Scientists tell us that Spearfish Canyon was formed 30 to 60 million years
ago. Originally, a great sea covered this area. When the waters started to
subside, the canyon was carved out by water eroding away the softer rock.
The land was also pushed up from underneath by volcanic action. After many
years, the water carved out the channel we have come to call "Spearfish
|Spearfish Canyon is full of Ponderosa and Spruce Pine trees, giving it a
"full of life" feeling no matter what time of year you visit. The pine
trees are adept at finding any little crevice or crack and putting down
roots. Some of them look as if they are growing right out of the rocks
themselves! The banks of Spearfish Creek support Aspen, Birch and Oak trees
(among others), which are primarily responsible for the golden yellow Fall
colors the Spearfish Canyon is so famous for. In the Fall time, some of the
mountains get bands and rifts of yellow just like the miners find gold in
the rich gold veins of the Black Hills rocks.
|The growing trees as well as the freezing and thawing cycles of nature are
still at work in the canyon. It is not uncommon to have a small boulder
fall... sometimes we even get huge boulders falling and leaving permanent
marks as they tumble down the steep walls of the canyon. The last really
large one was in the mid 1990's
||The PahaSapa Limestone, found at the top layer of Spearfish Canyon gets its
name from the Sioux Indian Nation. "Paha" meaning, "Hills", and "Sapa" meaning,
"Black". If you look at the Black Hills from a distance, they appear quite
dark. This is because of the ponderosa pine trees that make up almost 80%
of the tree coverage here in the Hills. When you look closely at the
needles of the Ponderosa Pine, you can see that they are flat. The topside
of the needles are designed for absorbing light... thus the Hills look dark
from a distance.
The origins of the name "Spearfish" can be debated. Many people believe the
Indians speared fish from Spearfish River (now called Spearfish Creek),
while others think that white men simply coined the name because it looked
like it would be a good area to spear fish from. The Sioux Indians in the
area were very resourceful and if there were fish to be speared, they
probably did. Spearfish Creek use to be called Spearfish River because of
the hugh volume of water it had back then.
The first commercial transportation through the Canyon was by train in 1893. It
was a difficult area to make a road in, and some early attempts failed, so most
travelers accessed the canyon by horseback or train. When a flood damaged
the rail line in 1933, it was abandoned and the main vehicle road was
finally made. Much of the road was made directly on the old rail line bed.
Later, Highway 14A was constructed allowing more people access to this
breathtaking, scenic wonder. As you travel though, you'll notice how high
some of the walls go, and how narrow the canyon actually is.
As you make your way through the canyon, you can see 3 main layers of rock.
The highest peaks, typically the thickest part, which can be 300 to 600 feet
thick, are known as the PahaSapa Limestone. It's typically beige or tan with
weathered gray areas and it's in this section of rock where people find the
|The next level down is the Englewood Limestone, which can range from 30 to
60 feet thick. The Englewood Limestone is quite often mauve, pink or even
red. The bottom layer is known as Deadwood Sandstone and is normally a brown
color and may appear to have different levels or layers. These Deadwood
Sandstone layers can be up to 400 feet thick!
||The Bridal Veil Falls area is an example of igneous rock. This type of rock was
formed when molten rock pushed through the sedimentary rock above it. You
won't see layers in this type of rock, but if you look, some of the other
layered rock formations will be seen resting upon these giant gray rock
The wildlife in the canyon is worth the trip itself. Whitetail and Mule
Deer can be seen anywhere along the canyon. If you don't see a chipmunk or
two, then you must have your eyes closed! If you watch, you can also see
Raccoons, Porcupine, Squirrels, Mountain Goats and every once in a great
while someone will report a Bobcat. Many of the different types of birds
that frequent the Black Hills can also be seen in the Canyon. Eagles have
been known to swoop down and pluck out fat trout. Brook, Rainbow, Brown and
Cutthroat trout can all be found in Spearfish Canyon Creek. Trout are not
native to the Black Hills. The trout were actually brought to the Hills
from Colorado by the US Bureau of Fisheries at the very end of the 1800's.
The Historic DC Booth Fish Hatchery, located in Spearfish, and is one of the
great free attractions in the Northern Black Hills.
|No matter what time of year you get here, Spearfish Canyon has something to
offer. Of course the Fall time has the great fall colors when the Aspen and
Birch trees turn to golden yellow, but the Canyon is equally awe inspiring
in the Winter when heavy wet snow piles up on the tree branches and Canyon
tops. It can get so quiet and serene that you actually can hear a pin
drop. Personal reflection in the surrounds and ambience of these ancient
mountains, together with the absolute silence can be an experience almost "out
of this world".
In the springtime, the canyon renews it's magic every year when something so
ancient becomes fresh and alive all over again. The canyon is bright and
teeming with life. The springtime scenes are fresh and crisp, and are a
favorite time for hikers, fishers and nature lovers of all ages.
|| Summer time brings the sightseers, picnickers and family outings. Bikers,
both the motorized and peddled versions find one of the best rides anywhere
in the world. If you watch, you can sometimes see the American Bald Eagle
as well as other birds of prey. Many of the 1300 plant species from the
Black Hills region can be found right here in the canyon. Every once in
awhile you can see the mountain goats too... so when you get here, keep your
eyes open! Spearfish Canyon Foundation
511 W Jackson Blvd.
Spearfish, SD 57783
Phone - 605-642-8166
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