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ROCHFORD | You can buy beer, groceries, ice cream, fishing supplies and worms at The Rochford Mall, not to mention some original art.

And if you ask, you can even get an accurate, if not government-official, census of the community from Colleen Langley, owner of the tiny do-all store delightfully sub-titled “The Small of America.”

At the population question, Langley — who sells her own watercolors as well as other local art at the store — conferred with Rochford residents Don and Beth Daily.

“Let’s see, six, seven, eight, right?” Langley said.

“Yeah,” Beth Daily confirmed. “If you’re talking year-round residents, it’s eight.”

Langley herself is technically an outsider, since her home is a few miles away in the Nemo area.

“I live in the suburbs,” she said.

But she’s in Rochford at the store during most days during the summer months. And she’s rarely lonesome.

“I’m busy all summer long,” she said. “There’s nothing on the trail between Lead and Hill City but us.”

By the “trail,” she means the George S. Mickelson Trail, a 109-mile recreational corridor from Deadwood to Edgemont noted for its mostly gradual undulations and scenery that ranges from charming to spectacular. By “us” she means her store and the other hospitality business in town — the Moonshine Gulch Saloon.

Hikers and bicyclists who frequent the trail during the warm months stop at a trailhead at Rochford, about 35 miles west of Rapid City. They pedal up to the Small of America or the Moonshine Gulch for their choice of refreshments. At the Moonshine Gulch, they are likely to find motorcyclists and all-terrain vehicle riders waiting for a beer and a burger from owner Betsy Harn.

The Moonshine Gulch is considered an earthy must-stop by many Black Hills visitors, even if those visits are spaced out.

“I’ve been here three times in the last 25 years, so I guess I’m a regular,” said Vernon Dent of Milwaukee, who rode in on a motorcycle with companion Sandra LaMere. “I figured she needed to see all this place has.”

So what’s to like?

“The food is good. The scenery is beautiful. What more can you want?” Dent said.

At the time, Dent and LaMere were the only customers in the saloon, which is a favorite gathering spot for deer and elk hunters during the fall seasons as well as the summer tourist push.

Hunters, trail users, bikers, ATV riders, fishermen on nearby Rapid Creek and people looking for an unusual place to eat tend to make up the clientele at the Moonshine Gulch.

“We don’t get typical tourists in there,” Harn said. “If we do, they’re usually lost.”

Dave and Mary Fleck of Sioux Falls were not lost when they came in a few minutes later. They are regular visitors to the Black Hills and regulars at the Moonshine Gulch Saloon. On this particular day they had played golf near Lead and were heading back to their campground.

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They couldn’t miss a stop at Rochford.

“There’s just not anyplace quite like this,” Mary said. “We come to the Hills for a week every year, and we always stop here.”

Dave said their now-grown children fondly recall feeding a deer fawn that had become something of a pet at the Moonshine many years ago.

“They’ll never forget that,” he said. “This was Bambi’s house to them.”

Harn said the fawn feeding ended at the advice of the state Game, Fish & Parks Department. Now her companion in the saloon, and in what she refers to as “the shack” she lives in out back, is a mixed-breed dog with Border collie and husky being part of the blend.

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After 35 years at the Moonshine Gulch, Harn takes few days off and even with part-time help rarely can manage a vacation. Her opening hours in the morning tend to depend on when she gets to sleep the night before.

“The hours are whenever I get up. I was here until 2 this morning,” she said. “I actually thought I’d like to see this thing, but nobody wants to work this hard.”

As if on cue, the door started to open and close, and soon, Harn had nine hamburger patties sizzling on the grill.

“People here say they never seen a place that can fill up and empty out as fast as this one,” she said.

About the time Harn was taking the burgers off the grill, Rapid City writer Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve and her husband, Vance, were settling in at the kitchen table of their reconverted Rochford School building nearby.

And in Rochford, everything is nearby. The Moonshine Gulch Saloon is across the street from the Small of America, which is across the lawn from the schoolhouse the Sneves have owned with other families for decades.

The Sneves bought the building from the Hill City School District more than 30 years ago and have taken turns enjoying it since.

“We like to be able to get out here,” said Virginia, whose literature is sold at the Rochford Mall. “I’ll bring my laptop and do some writing.”

Their children and grandchildren also enjoy the home, and the community. But some days are better than others.

“It’s crazy during the (Sturgis) rally. We don’t even come up then,” Virginia said.

Vance said their recreation tends to be simple and tied to the picturesque outdoors that surround the town. They walk the Mickelson Trail and drive to peaceful places nearby.

“On boring days, we’ll even watch TV,” he said.

But with so much to look at in the real world outside, they don’t have many boring days.

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Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or kevin.woster@rapidcityjournal.com

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