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Saturday, March 21, 2015

O'Neil Pass to Deerfield Lake

With the 30 mile ascension to O'Neil Pass, the Black Hills BackBone deeply embeds one into the thick pine forests of the Northern Hills.  Ahead promises another 30 miles of shorter, but steeper, climbs and descents, winding along on secondary U.S. Forest Service gravel and dirt roads through remote logging and recreational high country.  The next destination is Deerfield Lake, a high altitude sparkling jewel at mile 195 of the BackBone.

On the descent to Deerfield Lake, glimpses of remote high plains tucked into the steep Hills.

So, it's into the heart of the hills.  On paved U.S. Highway 85, just before the summit of O'Neil Pass, turn Left (south) onto graveled O'Neil Pass Road for about 1 mile, and then again turn Left (south) on South Rapid Creek Road (231).  This is the high country of the Black Hills, with snow pack supporting downhill ski and snowboard resorts, snowmobile trails and camps, and now fat bike events like the Minus 28, part of the Savoy Winter Challenge.

In mid March, South Rapid Creek Road (231) remains snow stuffed.
Enjoy the undulating forest gravel of South Rapid Creek Road (231) for about 11.5 miles to USFS Black Fox Campground (233).  Resist all the other tempting roads, trails and paths and resolve to return to explore them on another day.

Take a hard Right (southwest) onto Black Fox Camp Road (233), which winds along, climbing a bit.  After about 5 miles, turn Left (east) onto Flag Mountain Road (189) for a spin past the North Fork Castle Creek Natural Area and Flag Mountain itself.  For the exceptionally spunky, a mile long spur to the top of Flag Mountain (elev. 6937) beckons.  Not for the BackBone, however.  Stay the course.

Just rolling along on the Black Hills BackBone.
Just 7 miles on Flag Mountain Road (189), the BackBone drops to the edge of Reynolds Prairie, a high plains in the very middle of the Black Hills.  Turn Right (south) on paved South Rochford Road for about 1.5 miles, then a Left (east) onto paved Deerfield Road.  About 1.5 miles later, turn Left (north) on 421, which leads to USFS WhiteTail Campground in about a mile.  Take a break.  There's water here, and great views.

Flag Mountain Road hints at the big granite ahead - Mt. Rushmore, Cathedral Spires, Crazy Horse.
From the WhiteTail Campground, continue on 421 for about a mile, then turn Right (west) on paved Deerfield Road.  But don't get too comfortable on pavement.  About a half mile later, turn Left (south) on Williams Draw Road (691).  The Black Hills BackBone is about to dive into the very Heart of the Hills.

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