Mount Rushmore and Deadwood, SOUTH DAKOTA
Ian and I had planned on camping some time during the first stretch of our trip. I mean, we were passing a whole bunch of world-renowned national parks in the northwestern part of the U.S. However, seeing as we were really just interested in cities, the national parks fell by the wayside. South Dakota was our one of our last chances to use the tent we brought along before hitting a slew of big cities from the Midwest to down the East Coast. So, as it stood, our plan was to leave Colorado, see Mount Rushmore, explore Deadwood, and then camp in the Badlands.
Of course, you know that didn’t happen.
It was about five hours from Denver to Mount Rushmore, one hour from there to Deadwood, then two more from there to the Badlands. If we wanted to set up camp before dark, all we had to do was leave before 10 AM.
We also really wanted to stop in Fort Collins along the way. . .
Oh, and somewhere in South Dakota, we pulled to the side of the road to let a herd of wild bison cross. Yeah, that happened.
So we rolled up to Mount Rushmore between 4 and 5 PM. We knew we weren’t on schedule, but neither of us cared. The monument was kinda really awesome. I mean, I knew what it looked like and it wasn’t any bigger than I imagined it to be, but there was just something purely majestic about seeing a well-known icon in person. Plus, the displays in the museum portion showed how the artist sculpted the heads out of dynamite. That blew my mind, no pun intended.
(I lied, it was totally intended).
If we really wanted to camp that night, the wisest move would have been to drive directly to the Badlands, but I couldn’t NOT go to Deadwood. You see, I’m a big fan of most things HBO and I’m currently in the middle of the now-canceled series Deadwood, a fictionalized account of the settlement of a mining town in the Black Hills during the 1870s. Deadwood was the home to several real Wild West historical figures, such as Seth Bullock and Calamity Jane. It is also the final resting place of Wild Bill Hickock. As a history nerd and an HBO fan, I was geeking out on our drive into this historic town and setting of a great show.
Of course the town didn’t look like it does on the show. In the show, Deadwood was a hodgepodge of run-down, wooden buildings divided by roads of knee-deep mud. Today, Deadwood has neon signs, paved roads, and many, many slot machines. Still, the little tourist town completely embraces their Wild West roots.
When we got there, we stumbled upon a recreation of a historical event: the capture of Jack McCall, the coward who shot Wild Bill Hickok dead. Men in cowboy outfits shooting prop guns apprehended the Jack McCall actor and lead him up to the courthouse for another historical event: the trial of Jack McCall. I was super psyched to be in the midst of what, in my head, was the set of the HBO show. With much enthusiasm, I, with a cadre of fat American visitors, followed the actors to the courthouse, ready to watch Act Two. However, they wanted $5 for entrance. I snapped out of my trance, admitted I wasn’t on an HBO set, and turned around to explore the rest of the town. For free.
I was still elated to see restaurants and hotels named after the main characters—I mean, historical figures—of Deadwood. Bullock! Hickok! Charlie Utter! I was so excited I almost bought a cowboy hat.
By the time we had seen all of Deadwood (which isn’t hard considering it hasn’t expanded since the 1870s), it was near dark. Ian and I both knew we weren’t going all the way to the Badlands. It wasn’t worth it, anyway, since we would have just left as soon as we woke up to make it to Minnesota, neglecting to take in the famous park. So, we drove around in the dark trying to find a nearby free campground, “free” being the operative word. . . as well as the defeating factor. No campground in the area was free.
About an hour later, a lightbulb went off in Ian’s head: “Why don’t we spring for a motel tonight with free wi-fi? We don’t have a place to stay in the next three cities; we can use tonight to be productive about couchsurfing.”
And productive we were. We had set up shop in a Deadwood Super 8, each of us on our laptop and the TV on in the background (We paid for that TV and, by golly, we were gonna use it!). Ian sent several messages through CouchSurfing.com while I spammed Reddit.com and Facebook. By the time we woke up the next morning, we had places to stay in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Chicago.
Productive we were.