Spearfish Cyn., SD 2012
At the end of June 2012, I found myself exploring the Black Hills of South Dakota. After spending a day at Deadwood, I drove South through the famous Spearfish Canyon.
The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway travels through the Canyon from Spearfish to Cheyenne Crossing along U.S. Route 14A. The highway follows an old railroad grade that was abandoned after massive flooding in 1933. Spearfish Canyon is a deep but narrow gorge carved by Spearfish Creek and is located within the Black Hills, located on the northern edge of the Black Hills National Forest.
Spearfish Canyon was described as “the most magnificent canyon in the west” by one of America’s most renowned architects, Frank Lloyd Wright. he noted correctly that much of the canyon’s magnificence is due to the convergence of four North American plant biomes: Rocky Mountain pine forest, northern spruce forest, eastern aspen and birch forest, and plains oak and cottonwood forest.
Approximately 600 million years ago in the Precambrian, the area was covered by a sea. As waters subsided and land masses began to appear 60 to 30 million years ago (between the Paleocene and Oligocene epochs), drainages such as Spearfish Canyon formed as softer rock was eroded away. Therefore, the canyon’s high walls are of three dominant rock types. (1) The Cambrian to Ordovician Deadwood Shale at the bottom lies on an unconformity above Precambrian rock and can be identified by its brown color. (2) The Englewood Limestone in the middle is pink to red colored and (3) the Paleogene Paha Sapa Limestone, the top layer, is the thickest and is buff-colored and weathered gray in appearance. Spearfish Canyon cuts through the Black Hills of South Dakota, and has 17 side gulches that preserve much of the pristine beauty of the landscape.
As Spearfish Creek twists and turns through the canyon it reveals one beautiful vista after another. Tributaries flow into the creek, but some don’t erode down through the sediment as quickly as the main stream and so become hanging valleys, their water plummeting as a cascade, like the lovely Bridal Veil and Spearfish Falls pictured above. The canyon and the Black Hills were among the last places in the American West to be colonized by settlers. But then gold was found.