Archive for June, 2013

If you take the dirt road northeast out of Thompson Springs, Utah a few old signs will point the way to Sego Canyon and the ghost town of Sego.  As you enter the canyon ancient rock drawings and paintings can be seen on the canyon walls, some estimated to be over 6,000 years old. Native American lore says these are drawings of the “star people” who visited earth in the distant past giving us simple creatures knowledge, and once you’ve seen them, you’ll have to admit, the figures depicted look otherworldly.

A short distance beyond the rock drawings the dirt road branches, the right fork takes you past the Sego Cemetery and on into the canyon where the remains of the town can be found. Sego was a coal mining town settled largely by Italians around the turn of the last century.  Taking the the other fork of the road leads you up the canyon to a fence and signs that indicates the boundary of the Ute Indian Reservation and warns you not to enter.

Sego Canyon is one of my favorite places. I couldn’t help but sense an “energy” the whole time I was in the canyon- hard to explain, but there was just a different feeling about this place.  People have come to, lived, and left this isolated canyon in Utah for 6,000+ years. Maybe the energy I felt is what has drawn human types to this place for so long.  There’s not many people here today though, just the occasional tourist, or local on their way to or from somewhere. Sego’s population today seems to be composeed almost entirely of lizards. I was amazed at how many different shapes and sizes I saw, all differently colored and marked, and with every footstep another would scurry past.

I enjoyed Sego Canyon so much that I stopped there twice on one road trip, and I can’t wait to return to Sego.  Well worth a visit to anyone who finds themselves in the area, but a word of caution- if it rains be prepared, the road to Sego is crisscrossed with washes and just a little rain will turn this desert road into a tricky situation for 2-wheel drive vehicle like I found out.

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I drove around Edgemont, South Dakota, looking for the dirt road that headed straight north out of town…I’m probably the only person who has ever gotten lost in Edgemont, but I somehow did.  I drove around and around in circles, down Main Street, then back on to Highway 18, over the railroad tracks, where I could see the damn dirt road I was trying to get on, then back on to Main Street from Highway 18…

Finally, I saw a hard left turn, the turn I had been looking for for the last 20 minutes, and thankfully it was just a road and not one of the millions of rattlesnakes that call the hills around Edgemont home- had it been a rattlesnake it would have bitten me in the ass- it was so painfully obvious after I finally found it.

On past the Highway Department storage building, under the Highway 18 bridge, and I was finally on my way down the desolate dirt road that leaves Edgemont and takes the random visitor or local rancher to Dewey and Burdock.

Rumbling over the gentle hills and around the sweeping bends in my Dodge, I was soon on my way to nowhere- my favorite place.

Antelope, prairie dogs, horned toads, and rattlesnakes are about all that call this arid edge of the Black Hills home today.  A few times in the past people tried to make a go of things out here, and Dewey and Burdock are the reminders of those people and their efforts.

Burdock was the first stop on my trip, from the extreme little that I could find regarding Burdock, it laid about halfway in between Edgemont and Dewey, just slightly off the main dirt road. None of the locals I had met and talked to in Hot Springs, Edgemont, or the handful of other Black Hills towns I had already visited knew much (if anything at all) about Burdock.  A few had heard the name, but had never known of a town existing in the rough geographic area I was heading for, another guy said Burdock existed long ago, but nobody could remember where or when.

I continued my wandering route north, armed with a cell-phone that had no service, and a 40-year old map my Dad had given me prior to my leaving Colorado.  Burdock was a dot on this map, and apparently I was heading in the right direction.

I was daydreaming and staring off to the west as I came around a lazy bend in the old dirt road, and just about missed my destination. A quick glance back to the right caught a few crumbled sandstone foundations, some rusted metal, and a crude sign made of an old drive chain that read “Burdock”.  I pulled off to the side of the main road in a small clearing, and took a walk through downtown Burdock.

Two or three sandstone and concrete foundations, a rusted stove and it’s pieces, some bailing wire, and a handful of porcelain shards and broken green and amber glass bottles are all that remain of this forgotten place.  It was hard to get an idea of how big or small Burdock may have been, or when it may have existed.  It was probably much like the other towns in the area- small camps that popped up as the railroad was being built in the 1880’s, a few permanent structures were built, and rapidly disappeared as the line was completed. I found some old pieces of a cast iron stove buried in sage brush growing out of one of the foundations, picked them up, took a few pics, and put them back where they had been undisturbed for many, many years.

My grand tour of Burdock finished, I hopped back in the Dodge and continued north in search of Dewey.

Dewey is a bit more of a booming metropolis than Burdock. Dewey still boasts a population of  seven, and the State of South Dakota has been sure to mark this with a white sign with black lettering as you approach the bustling business district, so the traveler doesn’t confuse Dewey with the numerous other…well nevermind Dewey is the only town within a 50 mile radius.

Anyhow, as I pulled in to Dewey that same odd twist of luck that caught me in Modena, Utah struck again- I arrived in town at precisely the same time as the train.  I once again pulled over, shut off my engine and waited as the train passed, the crew staring out the windows of the engine quizzically at me, wondering what the hell anyone who didn’t belong out here was doing out here???

And there were a handful, well seven to be exact if the sign is current, of people who belonged to Dewey.  From what I could tell there was one rather large, comfortable looking ranch just west of the main part of town, and I assumed this is where the entirety of the Dewey population called “home”.

There was a school, the standard 1880’s-1910’s style one-room country schoolhouse type that seems to spring up in the most inhospitable, uninhabitable, unlikely places all over the high plains and mountains of the west. It was, however, long closed.  A well kept church with a lone electrical wire running to it, and a pair of outhouses stood behind the school.  Three donkeys and a horse scratched at the ground behind the church, and for a minute one donkey entered an outhouse, but came out before I could get a photo.

A handful of small cabins, and what looked like an old storefront or two were spaced out across the area, and few larger ranch buildings in disrepair made up the rest of Dewey.

The northbound dirt road ended at Dewey, taking the road west you eventually reached Highway 85 and Newcastle, Wyoming.  Heading east (as I did) took you along a nice dirt road into the Black Hills that meandered it’s way through hills and pastureland largely inhabited by cows and deer until you once again found the blacktop heading to Custer or Hot Springs.

A day or two later after my visit to Dewey and Burdock, as I sat on the porch by the fire pit at my uncle’s ranch, my 92 year-old Grandmother told me about a little town just north of Edgemont on the way to Dewey. She told me about the schoolhouse, the people, and the 3 or 4 businesses that were there, and she wondered if there was anything left.  She said it was a place called “Burdock”…

Burdock, SD

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My family roots are tied to the Black Hills region of South Dakota and Wyoming.  I still have quite a bit of family in the area, and a couple weeks ago I decided to take my first trip as an adult (and I use the term “adult” loosely) and see what there was to see.  I’ve been there several times, but mostly as a bored kid, strapped in the backseat of whatever Chevy sedan or wagon the parents owned at the time. Back then, the trips to South Dakota to visit the family seemed like long, endless, journeys to a far away land filled with dust and hot wind.  I didn’t have much interest in those childhood trips.

This time, I left Colorado with an open mind and a tank full of gas, and set off for the dusty roads of the Black Hills to see what there was to see…

Ardmore was one of the stops I made.  Just north of the Nebraska state line in Fall River county, Ardmore was the quintessential “town where time stood still.”  Most of the “ghost towns”  today have at least some small resident population- hermits and recluses hiding from the rest of the world, or the elderly still clinging on to what once was.  Ardmore had neither.  This was perhaps the most ghostly of ghost towns I’ve visited recently.

Ardmore was clearly a decent sized town at one time, and had a small main street and several side streets that housed businesses and residences. The railroad still passes through, but it doesn’t look like they stop.  As far as I could tell, no one lives in Ardmore. From the appearance of the town and the cars in the yards, it looks like time simply stopped in Ardmore in the mid-1970’s.

The hot South Dakota wind I remembered from my childhood visits whipped through the tall oak trees that lined the streets. Antelope stared at me curiously from the surrounding fields. A few black birds crowed at me from high above as they roosted on dilapidated buildings or towering oaks. I stopped in the middle of “Main Street” which, evidently at some point in time, was two-lane  blacktop, but today was a series of asphalt chunks with tall, bright green prairie grasses growing through the cracks.

As I snapped my first few photos I realized I was being watched, I looked across the road and in an abandoned storefront two men cautiously leered at me from far in the back. They seemed as apprehensive and leery of me as I was of them. They stared for a few minutes, and realizing I was just taking photos went about whatever they were doing. I kept a safe distance and didn’t approach or pay them any attention. Sometimes the less you know, the better.

I hopped back in my car and drove down some of Ardmore’s forgotten streets.  A short time passed and the rumble of an engine approached and a beat up white Chevy pickup truck chugged by, loaded down with electrical wiring, pipes, and myriad of other this-and-that. The two men in the front seat waved as they drove past, they were Sioux Indians, and they were the shadowy figures watching me from the abandoned shop earlier. It was clear they were salvaging anything of value to trade in for a few dollars. Their old Chevy chugged down the dirt road and disappeared over a rise to the east, heading back to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

As the Sioux left with their piece of Ardmore, I too, disappeared down the road with my piece of Ardmore- These photos from that hot, windy June day. Forgotten people in a forgotten land.

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