After a full day of touring in and around Rapid City South Dakota, it was a short drive to my next destination for the evening, Deadwood. If you have not heard of it this town is synonymous with cowboys and criminals of the old American West. Deadwood was settled in 1876 due to the gold rush that was going on at the time within the area, the city was made famous for the lawlessness, robbery and murder that went on at the time the city was built. The most famous being the murder and burial of gunman Wild Bill Hickock it is also the resting place of Calamity Jane.
Today the high street in Deadwood appeared to be mostly made up of casinos/bars that go back to the city’s foundation, these casinos being historical landmarks. I went into a few of these casinos which are actual active bars with art and some roped off historical pieces from the time. There were also modern slot machines that could be played and card tables, as it was lunchtime there were no card games going on. I sat at the bar, ordered some lunch and spoke with the bartender for a while. I then heard loud gunfire in the street and strolled on out to see two men shooting at each other, wow this was authentic…. or maybe not as hundreds of tourists with cameras ton the side of the street were taking pictures, it was a historical enactment of a showdown which runs every hour every day. A play, gambing, historical landmark with a lunch and beer all rolled into one.
In the afternoon I mozied on around Deadwood, this included doing some shopping for checked shirts (which was my fashion sense when I took this trip… and still is), walking to the graveyard where Wild Bill and Calamity Jane were buried and then did a tour of a few museums starting at the Adams Museum. This museum includes historical census records going back to the city’s foundation, not of much interest to me though I figure a great place for Americans to trace their ancestral heritage. The museum also contains thousands of sketches about the history of the Black Hills including historical figures such as Wild Bill as well aslandscapes.
Of more interest to me was the Days of 76 Museum which was just a short drive north of town, this includes stagecoaches from the time, tools used in the gold rush that settled the area and interactive displays. There was a detailed history regarding the confrontation with the Indians and 100 hundred rifles and 20 handguns on display detailing the history of the gun. After a full day I went back to my hotel and had a good night’s sleep, I’d decided not to see what Deadwood was like at night as I had about a 9-hour drive the following day to Yellowstone National Park.
Up at 5am, I headed out across the border into the state of Wyoming, my first stop the Devils Tower. Those familiar with Stephen Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind would know this formation already, an amazing standalone geological feature rising up from a large flat landscape surrounding it. Standing at 1,558m tall, this area is held sacred by the Northern Plain Indians due to it being very unique, so unique that it featured predominantly in the classic sci-fi movie. I walked up to the base of the tower and stared up at it with the theme tune from Close Encounters playing through my mind, the park was dead quiet except for a few rock climbers preparing to ascend the rock (there is no hiking trail) and several prairie dogs popping up and down out of their holes in the distance.
I headed back out of the park and started zigzagging between the states of Wyoming and Montana to my next destination, the Little Bighorn Battlefield. In 1876 General George Custer led his force of 210 men against an approximately combined force of 3000 Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne Indians under the command of chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. In quick time Custer and his force were killed and the Indians had their greatest victory in the Plain Indians War. Nowadays the site includes a museum detailing the history of the battle with marked graves of the Union soldiers that fell George Custer himself been exhumed and relocated to West Point in 1877. There were a lot of American tourists walking the fields going over the history of the site and I watched a video at the education centre, as a spectacle it is one long arid plane, quite an interesting experience.
It was another approximate five hours to Yellowstone so I punched the accelerator on the Mustang and covered the distance as quickly as possible. The flat planes eventually changed to forest green and I started zig-zagging across the Yellowstone River. There are five entry points into the park, I had one night there in a cabin (it’s expensive to stay in the park) so I decided on what was regarded as the most scenic entry point, the North East. The ascent was steep and there was plenty of wildlife on the side of the road, some buffalo, deer and signs indicating grizzly bears. There was a lot of sweeping bends, epic views, fog type conditions and snow on the ground making driving slow, even though it was summer. After about 10 hours, the 950km distance and a few stops I made it to my hotel, this had been the longest leg of my trip so it was a relief to get out of the car, have a few beers at the hotel bar and then head off to sleep.
The following morning after some breakfast I headed towards Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring, on the way, I pulled over a few times looked at the amazing array of wildlife that was walking across the park, myself and thousands of other tourist doing the same thing, Yellowstone is very busy. The thermal hot spring has bright bands of orange, yellow, and green rings within blue waters. there are several walkways so you can get close the spring safely and notably, it smells awful (rotten eggs) from all the sulphur emanating in the air. Yellowstone is if full of such springs, the park is a super volcano that will erupt one day though no one can predict when I certainly wouldn’t want to be around when this occurs.
The final and most famous geyser is Old Faithful, named in 1870 by the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition this is where most of the tourists gravitate towards to watch the show and is one of approximately 500 geysers in the park. Approximately every 74 minutes the spring erupts spraying boiling water which heads upwards of 50 metres in the air and lasts between 2 and 5 minutes per eruption. Depending on where you stand you can get sprayed with water. I watched this impressive display blow up and then zigzagged through the crowd of tourists and headed out of the park in a southerly direction. I did not have more time to spend in the park though I managed to cover from north to south, the park’s dimension is 101 km north to south and 57 km east to west so it can mostly be seen in a day though ideally I would of liked to spend more time.
My next destination was Teton Village for a night the drive was quite spectacular as I was passing the Grand Teton. This is a 65km spectacular mountain range with snow-capped peaks and a series of lakes at the base with thousands of different species of birds scattered around the area. The plains were lush and bright green and the warm weather made road cruising a pleasurable experience. The village is a ski resort, it was summer so accommodation at the hostel was quite cheap. The village was quiet and I was directed to the aerial tram by the hostel worker to take the ride to the top of Rendevouz Mountain, a 2km steep ascent. At the top of the mountain, the “Ski” bar was open and I was invited to sit with a group of Americans that were running the hostel, I was the only customer staying there.
I had an excellent evening with my new friends, sharing several beers on top of the mountain staring off at the amazing views of the Teton and valley below. We descended the 2km drop on a cable car and then had beers and buffalo wings at the local bar, all the customers were workers from the village itself, the maintenance staff for summer of this famous ski resort, it was an excellent night. It was a pity I could not stay a few more days as I was enjoying the company and the spectacular nature but I would be on the road again in the morning, this time heading south towards Utah’s Salt Lake City, Reno, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and my final destination, Las Vegas….