Spearfish Canyon Byway: US Alt-14


For one final scenic experience in South Dakota’s Black Hills, before heading back into Wyoming, I decided to drive the Spearfish Canyon Byway.  The route was a little bit out of the way from where I was starting (in the Lead-Deadwood area), but the squiggly line on the map looked like it would be worth it.

From Lead, take US Hwy. 85/Alt-14 south to Cheyenne Crossing, where the two highways split.  Alt-14 turns north, through Spearfish Canyon, headed to the town of Spearfish.

After Alt-14 turns north, and the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway begins, the road instantly plunges into a deep canyon, sandwiched in between tall mountains, often with just enough room for the road and Spearfish Creek to squeeze through.  One of the first nice places to stop is at a small lake, formed by a small dam.  The spot is known as the Savoy Intake…

… and it’s a popular fishing spot…

… not to mention a great place to find a nice reflection on the water.

The road takes its time as it meanders through the canyon.  Around just about every corner, you see a scene that looks like this.  Sometimes it’s a bit more dramatic, but there is a limited number of places where you can pull off, to take a picture.

One place worth a quick stop is Bridal Veil Falls.  The waterfall cascades down a mountainside on the opposite side of Spearfish Creek.  You can’t get any closer than the edge of the road, but you still get a good view.

I was still suffering from a cold, and trying to recover from my damp, chilly night at Mount Rushmore the previous evening.  But, if I had felt better, I likely would have explored the area around the town of Savoy, in the middle of Spearfish Canyon.  There are two other waterfalls nearby (Roughlock Falls, on a gravel road about 2 miles off the highway, and Spearfish Falls, at the point where Little Spearfish Creek tumbled into Spearfish Creek).  Also, you can visit an area where scenes from Dances With Wolves were filmed.  Byways.org has a detailed list of attractions throughout Spearfish Canyon.

The road continues to take you around countless curves, until you finally reach the pleasant little town of Spearfish.

It won’t take long to explore Spearfish’s Downtown.  The historic commercial district is only about 3 blocks long.  Signs will guide you to a dozen or so historic buildings which still stand…

… including Matthews Opera House, which has been recently restored.

Matthews Opera House opened in 1906.  It was successful during the first couple of decades as a home for traveling plays, then in the 1920’s, as a movie theater.  After the theater closed in 1930, the building served as a basketball court, shooting range, and eventually a pigeon roost for the following quarter century.  In the 50’s, some students launched a brief attempt to revive the opera house, and a similar effort found more success in the ’60’s.  Audiences grew throughout the 70’s and 80’s, but the need for restoration was obvious.  The Spearfish Opera House Society was formed, which oversaw restoration efforts that spanned nearly two decades.

Spearfish has a couple of nice neon signs hanging alongside main street.  Be sure to check them out as you stroll around town.

If you’re not planning on snuggling up for the night at Motel Kozy, now’s the time to leave the scenic route behind, and hop onto Interstate 90, for the trip west into Wyoming.

Spearfish, South Dakota holds the world record for fastest temperature change.  In 1943, a Chinook wind raised the temperature in Spearfish from -4 degrees Farenheit to +45 degrees – a 49 degree shift, in just two minutes.  Within an hour and a half, the Chinook wind died down, and in 27 minutes the temperature dropped by 58 degrees.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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