Well this officially concludes my first real hypertrek on US soil... I've learned a few things. Hypertrekking is by nature a vastly different business in the US, especially in the West, than it is in other places. Public transportation is more advanced and convenient in Egypt than it is here. If you don't have a car, you can't go anywhere outside of a major city. Unless you fly or take the bus... but when flying you don't get to see much and bus travel totally blows. I speak from an abundance of experience... I took the bus from NYC to Seattle, WA.... two summers in a row. UGH! So compared to that, driving is not so bad actually. Uh, except you know, for the environment and all that. Really, trains are key, and it's infuriating that a country famous for its railroad culture back in the day has such a shoddy rail system nowadays.
But anyway I got to see everything on my agenda. I arrived in Rapid City, SD on Monday afternoon, (I love the name Rapid City... it sounds like a DC Comics city name) and drove up to Gillette, WY where my job was at a coal mining company. Apparently Gillette is the energy capital of the US, producing 30% of the coal we use here, although that could be a bit self-aggrandizing. But my job is so easy! I was all a panic worrying that I was going to screw up, but I administered the test and everything went well. It was really weird, showing up in a strange Wyoming town and going to a coal mining plant to test them on their computer knowledge.
On Tuesday morning I got up early and drove over to see the Devils Tower, which I already posted a picture of. The Devils Tower is one of those things that strikes you silent when you see it. I felt like one of the monkeys at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey when they found the obelisk. I do think it's possible that I found it to be so awesome also because of the modern mythical influence given it by Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but so what. It's huge and imposing and strange, and very out of place. I saw prairie dogs and a rattlesnake. Some douche lady poked a stick at the rattlesnake trying to get it to do something, and I started taking video hoping it would bite her, but no such luck.
After walking all the way around the tower I hit the road again and went to the town of Sundance where the Sundance Kid got his name from, but not where Robert Redford's film festival is, much to my disappointment. They had a statue of the Sundance Kid in front of the courthouse... You have to love a culture which celebrates its famous outlaws that way. After that exciting ten minutes, I drove on to Deadwood. There I got to sit in the seat (I think) where Wild Bill Hickok was shot while playing poker. At the very least, it was the seat where they hung his original grave marker over. Or a copy of it. Or something. I also got to visit Wild Bill and Calamity Jane's graves. But mostly, Deadwood is a huge chintzy tourist trap of a slot machine town. It was cool to see it, but there's not much there that doesn't have a gag effect. It's all slot machine casinos and bad steakhouses. Kevin Costner owns a building there with a restaurant on the second floor which has a western film theme, sort of, but is mostly a museum dedicated to himself with posters from all of his films and glass cases with movie costumes he'd worn displayed in them. Like I said, gag effect.
The next day I drove 5 hours to Yellowstone, and spent about six more hours driving through there, trying to see all the high points. Got to Old Faithful just in time for the big spurt. Saw loads of bison and gaggles of Yellowstone tourists pulled over on the sides of Yellowstone roads with HUGE binoculars and cameras, pointing off into the Yellowstone woods where a Yellowstone grizzly bear had been seen 15 Yellowstone minutes before. Apparently they were hoping the Yellowstone bear would come back out for a Yellowstone photo-op. It seemed fairly Yellowstone unlikely. It was like something out of those old Disney cartoons based in some national park where a bear is walking peaceably through the woods and all of a sudden Goofy or somebody sees it and then there's a great "huggalah huggalah huggalah!!" and a hundred cameras start flashing and freak the poor bear out and he runs away. Who knew those cartoons were a form of Yellowstone social commentary?
I spent the night just outside of Cody, WY in a ranch-type cabin hotel, which was very nice, and drove back to Gillette the next morning just in time to do that whole job thing I was sent there for in the first place. Afterwards I sped from there two hours back to South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore. Here's the thing with American tourism: Every bloody thing is a big bloody show. It drives me nuts. At the Rushmore monument, there's a big silly stage at the base of the mountain. I had arrived right on the cusp of nightfall, and they have a lighting ceremony every night for the 4 big heads. So I was subjected to an extremely long, sanctimoniously patriotic video about how great America is and how we tried to make peace with the Indians before killing them all and blah blah blah before they turned on the spot lights.
It says something about our government that they always feel the need to put on a show for us when the thing we came to see is awe inspiring enough as it is. I mean Mt. Rushmore really is cool. It was carved by some mason with a really funny name. Gutzon Borglum. I have a lot of admiration for at least three of those four Presidential dudes. And I never realized before that they actually carved a collar and shoulders for George Washington there, also. I'd only noticed the heads in pictures before.
After Rushmore, I drove back to Rapid City and found myself in the middle of a bizarre city-wide fancy antique automobile event. The streets were lined with people cheering me on as I drove amidst old Model-Ts and sport cars and other classic autos in my rented Ford... whatever modern bland model car it was. It was kind of freaky actually. As it turns out, the reason they were in fact shouting at me, not cheering, is because I'd forgotten to turn my headlights on. I realized this when I was pulled over by a cop, and the section of classic auto fans on the side of the road where I'd been stopped started yelling "headlights!" at me. I guess they knew the difference between nice cars and rentals, after all. Rapid City police are very understanding, however, and he let me off with a warning and directions to a nice hotel.
But the West is crazy when it comes to distances... I was talking to the boss of the coal mining plant in Gillette, and he was telling me how he and his wife don't think anything of driving the two hours to Rapid City just to go out to dinner, and then turn around and come home. I couldn't believe how far you can drive without seeing anything. And how empty the roads are. Very different from what I'm used to over here. The distances between towns actually mean something out there, as there are no gas stations, fast food joints, or, for the most part, rest stops in between them. Very peaceful driving actually, especially considering that cruise control is a way of life out on western highways, and the scenery is fantastic, if a bit stark at times.
Anyway, the rest of my pictures are now up over at smugmug for both Wyoming and South Dakota, so feel free to check 'em out. I took way too many shots of the Devils Tower, of course. But mostly, I feel that I was wanting in the photo department this time around... I was rushing around quite a bit on this trip because I only had two days, essentially, to see all this stuff, so I didn't really take the time to look for the best angles for the most part. I got a couple of nice ones, though. This last one I took off of the side of the highway at some point; it's on the outskirts of a Wyoming town named Ten Sleep.