned.

Truth is, I wish I had known that Ardmore is a full-fledged ghost town.  I didn’t do any exploring, for fear there were still a few lonely, strange people living in the shadows.  Had I known that Ardmore is, indeed, empty, I would have taken some more time to capture it all on film.

As you leave Ardmore on Route 71, you’d never guess that South Dakota’s Black Hills are somewhere up ahead.  The rolling plains appear to go on forever.

Eventually, a sign welcomes you into Beef Country (on behalf of the Southern Hills Cattlewomen — how thoughtful of them!)

There’s also a boarded-up building at the side of the road, that must have, at one time, been used as a one-room schoolhouse.

Route 71 continues north, getting a little more interesting with every passing mile.

Before long, those small hills grow larger.   A sign nearby proclaims that the movie “Hidalgo” was filmed in the area.

Watch for a turnoff to the left…

J. H. Keith Memorial Cascade Falls, at Cascade Springs

There’s a small parking area with restrooms and a picnic area at J.H. Keith Memorial Cascade Falls.  It’s a nice spot to stop for a sandwich (or even a swim, which is allowed here — just watch out for the poison ivy on the banks of the stream).

It’s a beautiful little spot, worthy of a short stop, but at this point in the day, I was quite tired.  I still had an hour or more of driving to go, to get to Rapid City.

Cascade Springs is about 10 miles south of Hot Springs, which would have been a good place to get a motel room, had I not already made reservations in Rapid City.  Since it was getting late, I chose the easiest route: from Hot Springs, I took US 18 to South Dakota Route 79 north.  Route 79 stays on the eastern side of the Black Hills.  The road is wide, mostly flat, and certainly the quickest way north.

As I traveled up Route 79, a nice sunset played out, somewhere on the other side of the Black Hills.  I couldn’t see very much of it from the highway, and I didn’t much care.  I needed a meal and a bed, much more than a picture of a sunset.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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