CASCADE, S.D. -- This is a place where you sleep at night in an unlocked house with coyotes howling outside the window.
This is a place where you leave the keys in the ignition when parking a car in town to pick up supplies.
This is a place that puts a mannequin in its jail to make it seem more authentic.
There is not much to fear when you live in a ghost town. Cascade's seven residents live here because they want to, preferring tumbleweeds to traffic and delighting in isolation that means their back yard looks like a state park postcard.
Few white people ventured into the Black Hills until 1880, when settlers pushed westward. The first was Chicago businessman Frank Alabaugh, who soon brought prospectors interested in establishing the area as a health resort that would take advantage of local hot springs.
The prospectors gambled that the Freemont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad would steam through Cascade, but they lost. When the railroad began running in 1893, it rolled through the town of Hot Springs 10 long, dusty miles away.
"Without a railroad here at that time, there was no way the town was going to survive," said Cindy Reed, 42. She and her husband, Marc Lamphere, 45, own much of Cascade.
The couple's sandstone home used to be the bank, and their barn was the blacksmith shop. When Cascade was dismantled after losing the railroad route, much of the sandstone went to Hot Springs to build its western-style buildings that feature bell towers.
People here are friendly but not syrupy-sweet friendly, as are some small-town southerners. Nor do they display the crisp matter-of-fact friendliness that some small-town northerners might evince.
The Sioux tribe claims that this part of the world, where Midwest meets West, is the center of the Earth, a place of great mystical and spiritual value. If those Native Americans are correct, that might explain the laid-back, self-effacing nature of the locals, be they native or transplanted.
When a city person expresses incredulity at seeing unlocked doors or even doors with no locks, she is shown a sheepish, patient smile, an indication that there is Another Way to live.
Faces are tanned and smooth, just like the reddish-brown earth and rolling hills. The southern Black Hills here are not majestic or grand, just comfortable like the climate, a strange combination of midwestern prairie and western desert. Prairie grass grows alongside cactus and yucca, and one is likely to find seashells on sandy hilltops, relics of a time when the hills were part of an ocean.
Temperatures can climb to 95 degrees with low humidity during the day and cool to 50 degrees at night. The only air conditioning required is an open window in the morning to let in the cool breeze and a closed window in the afternoon to block the hot sun filtering through an unpolluted sky.
Conversation is hushed, never raucous or obnoxious. A raised voice would reverberate for miles in the startling stillness of these hills.
Reed and Lamphere wear many hats. They are ranchers, botanists, spelunkers, bed-and-breakfast owners -- whatever the day happens to demand.
Sometimes, the big excitement might be discovery of a new color of dragonfly buzzing around Cascade Creek, which flows through their back yard. And sometimes, a citified clock watcher observing Another Way discovers, that is just fine.