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Leave Mt. Moriah proper to find the trailhead. Click to enlarge photos.
Leave Mt. Moriah proper to find the trailhead. Click to enlarge photos.
Seth Bullock's grave — where the trail really begins.
Seth Bullock's grave — where the trail really begins.
The trail appears to lead straight up, but the climb isn't as bad as it looks — and the views are fantastic.
The trail appears to lead straight up, but the climb isn't as bad as it looks — and the views are fantastic.
Remnants of the Grizzly Gulch fire.
Remnants of the Grizzly Gulch fire.
Bear Butte in the distance.
Bear Butte in the distance.
Deadwood below.
Deadwood below.
Homestake Lab.
Homestake Lab.
A nimble Deadwood family climbing like mountain goats.
A nimble Deadwood family climbing like mountain goats.
These holes in the rock once held geodes.
These holes in the rock once held geodes.
When you reach the top, you feel like you're on top of the world.
When you reach the top, you feel like you're on top of the world.
Hanging with the angels puts a smile on your face...
Hanging with the angels puts a smile on your face...
...but the descent is devilishly steep.
...but the descent is devilishly steep.

Guarded by Ghosts, Revealed by Angels

Jun 6, 2013

 

There are a lot of hiking trails in the Black Hills that take some local knowledge to enjoy. White Rocks is one of them. Former Deadwood resident Tony Tuscano of Texas suggested that the climb to White Rocks was worth the work. He was right. He described it as "the best view of Deadwood … the dominant hill over lower Deadwood.” Tony’s description was enough to get the hike on my bucket list.
 

Getting by the Ghosts

The directions to White Rocks involve the local cemetery, Mount Moriah. You need to go outside the cemetery proper and follow a trail described as “quite steep” for 750 feet to the grave of Seth Bullock. Up the hill and beyond the grave is a utility trail, and you keep following that to the top.

The ladies at the cemetery toll booth (you know you are amongst famous ghosts when people pay to get admitted) were helpful. The first volunteered, as she shook her head, that it was “really steep” to get to White Rocks. The other lady assured us that it was “a great view.” Both were exceptionally correct.
 

The Top is Right Above You

A strange thing about that trail is that you can see the white rocks as soon as you leave the cemetery, and they look about two miles away — straight up. There were a few people on top that we could barely distinguish, which makes you brace for a very long hike. But it’s a lot more like climbing a ladder. It is steep, but not long, which must create an optical illusion — or maybe I was passing out from a lack of oxygen.
 

Standing With the Angels

The hike is probably only twenty minutes each way, but worth it. When you climb up on the top of the rocks — which truly are white — you have a commanding view of Deadwood and the region. The devastation of the Grizzly Gulch fire remains immediately behind you. The logs are laying side by side along the humps of the lower mountains in a pattern that looks like fur on an animal’s back. The ladies at the booth said we could see four states, but until they do a better job of spray painting those state lines, who am I to say?
 

No Mountain Goats, But….

I was zoomed by some kind of a bird, saw turkey vultures circling (maybe looking for fallen hikers) and one family that climbed the rocks like mountain goats, but no dangerous wildlife. After we got down and had the mandatory engine-fueling ice cream, the lady serving us claimed a mountain lion lived up there! But she hadn’t been there for four years — I bet the ghosts got him. 

 

Lee Schoenbeck grew up in Webster, practices law in Watertown, and is a freelance writer for the South Dakota Magazine website.


Comments

08:30 am - Thu, June 6 2013
Josh said:
When I lived in Deadwood I used to hike to White Rocks all the time. In the spring it is a great place to find pasque flowers, and the view is always great.
01:10 pm - Sun, June 9 2013
Mary Dailey said:
Thanks for the article Lee. I also enjoyed this hike a couple of falls ago and took the path less traveled on the way down.
08:41 am - Thu, October 24 2013
Donna Maurer Pastelak said:
I was born in the Black Hills and when my brothers were just little guys, they hiked all the way up to those "white rocks". I would tag along and stop at Mt. Moriah to walk around the graves of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane. We were very young but it was something to do for us. I liked your article. It brought back many memories for all of us senior citizens who once lived in Deadwood. It is a wonderful to get back there occasionally and relive all that beauty again.

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