We finally leave heading out past Yellowstone lake and over the Sylvan pass mountain range into Wyoming proper. The sky gets bigger and the mountains take on the craggy block like appearance that you see in western movies, all oranges, yellows and blue skies. Driving through the Buffalo Bill reservation we stop at the Buffalo Bill dam and have barely got out the car when a chap appears in a golf cart offering to take us to the visitors centre, a small building all of two minutes away on foot. All credit to them, they know how to turn an industrial installation into an attraction. I’ve always associated Texas with cowboys but as we head further east over the Bighorn Mountains, I can feel the wild west. Wyoming is true cowboy country, all ranges and ranches.
Back in the car a man on the radio declares it’s the dryest hottest summer here in years, fire warnings are on high and fireworks are banned, much to upset of fourth of July celebrants and firework salesman. They’ve only had one percent of the ‘precipitation’ they usually get here, that’s rain to you and me, and from what I hear back in blighty at the moment we should look into exporting it.
We spend the whole day on the road, but unlike Idaho, even the longest straightest stretches provide something to look at. As night falls we find a proper old school motel in the town of Gillette. The wife chills out while I wander down the humid street looking for one of their liquor stores or bottle shops (off licence) I find Tack’s Liqour Drive Inn, a mental combination of bar, shop and drive through all at the same time. One wall is all display fridges, behind the bar counter is a serving hatch and along the bar itself are seated half a dozen drunks chatting loudly. I love it, but the five minutes it takes me to buy a bottle of red wine from the fridge is quite enough.
Tuesday. The plan is a straight drive with one stop off for sightseeing, but on crossing the border into South Dakota a restroom (toilet) we enter isn’t a restroom at all but a small welcome centre. The the helpful assistant Bill asks me a question, “Did you watch the HBO series Deadwood?”. Yes. Not only did I watch it, I’m a fan and have the ‘Black Hills Edition’ DVD boxset and have been waffling on about it in the car. A sweary western series about the formation the law in the town of Deadwood. I knew Bill Hockok and Calamity Jane were both real characters from history depicted in the show, but then Bill blows my mind by pulling out a map and showing me the Black Hills and the real live town of Deadwood, just nine miles away. I loved the show, but it never occured to me to see what else was based on fact – so suddenly I’m bursting with excitement and half an hour later I’m walking down the main street of the real town of Deadwood, South Dakota. Past the restored hotels, saloon and other buildings in which once resided infamous Al Swerengen, Sheriff BUllock, prospector Charlie Utter. I buy a stetson. It’s real history and it’s very cool indeed.
An hour later we’re out of the Black Hills and into Rushmore, home of Mount Rushmore. It’s impressive and we get photos of the four presidents, but I’m already made up from Deadwood. George Washington’s nose is 21 feet tall.
More road. I start seeing cryptic signs for ‘Wall Drug’. Five signs, fifteen signs, more and more along the highway with no indication as to what it is. Is it a town? A shop? Fifty signs later and the advertising has worked, we have a rest break and discover it is shop, but one that has taken over the whole street of a very small town with novelty gifts, lifesize singing puppets of cowboys, water fountains, galleries and models. It’s genuinely scary.
After these impromptu stops we’re not going to make it to Wisconsin tonight. Never mind