Sunday, August 2, 2009

Day 16: Close Encounters

Yesterday's trip was short on miles and long on very familiar places we have never been to before. Familiar, because the stretch between Buffalo, Wyoming and Rapid City, South Dakota is full of places that have featured in some of the greatest Hollywood movies.

The first stop was Devil's Tower, the famous icon from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Last night at dinner, I found myself acting like Roy Neary in the movie, making my mashed potatoes into a replica of the tower. Actually, we were at Arby's and they were curly fries so they didn't end up looking that much like the Tower, but you get the idea.

The whole drive there, I kept looking into the fields, expecting to see dead, bloated cattle. And if the military had set up roadblocks, I was ready to jump the ditch and drive through the fields. I don't think LK was, but in any event it wasn't necessary.

The only critters we saw by the side of the road were lots of deer grazing, and when we got to the tower, there it was. Just like in the movie and every picture of it I have ever seen. We took some snaps, but neither of us thought it was worth taking the couple of hours it would take to drive around it.

I reminded LK of when we went to Ayres Rock. It was great to see it, but when I made a 20-minute movie of the Rock at sunset, it became a great example of nothing happening for 20 minutes. Sort of, now that you've seen it, you've seen it.

So we drove out of Devil's Tower National Monument, and the first town we arrived at was Sundance. This is not the Sundance of the film festival, but it is the town that gave the Sundance Kid his name, LK told me. But she also told me that he wasn't from Sundance. It makes me wonder. If the Sundance Kid wasn't from Sundance, then just how butch was Cassidy?

Probably a question that will never get answered. Anyhow, we then headed to Deadwood. If you've seen the TV series Deadwood, then you will know this is a town where people won't use a 4-letter word when a 10-letter word will do better.

This is the place where Wild Bill Hickock was killed and where Calamity Jane lived and died. While Deadwood's Robin Weigert is almost surely the most accurate Calamity Jane ever seen on screen, I think Doris Day's musical version from the 50s was probably the most likeable. But it really is hard to think of the real Jane belting out "Once I Had a Secret Love."

Famous for all sorts of legendary events and people of the Wild West, Deadwood was equally famous for its saloons and brothels and brawls. I was looking forward to visiting it.

Until we got there. That's when we discovered we are smack in the middle of the country's largest motorcycle rally held annually in Sturgis. There were thousands of bikes everywhere in Deadwood - and I am really not exaggerating.

The rally officially begins Monday, but it's obvious most people come here ahead of time. All day there have been dozens of bikes ahead of us, beside us and behind us on the highway.

But in Deadwood, which is only 10 miles west of Sturgis, there was a sea of men in black, with handkerchief-y things wrapped around their heads. One complete side of Main Street was bikes parked side-by-side.

As we crawled through the town, at a snail's pace as bikers and their ladies used the crosswalks, we could see that Deadwood has also lived up to its roots. Every other place seemed to be a gambling hall or a bar. Or both.

The town was crowded, there was no place to park, and it didn't look like it would be that much fun even if it weren't wall-to-wall with people. We hit the road and headed to Rapid City to check out Mount Rushmore.

And there we were, looking up at those famous faces of the presidents. Faces we had seen so many times before. I don't think there is any way to look at those sculptures and not think of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, crawling all over those faces in a desperate attempt to get away from Martin Landau and the bad guys in North by Northwest.

Unfortunately, there was no such action this afternoon. Just big heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. I have no idea how Teddy got into that mix, and I suspect more than a few people at the time it was sculpted wondered about that.

Anyhow, the sculptures are large and famous, but I got no buzz from looking at them. Kind of like Devil's Tower. I wanted to see them, but once you've seen them, there's not much more to do. Now, if only they had taken their lead from Disneyland and had the presidents mouths move and talk to us. That would have been a show.

Anyhow, not a lot of pix from today, but you can see them here. Those columns with the states of our birth that LK and I are standing next to are in the walkway leading to the viewing platform at Mt Rushmore.

Tomorrow is non-stop driving day dedicated to getting out of South Dakota.

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