Further and Further West


Day 4 – June 7, 2007 Thursday – Hill City to Carlile, WY

We had every intention of starting off early today, and actually got away from the hotel by about 9 AM. We went straight to Mt. Rushmore, which was very impressive and not terribly crowded – understandable because it was extremely windy and spitting rain into the bargain. We took the path down to the artist’s studio and heard a little lecture, then labored back up to the visitor center to buy refrigerator magnets and more squished pennies.

From Mt. Rushmore we went to Sturgis, with every intention of going to the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum. Sturgis was kind of a dump and the museum a tiny little place that John decided he would rather not waste time in. We decided to drive to Deadwood and have a look around.

Deadwood is extremely honky-tonky with a LOT of casinos. We ate at one of the casino diners and it gave both of us upset stomachs (lesson learned). There is also something really depressing about low-rent casinos (where the “high roller” room features $1.00 slots). They always seem to be populated by senior citizens with hard faces and cigarettes, stuffing money into slot machines as fast as they can. We beat a hasty retreat and went off to find some remnant of the old Deadwood.

We found it at the Mt. Moriah Cemetery, where many of the late residents from Deadwood’s notorious days are buried – including Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane. Most moving to me were the numerous small headstones of children – I guess it was a tough time to be a kid. We walked around the cemetery for about half an hour in the cold and wind, then decided we’d had enough and headed for the car, Wyoming and Devil’s Tower.

It seemed like the weather changed as soon as we crossed into Wyoming. Like South Dakota, it’s beautiful country and the impression was heightened by the lessening winds and clearing skies.

Like the Badlands, Devil’s Tower is unexpected and unearthly. It suddenly loomed up in the distance like some alien creature rearing its head, and yes, we did hum the five-note theme from Close Encounters for about two minutes. We quickly got over it. As iconic as the Tower has become due to its exposure in the movie, the film doesn’t do it justice. One can see why Native Americans view it as a holy place.

Most tourists simply drive up to the visitors’ center, take a few shots and drive away; they’re missing the experience of walking around the base of the tower and seeing it from all sides. Once you get away from the most frequently photographed face of the tower, you see all kinds of different shapes – here a curve, there a cupping – as well as wildlife. We had a close encounter with a rabbit who was simply not impressed with us a bit and sat with an air of boredom as we took photo after photo.

From the Tower, we headed southward to Carlile and Trophy Ridge Outfitters, where we will spend two nights. I’m headed back to Devil’s Tower tomorrow for more wildlife viewing; conversely, John is headed out with the ranch owner to do some varmint hunting – in other words, shoot prairie dogs, which are considered a major pest out here. We saw some just inside the Devil’s Tower property and they are cute, but you can see how they destroy grassland and apparently carry some neat diseases into the bargain. All the same, I’d rather not be around when the shooting starts – not after watching them skittering and barking around their dog town.

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