Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lies that Steven Spielberg taught me

[Due to limited wireless access availability in the state of Wyoming, we're a bit behind in our postings, but hope to catch you up in the next couple of days! Also, check out the updated itinerary!]

When I was younger, I was mesmerized by science fiction movies. Okay, so I still am. Often these movies could transport you to another place altogether, while still using places on this planet as their scenery. The most impressive example in my mind was Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and its use of Devil's Tower in Wyoming as the backdrop for its climactic scenes. There was something so amazing about this chunk of rock that just thrust itself from the ground with nothing else in sight around it that for years I told myself "I have to go there".

Despite telling people that I was looking forward to no one particular thing on this trip, Alyssa informed me shortly before arriving at Devil's Tower that she knew this was what I most wanted to see. Apparently, I talked about it more than any other single destination, and if you consider some of the places on our itinerary, that's saying something. And in no way did it disappoint. Well, except maybe one...

Not to give anything away, but in the build-up to the climax of Close Encounters, Richard Dreyfuss and his female companion ascend the walls of the monolith of rock to join dozens of government bureaucrats waiting at the top. I'm sorry to say folks, but unless Richard and his ladyfriend were adept free-climbers, this is in no way possible. The closest you can get to the Tower without a climbing permit is to traverse the boulder fields of fallen granite at its base (which I of course did). Which isn't to say that just being at the base of such a wonder is anything to decry. We took the short path around the monument, and stopped at every bench along the way, enjoying the view of each face of the rock and what it could show us. We listened as those climbers with permits and gear descended in the latter part of the afternoon and I couldn't help but think "someday..."

What happened in the days before is something of a faint memory in comparison. Don't get me wrong, I loved Deadwood, and Rushmore re-ignited the patriot in me, especially reading the words of Teddy Roosevelt:
"The first requisite of a good citizen in this republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his weight- that he shall not be a mere passenger."

Rushmore was mostly what you've seen in either the movie National Treasure or North By Northwest. The mountain itself was much as I imagined it, but reading the stories of what led to the choosing of the four faces it represents was more of the treat for me. I've been a big Teddy Roosevelt fan since I took late 19th Century history classes in college. More so than most presidents since Lincoln, he had a clear vision of what he wanted to shape America into being, and the many national parks and monuments we have visited on this trip are due to the vision and foresight of that man. I have a biography of his to read when I get done with this trip...

We stopped for lunch in the town of Keystone, just outside Rushmore, and then headed straight for Deadwood. While I'd like to say Deadwood was a terrific stop, it did not start out that way. We arrived in town shortly after a violent hailstorm had abated, and upon checking in, learned that we were expected to park over a quarter of a mile away, and that there was no shuttle to bring us and our luggage to the hotel. On top of this, a bunch of bikers had decided to take over the "20 minute parking" directly in front of the hotel, so there was no convenient way to unload our stuff. The hotel management at the Holiday Inn Express in Deadwood leaves a great deal to be desired when it comes to customer service.

We took a look at TripAdvisor for dining recommendations and made a few selections accordingly. Our night concluded with a few drinks at Saloon #10, which would become a bit of a hangout for us in the coming days. Alyssa also made friends that night with a lady from Portland, Oregon who tried to get us out on the dance floor, but we weren't having any. The next day, we got to take in some of Deadwood's history, including the amazing Adams Museum, and the Adams House. The museum is dedicated to the town's history and rebirth, while the Adams house is a snapshot in time of an early 20th century Victorian home, complete with all of the original furnishings and d├ęcor. It was remarkable and outdid any of the Newport mansions, though in much more modest terms.

RIP Seth Bullock.
We then took a walk up Boot Hill to the Mt. Moriah Cemetery, resting place to Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock - all Deadwood legends. The cemetery had a great view of downtown, but the view that Seth Bullock's grave had - at his request - was even better. I've said it before, the Black Hills are an amazing place, and one I see myself returning to soon. We took in a few more of the town's sights, including a bonafide gunfight in the city streets (okay, so it was a reenactment), and bought out tickets for that evening's portrayal of the trial of Jack McCall, assassin of one Wild Bill Hickock. Little did we know that one of us would become part of the story.

The trial begins with the assassination itself, at Saloon #10. Wild Bill began the night with a Q&A session telling of his exploits. And rather than glamorize himself and inflate his reputation, Bill was very down to earth and sorrowful in speaking of the lives he had to take. But soon thereafter, it was his own life that was taken, over a poker game at the saloon. The coward Jack McCall took to the streets and we followed after to watch him be apprehended. Then it was on further down the street to the watch the trial take place.

The trial was a theatrical and musical production and cost a mere five dollars per person. We found throughout the town that the locals embraced the tourists and our interests in seeing the retelling of past events, but this show took it to a new level. Actors played many of the key roles in the trial with both levity and seriousness, but called up audience members to play the role of the witnesses, including our very own Miss Alyssa Artiano - or should I say Ira Ford? Alyssa acquitted herself nicely, and won the ardor of the gap-toothed court clerk, but unfortunately, McCall was acquitted as well. But if you know the story, Jack's freedom was short in duration. And for $10 for the two of us - cheaper than a single movie ticket these days - we were truly entertained, and it made us think twice about where we spend our entertainment dollar.

Please ignore the corpse in the corner!

From Deadwood, we traveled through Spearfish Canyon on the scenic route to Devil's Tower. We've developed a dislike for bikers on this trip, and not just due to their numbers in heading to Sturgis for the rally. From Devil's Tower, it was through the Bighorns and across Wyoming's badlands to Cody, where we rested our heads for one night, anxious to see the world's first national park the next day. Yellowstone awaits...

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