29th and 30th July.
We left The Sheraton at Sioux Falls to hit the I90 west for 380 miles crossing the Missouri river in the process, my goodness it’s a big n , even this far from the state that’s named for it . We must be a1000 miles away from the conjunction with the Mississippi near St louis and its wider than a wide thing already.
We called in at “The Corn Palace” in Mitchell SD, where every year they decorate a concert hall with corn cobs and it’s byproducts ,straw, husks and stuff. It is a fabulous work of genuine art, well organized, like a production line. Blokes making bouquets of straw, others trimming it with a chop saw passing it up to blokes on platforms who nail gun it to the wall, all this effort results in several massive murals. One looked like a scene from Easy Rider and loads of other stuff, ahh have a look at the photos its no good me trying to describe such an eclectic massive work of art.
Leaving the quaint Mitchell we re-join the I90 continuing to pass the now ubiquitous Wall Drug road side hoardings that have been picking up in frequency along the road since Iowa. We reached an area called “The Badlands” its a national park and it’s bad, particularly when it’s blindingly hot like it was, the light reflects off the pale rocks deepening further ones squint lines. Its an amazing place. The fact that its even on the same planet as the lake district is hard to believe . It’s that bad it’s good. There are signs warning of rattlesnakes, that gives a few clues. Geologists love it, paleontologists love it, anyone wanting to hide a body would love it. It’s very special to look at from the inside of an air-conditioned car but to hike in it would kill you. In fact if someone dropped you in the middle of the area then removed the blind fold and cleared off, when your eyes got used to the sudden blinding light, the first word you would speak would begin with f and rhyme with duck, I’m gonna die! However put it on your bucket list it’s beautiful.
Because we are in America there is a road running conveniently through the park with plenty of lay-byes or rather “pull outs” as they call them, to view the various points, be it a view , a rock formation, or a fossil trail. Totally user friendly, you should take water with you although there is a museum and one of those souvejunk shops in the park if you need an emergency shopping experience.
We emerged from “The Badlands” conveniently near to the famous Wall Drug. This place is iconic in the USA. Its not just the signs scattered from hundreds of miles away telling you that it’s famous, just in case you forget which I actually quite got to like and I hate adverts with passion usually, its that its become almost mythical. We met a couple, from North Carolina who were visiting the shop for the first time in their 60 years and they had been hearing about it since they were children. Anyway “Wall Drug” is worth a visit if you are passing, it’s an emporium you won’t forget in a hurry.
We got back on the flaming I90 aiming for mount Rushmore and fixed up with accommodation in the local town of Keystone. This place these days exists solely to cater to Rushmore visitors but it has a gold mining past. Our room, unbooked so we were punished, was bloody expensive but it had a jacuzzi and towels in the shape of swans. There was a discount for guests if they used the restaurant, which turned out to be an average to poor dinner. It was still early though so we went to the evening presentation at the monument. It was still light when we arrived and it’s free! Yeah right! they just want $11 to park the car, the pass does last for a year though- a bargain.
We were a bit disappointed with the size of it I must say, we had to say this to each other very quietly as we were surrounded by awestruck Americans. Disappointed as we were it is still quite an impressive structure.
The presentation and lighting ceremony was rather uncomfortable for us cynical Brits , it was full of the usual American hospitality and bonhomie but with some subtle and some not so subtle brainwashing. All the “how wonderful we are”, “how democratic “, “what a mixture of nationalities we are” and all that but brainwashing nevertheless. The republican party love all this stuff. If anyone dared to denigrate it, they would be called unpatriotic, it’s still brainwashing and it happens on the TV every night quite subtly but very firmly done, on the right wing news channels and personality shows. Its quite frightening.
The following day post Jacuzzi we did Rushmore again, it was packed oncemore, thousands of folks all paying homage, all paying the $11 free entrance , I did a quick sum and worked it out to around $50k per day, oh yes they were keen to tell us it was a none profit organization. The national parks guys that operate it must be fighting tooth and nail for these none profit jobs! The whole thing is brilliantly organized and so professionally done in the way only the Americans can. Sue and I agreed it was better to see in the daylight.
Actually it is better to see from the roadside half a mile further on and really free.
When we got to our next item on the agenda, the “Crazy Horse Monument” we were a bit grumpy to have to fork out another 10 bucks each to see something that isn’t even finished. Anyway in we went and sat through a video presentation, when it ended we both thought the $10 was damn good value and they should charge more.
This huge project was started at the behest of a Lakota chief by a complete character of a sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski ( lets face it, with a name like that, you have no choice but to be eccentric) who, as his family increased involved his wife and all but 3 of their 10 children in the project. A family of eccentrics. The crack pot has since died but the offspring continue, copying a scale model he made many years ago. It is funded only by donations and the gate money. Korczak repeatedly turned down money offered by the US government, he simply did not want the project tainted with G men and all the interference that would bring.
What a magnificent structure it will be when it is done. It will simply blow your socks off. The presidents faces on Rushmore, all four of them, will fit in Crazy Horse’s hair! It will not disappoint a soul. It has been under construction for over 60 years it won’t be finished before I die, I will however watch its progress on the Internet until then.
The rest of the afternoon was spent cruising round Custer state park in the pursuit of the sight of one of the 1500 Bison herd that it reputedly entertains, it was a fallorn task, it was too hot. We did see some Prong Horne Sheep, the parks equivalent of the African Antelope it seems and some semi tame donkeys shoving their heads into folks cars looking for food. A lovely park , magic to drive through, well organized and well kept. If you want to see wildlife though don’t mess about , don’ t waste your time , go to Kruger park it’s unmatched for wildlife. Ahh you still won’t see Bison though.
Deadwood gulch was our next overnight on the list , it was packed with bikers turned up 1 week early for the Sturgis Rally 30 miles up the road. I think there is a law in SD that says bikers are required to wear a bandana on their heads. There is no helmet law here, scary but great nonetheless.
Deadwood had many many opportunities for gambling and copious sinning. I thought I would be disappointed again but it turned out to be ok, a trolly tour gave us a good insight into the history of the place followed by a good lunch in the “Stockade” a rough and ready establishment on main street. The stockade used a country singer as a “come on in act” who told jokes in the style of Ron White(aka potato salad), with plenty of irreverence and very none PC jokes right up my street, he claimed all his gags were “suitable for children’s ears, providing you don’t explain them to the little bastards” it all put a good spin on Deadwood. Unbelievably the town got its name from the copious amounts of “dead wood” that lay around the gulch, all very handy for the miners fires in the 19th century. This tree death was caused by an insect that infected the trees and still does. If one can avoid it , it’s best not to be a tree around here.
I must mention the road we used to leave Deadwood . It is called Spear fish canyon, its beautiful , shove it on your list if you can. It passes through a place called Savoy a Hamlet rather than a village but some scenes of Dances with Wolves was filmed here. There are several pleasant water falls en route, the names of which escape me but all worth a visit, even if it’s only to see how the Americans do stuff like that. All the bikers we saw cannot be wrong. The nearest I can call it is Dovedale in Derbyshire, “on crack” .
In Spearfish town we called in at Walgreens Pharmacy and picked up some medicine for Sues ear, she had been suffering with bunged up lug ( I should have been a doctor you know) for several weeks now. We needed ID for it though as the stuff can be used in the production of Crystal Meth, how desperate are these fuckers?
We smashed our way up the I90 again, to Devils Tower in Wyoming . This was made famous by Close Encounters of The 3rd kind, I had to see it, although it was a 100 mile detour. It was guarded by some more park rangers, who needed to relieve us of more cash , so we turned round. If it needs cash for its up keep and I don’t buy that myself, its been there for a few million years BC (before cash) then they could use some of the spare “none profit” from Rushmore!
After some long distance photos, its all that make sense anyway, closeups would reveal only a rock wall and the shape would be lost. We ensconced in an American Best Value motel for the second time on the trip, bloody good value actually when you compare as of course we are.