Tuesday 31 August 2010

Day 4 – Driving Through WyOMG…Look At The Size Of That Mountain!

It’s been a long day. It wasn’t meant to be; in fact it started ahead of schedule. Joe made me get up 10 minutes earlier than we’d originally planned because he felt we hadn’t been getting out the door quick enough. I was not a happy bunny, I’m not usually a morning person anyway, but this morning I was overtired as I was up late due to blog-related problems. Photo uploading on this site is a nightmare I’m still trying to work around.
By breakfast I’d started to calm down...that is until the woman at the table next to us declared how impressed she was with all the buffalo she’d seen yesterday. Damn you buffalo!!

Making the most of our early morning we headed over to the old west town of Deadwood, made famous by the likes of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane. We imagined the town was quite the crazy place to be back in the 1800’s, with its saloons and gunslingers, but at 9.30am on a random Tuesday morning Deadwood was…well, dead.
Despite the lack of people, it had no lack of casinos. In fact all it really had were casinos. Now I know I’ve already pledged our love of gambling in this blog, but even for us, a deserted gambling floor that early felt too much. This ain’t Vegas, baby. So, without wasting any money we only went into a casino to check out some random movie memorabilia on display. Hey, nerds are nerds wherever they are.

Much more interesting than the actual town of Deadwood was where it laid its dead: Mount Moriah Cemetery. At the top of a ridiculously big hill (A Boot Hill if you will!), is the resting place of Wild Bill, Calamity Jane and a whole host of Deadwood’s most important residence. For the price of just $1 you get to walk around this graveyard overlooking the town below. I can’t stress how high up this place is, which I couldn’t help but feel was bad town planning on somebody’s part considering that they had to take each body up there for burial. While there we crossed paths with an Australian man who was in America as he’d been babysitting for 8 weeks in Colorado. Wow, that’s a hell of commute!
Leaving the cemetery we passed a tour bus company that was for some reason endorsed by Kevin Costner (South Dakota has real love for this guy apparently!), a wooden bear that I loved but that Joe refused to let me buy (meanie!) and the world’s best garage (I don’t know who Pam is, but she must be real special!). It was time to pass into state number 4: Wyoming.

Our first stop in Wyoming was Devils Tower. An imposing rock formation that became America’s first ever National Monument in 1906. This thing is a rock climbers dream, but unfortunately we were not that ambitious and just managed to graze the visitors centre. It was a cool sight to see, but unless you feel like hiking closer for a couple of miles, there isn’t much else to do there, so we decided to hit the road as we needed to get across most of Wyoming before bedtime.
Driving away from Devils Tower we noticed people pulled over taking photos. Well, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so we pulled over to see what the hubbub was about. Prairie Dogs! The little nutcases were everywhere, standing on their hind legs!

Excitement over for the day we got ready for our long ride. There was some great scenery and the mountains in the distance looked amazing…oh wait, we’re getting closer to those things…
OH WAIT, we’re going through those things!!!!!!! Yep, before we knew it we were putting the car to the test through the Big Horn Mountains. Knew we named him Grifter for a reason, he could hack it...just! Joe on the other hand could not. He freaked out like a little girl the whole way. Turns out being in the passenger seat for hairpin turns at great heights are a different ballgame for him than driving them!! Although I had trusted him yesterday, he didn’t seem to return the favour and nearly missed the breathtaking beauty while whimpering from fear!!
Sadly the drive through the mountains - while possibly the most gorgeous I’m likely to ever see in this lifetime - was slow and put us way behind schedule. We’ve planned things so we don’t have to search for our hotels in the dark and tonight was our first fail. We arrived at 9pm, pooped from another great day on the road. Time for some much needed sleep as I vaguely heard Joe say something about a 5.30am start...WTF???

So, until tomorrow…

Monday 30 August 2010

Day 3 – Where Are The Buffalo?

Today was the first day on this trip where we’ve really been dazzled by America. The last two days helped ease us into life as tourists, but today we were ready to see some of this country’s amazing national treasures; no more mucking around!! Last night Joe briefly mentioned he’d seen that the weather for tomorrow was going to be rain, I scoffed at this and decided to defy his warning: Time to bring out the summer dress to combat the heat! A rarity in our marriage, Joe actually thought I’d be right and even pulled out his shorts…Oh crap, our first encounter with grey skies, and of all days!

Putting the weather troubles behind us, we arrived at Custer State Park ready for our day in the Black Hills and prepared for its famed buffalo. Paying our entrance fee I noticed a bench in which someone had carved the words ‘Where are the buffalo?’. I chuckled that they were so disappointed in their lack of buffalo sightings that they’d sat long enough to carve such a thing...how na├»ve I was this early in the day!
Things started well wildlife-wise, we came across some friendly donkeys that loved to stand in the road, some cute bambi-like deer and even a wandering turkey…
But we only managed to see a few buffalo off in the distance, they were so far away and we went by so fast we didn’t even get a photo. I have to say, after all the promise of seeing these huge creatures up close, I was ready to do some bench carving of my own.
Giving up on the bison, we followed the trail round to the next stop of the day.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is the world’s largest sculpture, or it would be if it ever gets finished. Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski started the project in 1948 and dedicated the rest of his life to its creation; literally living at the site with his wife, Ruth, and raising 10 kids. After his death in 1982 his family have kept up his beloved project and still work tirelessly to complete it. In fact, Ruth Ziolkowski still lives at the visitors centre that has been built around their original home.
Being there and hearing their story did nothing if not make me feel like an underachiever. It takes a rare passion to stick with such a seemingly crazy plan when all the odds are against you. The whole project is even more impressive when you consider that it’s publicly funded. I can only hope one day it is finished and we’ll get to revisit it.
After being impressed by man, it was time to once again be impressed by nature. We winded around to Needles Highway; a beautiful scenic drive through outstanding rock formations with views to die for - quite literally if you’re not careful! Payment for these impressive sights are the nail biting hairpin turns and overhangs. Joe was driving today, so I tried my best to put my faith in his skills…
It would be impossible to visit South Dakota without seeing its most famous landmark, Mount Rushmore. Having already marvelled at the size of Crazy Horse, the size of Mount Rushmore isn’t quite as impressive, but what is impressive is that it’s actually finished. The four protruding president’s heads could be seen from quite the distance, but up close - with the sun finally making an appearance - you couldn’t help but appreciate the work that went into such a patriotic formation!
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln were picked for their dedication to making America a place where everyone is free to pursue their dreams of happiness. You can’t really argue with that, especially when it’s up there in stone!
With the day wearing on we decided to make a quick stop in the town of Keystone, sadly it ended up being a longwinded detour as we headed out in the wrong direction. Getting there we discovered it didn’t have much more to offer than Wall Drug did and there is only so many tacky touristy shops you can work your way through.

Our last stop of the day ended with one Joe tried to talk me out of, stating ‘this will end up being one of the dumbest things we do’. He was probably right, but he’d been driving me nuts talking in ‘funny’ accents for most of the afternoon and therefore I felt it was only fair I drag him to the retro Dinosaur Park in Rapid City. Built in 1936 it is apparently a memorial to ‘perpetuate the facts of history’. Sure, why not…If nothing else, I just love kitsch, so it was totally worth it.
I was still disappointed about the buffalo, but the day was pretty much a success, right down to our Dairy Queen salad dinner. Yeah, that’s right, Dairy Queen does salads. Who knew!

So, until tomorrow...

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