Wyobraska Expedition Photographer Buck Lovell Explores Bear Butte near Sturgis, South Dakota

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Bear Butte is a geological laccolith feature located near Sturgis, South Dakota, United States, that was established as a State Park in 1961. Historically, Bear Butte has meant much too many people, both indigenous and immigrant. According to anthropologists, the butte, that’s not a butte, has been a sacred site to Native Americans for more than 10,000 years. During the 1800’s the Kiowa, then Cheyenne, and most recently Oglala Sioux Tribe occupied the area surrounding or adjacent to this geographical feature. 

Article by: Buck Lovell
Photography by: Buck Lovell
Published Sep 22, 2020


When the Cheyenne were living and hunting proximate to the Butte, it was commonly known as the Mountain of the Horse Indian. 

This laccolith (an intrusive body of igneous rock, uplifting earlier sedimentary layers, which have since largely eroded away) known as Bear Butte is said by geologists to be a replica in miniature of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Bear Butte is a geological laccolith feature located near Sturgis, South Dakota, United States, that was established as a State Park in 1961. Photo: Buck Lovell
Bear Butte is a geological laccolith feature located near Sturgis, South Dakota, United States, that was established as a State Park in 1961. Photo: Buck Lovell

At the base, pure water springs fill Bear Butte Lake and surrounding ponds. In the days of the gold rush three historic routes united near Bear Butt. Fort Pierre, Bismarck and the Sidney trails converge from the East , North and South respectively. Visible from the summit of Bear Butte is a landscape in all directions of unparalleled beauty.

In the recent past, dense wooded area inhabited the Butte’s exterior. Fires caused primarily by lightning have almost completely destroyed the towering tree of the once healthy forest. 

Towering almost 1400 feet above the surround prairie, and 4422 feet above sea level, Bear Butte was a significant navigational landmark point for  many immigrants, and settlers in the 1850’ into the 1900’s.

French explores were known to be in what is today the state of South Dakota as early as 1742, and again in 1743. For all these expeditionary groups, the Butte was probably visible for 5 or 6 as they slowly approached from a Northerly direction. 

Artifacts of human origin have been discovered on or near Bear Butte that date back 10,000 years, indicating a long and continuous interest in the mountain. The Cheyenne and Lakota people have maintained a spiritual interest in Bear Butte from their earliest recorded history.

A visit to Bear Butte is a really a visit into early American history. Climbing Bear Butte may be a perfect vacation designation for hikers, photographers and amateur historians! Bring your hiking boots, the climb is very rocky.

Bear Butte is a geological laccolith feature located near Sturgis, South Dakota, United States, that was established as a State Park in 1961. Photo: Buck Lovell
Bear Butte is a geological laccolith feature located near Sturgis, South Dakota, United States, that was established as a State Park in 1961. Photo: Buck Lovell

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Bear Butte is a geological laccolith feature located near Sturgis, South Dakota, United States, that was established as a State Park in 1961. Photo: Buck Lovell
Bear Butte is a geological laccolith feature located near Sturgis, South Dakota, United States, that was established as a State Park in 1961. Photo: Buck Lovell
Bear Butte is a geological laccolith feature located near Sturgis, South Dakota, United States, that was established as a State Park in 1961. Photo: Buck Lovell
Bear Butte is a geological laccolith feature located near Sturgis, South Dakota, United States, that was established as a State Park in 1961. Photo: Buck Lovell

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Bear Butte is a geological laccolith feature located near Sturgis, South Dakota, United States, that was established as a State Park in 1961. Photo: Buck Lovell
Bear Butte is a geological laccolith feature located near Sturgis, South Dakota, United States, that was established as a State Park in 1961. Photo: Buck Lovell

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About Buck Lovell

Buck Lovell is a Wyobraska Expedition Photographer living in Sturgis, South Dakota. Buck began photographing motorcycles professionally in 1978. His first published article featured a 1941 Crocker motorcycle restored by the late Stan Dishong.  It can be seen in a 1979 issue of Iron Horse Magazine.

Around the same time, Buck was also photographing wildlife for the Environmental Education Center of the recently founded San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. His award winning photography is still being used in various educational programs.

Buck and his wife, Traci met in Northern California in the late 1980’s and discovered their shared love for American motorcycles, animals, and photography. After they relocated to Sturgis, South Dakota, Buck became the Editor of American Bagger Magazine and American Cycle Magazine. Buck and Traci began to photograph local wildlife and scenery in The Black Hills, using a 300mm f4, and 500mm f4 telephoto lens.

Buck prefers hunting with a camera than a firearm. He says, “I can’t eat the deer and buffalo seen in my photos, but I can enjoy the images for a lifetime!”

See also: Signal Butte

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