It’s my last day of the year to visit Custer State Park. I’m on my own and decided to take Iron Mountain Road to pay a visit to the old ghost town of Spokane, South Dakota. I came here after reading a book called the Spokane Kid, a story about a boy becoming a man as he learned the ways of the Black Hills. Living in Keystone, he initially helped out on several campgrounds before becoming a guide in the Black Hills.
It’s a story I can relate to. There’s so much to learn here, and so much to respect. His Black Hills Adventures take him around the entire mountain range with his father. It took them days, running across old timer miners, camping along the shores of Center Lake, Sylvan Lake and throughout what is now Custer State Park.
Back at this time there were quite a few little towns through Custer, which no longer exist because of the formation of the park. These lands were purchased, added to the park and flattened to let nature take over. The story speaks of the town of Spokane, which like most mountain towns was mined for gold, but they soon found the area was much richer in silver, mica and zinc.
I pulled over to Spokane Creek Campground, parked the car and followed the little sign that said “Ghost Town” on it. The colors of the forest were still golds and browns, with the Ponderosa Pine bursting with green needles. Spokane Creek ran along the trail, making it a little wet and muddy, but I was on a mission.
Soon I begin to find evidence of miners at work. Mostly consisting of rusted sheets of metal, cans, bottles and the like. The best park along the way are tailings. Tailings are the small to medium size rocks taken from the ground and piled up nearby. I can see quartz, mica, feldspar and granite. The ground appears to be littered with the jewels of the Black Hills.
Still searching for the old town of Spokane, I wandered on not seeing a trace of buildings until I come across a cut in the forest where electrical lines run. Here I see the foundation of a building. Whenever you’re in the Black Hills, it’s important to stop, look and listen. I imagine what it was like in 1893, when the story was written.
As I look around, I see large gaps between the older trees with younger growth in between. These are the trails and roads that used to exist and a road leads to more buildings. I follow it, and come across a home, with an outbuilding, classic cars and all kinds of mining artifacts. There are mining depressions in the ground dotted everywhere. Storage tanks are built into the ground holding who knows what.
I’m in the past, walking through areas that first indigenous people occupied and more recently settlers from the east. It’s incredibly beautiful. I feel a sadness come over me as I realize my time here is coming to a close, albeit temporarily.
Facts about Spokane South Dakota:
This makes for a great trail hike before entering the Eastern Side of Custer State Park. Pick up the book “Spokane Kid” at the Iron Mountain Road gift shop at Spokane Creek Campground. Maybe soon, I’ll be leading hikes through the hills and telling tall tales of the Black Hills National Forest.
Visitors have been coming to this area as tourists for a variety of reasons since the late 1800’s. It wasn’t all about mining back then, just mostly. Here’s a map of Custer State Park. The roads through the park such as the Wildlife Loop Road, Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road can get you turned around, so I suggest hiring a guide for a Black Hills Tour.
I hope to see you starting in April of 2022 for another season in the Sacred Black Hills of South Dakota!
Daniel Milks, Owner of My XO Adventures
Traveler, Adventurer, Daredevil and occasional writer.