1880 train Hill City to Keystone

I don’t know about Sandy but I had a good night sleep that night and we were both up in plenty of time to get ready to head to Hill City to catch the 1880 Train. The railroad runs from Hill City to Keystone and back. The engines and cars are so authentic that many film companies use footage for movies and TV programming, Some of this programming includes Gunsmoke, Orphan Train, Dakota Woman, National Geographic , PBS, and the BBC.

The total round trip is about 2 hours but we planned to get off and explore Keystone a little before catching the return . We weren’t under any time constraints except for the train schedule as this was the only “planned activity” today.

After grabbing our Jimmy Dean sausage breakfast sandwich it was back in the car and heading out RT 44. On the way to the junction of 385 south we passed signs for Thunderhead Falls. This is billed as an underground waterfall. That went on our “possible” list.

All of the roads were nice and wide and well paved. We were making good time when I spotted something on the left side of the road. Sandy didn’t see what had caught my attention and I was too busy making a U-turn to explain. With any luck she would see soon enough.

Completing the U-turn I pulled off the road to the shoulder and was rewarded with a great look at more wild animals. I wasn’t sure what they were. I thought they might be big horn sheep but none of them had the distinctive curved horns. It took some research and asking around before I settles on an ID of Big Horn juveniles and ewes.

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We were soon joined by other cars which were pulling over and taking pictures. Finally the whole herd started across the road. I held my breath because the cars were really flying down this wide highway but I shouldn’t have worried. As the little parade crossed the road the on-coming traffic stopped and waited until they were safely across the road.

Then it was back on the highway for us in order to get to Hill City in time for the Train.

Water Tower Hill City

Hill City Station

Once in Hill City the Train Depot was easy to spot and we arrived with time to spare.

Lines for Train, Hill City

 We picked up some snacks and soda at the snack bar for the train ride and poked around the gift shop before taking our places in a very long line to board the train.

The trip was narrated by a retired gentleman who said he was a “Workamper”. He and his wife were full time RVer’s . They travel around the country in their RV and find part time seasonal work at the various State and National Parks. His wife was working in the gift shop. This gig gave him 3 days on the train and she had 3 days in the gift shop. They would stay until the season ended and then move on. It allowed them to see the country and gave them a little income to support their retirement. Kind of a modern day gypsy.

From this very personable interpreter we learned about “summer” cows. As the train passed a herd of cows he announced that if we looked to our left we’d see a herd of summer cows. I looked and saw a plain old herd of cows. So I had to be the one to ask…what do you mean? Well he drawled, some are brown and some are black and some are spotted…“some are” (summer) cows…ohhhhhhhh!

I also found out that he suffered from CRS….I should have known better but I hadn’t learned my lesson. I bit…what’s CRS? Can’t Remember Stuff.

One thing he did tell us seriously is that the name “Black Hills” comes from the Lakota words Paha Sapa which means “hills that are black”. Seen from a distance the pine covered hills appear black.

We saw a lot of deer and pronghorns. It was fun trying to decide if they were mule deer or whitetail and then we were pulling into Keystone.

RR Station, Keystone

As soon as you exit the train you see a sign welcoming you to “Historic” Keystone. We explored up one side of the street past homemade fudge shops and souvenir stores then

crossed to street to more T-Shirts shops and every kind of souvenir stand you can imagine. Mixed in were little restaurants and fast food eateries. We found one that offered a buffet and settled in for lunch.

Following our lunch break we continued down this boardwalk investigating each of the stores and emporiums along the way. It had clouded up and before too long it started to rain. A gunslinger came out of the “saloon” and began trying to drum up business for the afternoon vaudeville show. He was soon joined by a 2nd cowboy , this one cracking a whip. I don’t know how much success they had because we had to skip it. We needed to get back to the station for the return trip to Hill City.

She's comin' 'round the mountain

On that note I will leave you with one last gem form the train narrations. Upon complaints from a miner’s wife that none of the family mines had ever been named in her honor, her husband complied and named one “the Holy Terror!”.

Black smoke belches as they stoke the engine

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about our visit to the Wild Horse Sanctuary, so we’ll be heading back down to Hot Springs in the morning.




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