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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

REALLY small towns!

~Thursday, May 26, 2022~

Day 711

I love the days where we surrender to the unknown. With a small list of a few towns to pass through, and no plan of anything else beyond that, we hit the road. We wanted a day to check the scene OUTSIDE the park.

Our first stop…..the ranch just outside the park. Jeff hadn’t really had the chance to see it yet, and of course you didn’t have to ask me twice to greet

the bison and Longhorns again (see video). I could watch them all day. Jeff wanted to check out the Devils Tower Outpost to see about a t-shirt but nothing struck him. But maybe a stop for ice-cream later?

As we approached our first town near Devils Tower, Hulett, it was basically a one-blink experience. The small town of about 400 people boasts a beautiful location, nestled in a red rimrock valley with the Belle Fourche River running through it. And they are known for their Old West Invitational Turkey Shoot every Spring. But it is in a beautiful location, nestled in a beautiful red rimrock valley with the Belle Fourche River running through it. And they are known for their Old West Invitational Turkey Shoot in the Spring. But since there wasn’t much else to see, on to the next stop.

Next was the even smaller town of Aladdin…population 15 and only a 30-acre hamlet. It is best known for the preserved Aladdin General Store

which you can’t miss in this 15-building town. As we walked inside, we were greeted by friendly store owner, Jordan Tope and her staff as they stood behind the original counter that has been there ever since 1896. Jordan and her husband Trent purchased the store about 3 years ago and are about the 6th owners over the last century. With the large assortment of antiques, western wear, jewelry and a few food and drink items, it is a must stop for anyone traveling to Devils Tower, or just plain driving through. But if that doesn’t get you in their shop, the history alone will. It was so nice of Jordan to offer me a special tour of the place, as she could tell I was very much into documenting our travels, though I was cautious about who and what I was photographing, especially the people sitting at the cool bar. Behind the checkout counter is the old post office and ticket counter for the former train station. She also led me to the original safe which was moved from the train ticket booth to the bar where a small group that arrived before us were enjoying a few shots. The bar alone would make anyone long for the past with its saloon feel. Jordan even let me close the door of the safe, or at least try to. I’ve never felt a door that heavy in my life. The safe is thought to weigh about 5 tons. The store continues to serve as a post office, bar, freight station and gas station for locals and tourists alike, in addition to being a favorite stop for bikers who cruise the Black Hills of Wyoming during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The rally draws nearly 700,000 people per year. Before we left, I asked Jordan if there was anything else to see in their small town……The Aladdin Tipple, just a mile up the road. Thank you Jordan for making our short road trip today extra special.

With Sadie off-leash we toured the former coal mining facility. In 1898, an 18-mile-long short line known as the Wyoming and Missouri River Railroad was built to connect coal mines near Aladdin with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad main line, South Dakota. The structure we came to see is one of the last historic wooden coal tipples

left in the west called the Aladdin Coal Tipple With the new fencing, we can see why they have been forced to protect a relic so rare. In a typical tipple operation, it would have received and stored the coal for the sorting and loading process, eventually making its way to the chute system, traveling by gravity. At one time prior to the sediment eroding from the above hillside, there was sufficient room under the two lower bays for train cars. Around the early 1940’s, coal supplies dwindled, miners (mostly of European descent) either died or moved on, and the railroad eventually abandoned.

From there we elected to take the scenic byway of Highway 14, but got sidetracked by a historical marker that piqued our interest. Heading the opposite direction, we drove up a frontage road to what’s known as the Vore Buffalo Jump.

Jeff and I had never heard of this before, but came to learn that it is one of the most important archaeological sites of the Late-Prehistoric Plains Indian in the region. Though the visitor center (a tee-pee for a building), and tours not set to open until June 1st, we were happy to see the gate open for us to see the sinkhole. Evidently, hundreds of years ago, a sinkhole formed where gypsum soil had eroded, leaving a steep-sided pit about 40 feet deep and 200 feet in diameter. Plains Indians depended upon buffalo for many of their material needs-food, shelter, clothing, tools, fuel, even toys. Prior to acquiring horses in the 18th century, hunting individual animals on foot with bows and arrows was difficult and dangerous. Especially during the harsh winter months, they came up with a different strategy….corralling them in the direction of a large pit, deep enough to kill or disable the animals that were driven into it. This particular pit is thought to be used from about 1500 AD to about 1800 AD. It wasn’t until the 1970’s when the construction of Highway 90 was under way, that bones and other archeological finds were discovered. We walked down to the excavation area where we had quite the surprise of Sadie’s curiosity in a rather large snake. Thank goodness it was not a rattler.😬 Anyway, the area is only 5% excavated, but believe the pit contains remains of at least 20,000 buffalo. It saddens me to think of this animal cruelty, but also understand they had to do whatever it took to survive. The name Vore comes from the family ranch that unknowingly stood atop the ruins. In time, this family would come to fund much of the facility, to educate others.

Since we knew Sundance would be a stop we’d have to do tomorrow for our dump run, we thought while there today, we’d check out the facility ahead of time, and see what there was to see of the town. Again, not much. But it was good to know that tomorrow we don’t take the truck scale turn to get to the dump station (oops!) And it was good to top off our gas for tomorrow’s trip to the Badlands.

Finally, we connected with the Scenic Byway from Sundance to Devils Tower, otherwise known as Highway 14.

This is a beautiful route curling through some of the most beautiful ranch lands, many of them historic homesteads reminiscent of a bygone era. A number of these ranches go back to the days of the U.S. Government offering renditions of the Homestead Act, when families dreamed of owning large areas of land (what was the “American Dream”).

After I got back from doing a few late in the day posts, Jeff surprised me with his change of heart about our departure. He said, “I thought about it. Let’s stay a few more days. Why leave this beautiful area if we have no reservations for the next place?” With it late in the day and Jeff wanting to listen to the Warrior game, plus the fact we were now staying an extra day, I walked over to Alec and Denise’s site to postpone my offer of a campfire until the following day. They were completely o.k. with it. Now to get more firewood.

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