Is ‘Buckhorn, South Dakota’ a real place? What we know about the other ‘Twin Peaks’
Nicole LaLiberte and Kyle MacLachlan enjoying the cuisine of Buckhorn, South Dakota.
Just four episodes in, Showtime’s revival of Twin Peaks has already broken all kinds of Twin Peaks rules.
There’s music not composed by Angelo Badalamenti, the Man From Another Place has evolved into a talking tree, Sheriff Harry S. Truman is nowhere in sight and Agent Cooper is definitely not himself right now.
But the biggest difference fans will notice about the new Twin Peaks: Most of it takes place outside of Twin Peaks.
The original 1990-91 show was contained within the fictional border town in the northeastern corner of Washington state — the exception being when the gang crossed over into Canada to visit notorious casino-slash-brothel One Eyed Jack’s.
But for Season 3, David Lynch has expanded his horizons: to New York City, for one of the new season’s most terrifying sequences, and to another, altogether fictional town.
Welcome to Buckhorn, South Dakota — for all intents and purposes, the new Twin Peaks.
It’s here in Buckhorn that Cooper’s doppelgänger (a menacing, long-haired Kyle MacLachlan) has been operating for years, ostensibly since his escape from the Black Lodge in the 1991 finale. It’s also here that local police have just found the decapitated head of a librarian placed on the headless body of an unidentified man, and suspect the school’s principal (Matthew Lillard).
It’s early, but things are sure setting up in a way that would suggest that much of Twin Peaks: The Return will take place in Buckhorn. In the second episode, Cooper’s dopplegänger looks at its location on a map, putting it on the western edge of the state, just at the northernmost tip of the Black Hills National Forest.
This screenshot shows Buckhorn in a red dot on the left …
… and then he zooms in:
And with that, the fictional Buckhorn, S.D., has something that the fictional Twin Peaks, Wash., never quite did: a precise location.
Twin Peaks is understood to be roughly five miles south of the border and 12 miles from the state line. The nearest population center is Metaline Falls, which has just over 200 people — nowhere near the "Population 52,201" of Twin Peaks.
In fact, the original Twin Peaks was an amalgam of shooting locations around Washington, from the exterior of the Salish Lodge & Spa and its instantly recognizable waterfalls in Snoqualmie (near Seattle) to Twede’s Diner (the Double-R in the show) in nearby North Bend.
While those landmarks endure as places for Twin Peaks fans to visit, there is no place in Washington that one could stand and say, "this is where Twin Peaks is located." It is truly … nowhere.
Not so with Buckhorn.
If you put a point in the center of Cooper’s red dot, you’d also be in the middle of nowhere, as there is no town that far off of Interstate 90. There’s not even a road that goes to this spot — it’s just open prairie.
Image: Google maps
Where Buckhorn would be, if there was a Buckhorn.
But there are some compelling suspects nearby that could have inspired the town that we already know has its own police department (including homicide investigators) and a large school.
The nearest is Whitewood, whose population of under 1,000 people isn’t big enough to fit the profile. Neither is Sturgis, population 6,000, which sits just a ways down I-90 and is the home of the Black Hills’ annual motorcycle rallies.
But a short way up the interstate is Spearfish, S.D., population 11,000-plus.
Spearfish is home to a regional airport, a state university, and a historic commercial district that draws a sprinkle of tourists who are visiting the area (who primarily come up this way, about an 90-minute drive north of Mount Rushmore, to see the much smaller Deadwood).
And get this: Like Snoqualmie, Wash., Spearfish has a big waterfall.
Image: Universal History Archive/REX/ShutterstockHistory Archive/REX/Shutterstock
Spearfish Falls in the Black Hills of South Dakota, as photographed in 1886.
Spearfish isn’t known for much else — a bizarre Chinook wind caused the world record for the fastest recorded temperature change, from minus-4 degrees to 45 Fahrenheit in a matter of minutes in 1943 — but its location, size and tone make it a perfect doppelgänger for the fictional Buckhorn.
Not that there’s any good reason for Peaks fans to travel there … at least not yet. None of Twin Peaks: The Return was shot in South Dakota, and the scenes that take place there do not — so far — have any standout characteristics, like a big hunting lodge, easy-to-spot diner or pair of mountain peaks.
The only establishing shot we’ve gotten is this idyllic, if dull, little frame:
If this were in fact b-roll shot on location, it would ostensibly be looking down on Buckhorn from the north, with the rising Black Hills in the background. But this could be any place in California, where much of Twin Peaks is filmed, or even somewhere in Washington state, where the crew returned during much of the production in 2015 and 2016.
For now, we’ll just have to live with the fact that Buckhorn is, like Twin Peaks itself, still coming into focus — perhaps more clues will emerge to support the Spearfish theory as the season’s remaining 14 episodes unfold.
Its tiny tourism industry would certainly be in favor of that.