We woke up in Custer (no surprise, since that's where we fell asleep!) and got ready. After gathering our things together, we piled into the car and drove around looking for someplace to get breakfast. I saw a cafe that looked promising, & convinced Gus to stop the car. We got out. It was closed. Saw another place. Closed. Huh. Who'da thought there wouldn't be many places open on a Sunday morning in a town of 1600 in the middle of South Dakota?
I saw a coffee place that looked like it might have good grub. And it was a cool building too.
It was open! But all they had was coffee and pastries. Gus is more of a 'dead animal for breakfast' kinda guy, so that wouldn't work. The guy at the coffee shop suggested the Cattleman's, so off we went.
We ate breakfast, and it was pretty good, although my God they use a lot of butter on breakfasts up in this part of the country. Waaaay too much butter. A little too rich for me.
Back in the car, we drove to Mt. Rushmore through Custer State Park, which had some twisty curvy roads, as you can can see here.
How curvy? Look at this sign. Those are some serious switchbacks!
Finally we reached Mt. Rushmore. You leave the parking lot and then walk in the entrance, and you can see the 4 Presidents - Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, & Lincoln - ahead in the distance.
Pretty impressive. Especially with the clear blue sky we had. It was warm, by the way, but not too bad.
As you walk up towards the viewing area, you pass under an arch of flags, one for each of the 50 states. Each flag has a column; on each of 3 sides is information about a different state. Gus stopped, and we uttered a cheer as we found Missouri. Gus posed. 'Look good!' I said, 'You're representin'!'
On a bit closer, and there they were.
Much closer, but still obviously far off. And notice the pile of rock in front, which I thought was a very nice touch. Obviously they removed an enormous amount of rock, but what's left behind gives a sense of the work that was involved.
And let me say, those faces are huge! But the carving really was first rate. The likenesses are great, and the level of detail is amazing, as you can see here.
It's interesting to compare them to Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse is so far off, though, that it's hard to tell that it's that much bigger. Maybe when it's finally completed.
I also thought about what people would think in 5000 years, if there still are people, when they saw this. Would they be impressed, or think these were our gods? Or would our ape lords just snort & laugh? I thought for a moment about falling to my knees like Charlton Heston and saying, 'Damn you! Damn you to hell!' but I figured it would embarrass Gus.
I know there haven't been too many pictures of me in this journal. First of all, Gus doesn't take a lot of photos. Second of all, I've never been a person that requires photos of things with me in them in order to prove I was at such-and-such a spot. But I thought, what the heck. So here's one of me in front of the Presidents.
And then Gus and I posed for another one. The kid whom I asked to take it was about 15 and appeared to be a slack-jawed moron ('Huh? What? Do what? With a camera? Huh?'), but he seems to have done alright ('OK, push the big silver button on top. You got it? The big button! On the top! Push it!').
After looking at the statues, we decided to go in and watch the 20 minute movie about the site. It was narrated by Tom Brokaw, and it was pretty good, although a bit too much 'Rah! Rah! Freedom! Yeah!' for my taste. Gus was really enthused by what he saw onscreen.
It was time to leave Mt. Rushmore, and head on over to (OK, use your old frontier explorer voice) BEAR COUNTRY! Now, I am not a fan of bears. Not at all. I mean, theoretically, they're pretty neat. But I have big problem with them: they would eat me. I don't like any animal that can eat me. Sharks, bears, wolves, lions, panthers. All would gladly make me dinner. Therefore, I do not like them. This is why I do not go camping. I'm afraid of being eaten by a shark or bear.
Still, I figured we'd be in a car. Even better, a rental car, so if a bear did decide to take a swipe at the roof, it would be covered! Perfect.
Bear Country is located between Mt. Rushmore and Rapid City. We stopped at a gas station on the way for gas and drinks. Gus also bought some jerky - buffalo jerky, to be precise. In the car we went, and finally we pulled up to (assume I use the frontier voice every time) Bear Country. A very cute girl walked up to our car as a high school dude started washing our windows.
Girl: Hi! Welcome to Bear Country! We have a few rules you need to follow at Bear Country. First of all, you need to keep your car doors and windows closed at all times.
Scott: Wait a second! How are we supposed to feed the bears if the windows are up?
Girl kind of gets a sickly smile on her face, starts to open mouth.
Scott: 'cause we stopped at McDonald's a few miles back and bought about 20 Big Macs for the bears!
Girl: Um, well ... you really can't feed the bears. Please don't feed the bears.
Scott: Well, can we take a bear cub with us? You know, just stop the car, grab one, and leave?
Girl: No, you can't take a bear cub. You can't open your car doors.
Scott (dejectedly): OK.
The dude finished washing our windows (so we could take better pictures without rolling down anything), and Gus gave him a tip. In we drove, into Bear Country!
(Note: one of the stupider things I've ever seen was on their list of rules. Namely, 'Commercial rights to all photographs remain the property of Bear Country USA.' Piss off, Bear Country. That's ridiculous.)
Now, actually Bear Country is a wildlife preserve featuring many different kinds of animals, each in their own area, so they don't all kill and eat each other. However, there ain't much between each area - just a thin fence of wire and, where the road crosses from one area to another, some metal grates, which prevents many animals from crossing, since they can't walk on them. But if I was a wolf or bear, and I knew that there were some big, fat, well-fed sheep or buffalo just a few yards away, & I could smell 'em like they were right next to me ... well, that'd just drive me nuts.
Our first animal was the Venezuelan Spotted Beaver Monkey. OK, actually, it was some elk. Nice horns!
They stuck together in their pack, although one older guy was off by himself, resting in the sun.
Next was the arctic wolf, who was just thrilled to be running around in 90 degree heat, I'm sure.
Next was either a big-horned sheep or a curly-horned goat. I asked Gus which, & he said it was a 'shoat', so there you go.
Actually, I'm sure it was a sheep, 'cause I'm pretty sure this next animal is a Rocky Mountain goat.
He was kind of hot, and for some reason his feed pan seemed like a good place to sit. It was probably full of water. Some other goats were not as nicely attired. This one looked like he was shedding.
Next were the mountain lions. Evidently it was mating season for the mountain lions, as 2 of them were busily occupied as we drove past.
'Jeez, mountain lions,' I said as we drove past, 'Get a room!'
'Hey, now,' Gus responded, 'They have needs.'
Some other mountain lions were asleep in little houses. Sacked out like any cat, except that these would rip your throat out. Bad kitty!
And then, ahead of us: a bear!
Then two bears!
Then two more bears in water. One was definitely chillin', laying on his back in the water with his head sticking out.
And then there were bears everywhere!
'My God!' said Gus, 'There are bears everywhere! It's like it's their own country!'
He was right. There were bears every place you looked. Black bears.
Black and brown bears together, in perfect harmony.
Bears on rocks.
Bears in trees.
Bears that looked like they'd been rolling in poop (AKA stinky bears).
Bears right by our car.
And it turned out the bears were doing something else too, but you'll have to watch this movie to find out what. Although here's a hint: I'm taking pictures, and all of a sudden Gus yells out, 'Got a little bear sex going on over there!'
And then we left the country of the bears and saw the buffalo.
I looked over and Gus was eating a piece of his jerky. 'Gus!' I yelled.
'Uh oh,' Gus replied, 'Do you think it's rude to eat Buffalo jerky in front of the buffalo?'
There was also a cute lil' baby buffalo (a buffalette?).
After that, we reached the end of tour by car. We parked in the lot and got out. This is more of a zoo area, with more animals to see, but here you walk around.
They had grizzly bears in here. I guess they can't mingle with the black and brown bears.
This guy was freakin' huge - see that hump of solid muscle on his back? - but also appeared to be neurotic, as he paced back and forth constantly. This is exactly why zoos sometimes bother me, and why the more open areas we had just driven through seem more humane. Of course, I would not want to drive through an area teeming with grizzlies, as they could open the car with a couple of swipes of their paw (speaking of which, I saw some brainiacs driving through with soft-top convertibles! Brilliant!).
Gus was quite interested in the grizzly bears.
Next up, the porcupines, who were not about to walk around in the sun. They looked hot.
The Canadian lynx is a beautiful animal. Very noble. One was out in the sun, & one was under a rock in the shade.
A sleeping bobcat. Not a very exciting picture. Yeah, we picked a good time to visit this zoo: in mid-day, when all the animals are sleeping away the heat. Memo to self: next time, break in at night, when animals are awake and lively.
Then we got to one of the coolest things I've seen in a long time: the bear cubs. It's mating season, as you probably noticed earlier, and grown male bears will kill cubs so that their mothers go into heat. In order to save the cubs, Bear Country sends specially trained ninjas among the bears at night to retrieve cubs so they can be placed into safety.
There are currently 8 cubs, and they were all asleep when we walked up. You can just see one of them on his back in their little cub hut.
Then an employee walked up with bear snacks (probably human ears or fingers or something like that, since that's what they like to eat best) and woke 4 of 'em up.
Here's a movie showing them getting up. I really like how one of them stands up, walks outside, then says 'Screw it, I'm tired' and heads back in.
And then those 4 gamboled over to where all the people were standing and put on quite a show.
chewed on the plastic bear treat container (and lookit the size of the paws on that one!),
peed on the grass (we got to see lots of bear bodily functions at Bear Country),
swam in the water (and notice the classy guy observing them!),
and just looked really cute.
I took a little movie of the cubs in action that I think you'll enjoy.
After the bear cubs, we walked over to the timber wolf. He was also pacing back and forth. Poor guy.
Next to the wolf was a red fox. 'I thought he was dead,' Gus quipped.
We ended our time at Bear Country at the gift store. Gus bought a fridge magnet. I wanted him to buy a cute little bear statue, but he refused. At least I got a picture of him holding it.
It was time to leave Bear Country and drive to Deadwood, South Dakota, about 40 minutes away. Deadwood is located in the middle of some very steep hills, and parts of the town, as you'll see, are as steep as those in San Francisco. The town is famous as a frontier town, full of miners, criminals, and prostitutes. Wild Bill Hickok was killed there, and his tomb, as well as that of Calamity Jane, is in the cemetery.
Many people nowadays know the town thanks to the HBO seriesDeadwood, set in the Wild West days. The characters continually curse in a florid, almost Shakespearean way, using every kind of bad language you can imagine. As we entered town, I looked over at Gus.
Scott: Hey, do you think we should walk in to the hotel and say 'Where's our f****** room, you godforsaken f****** c*********s!'
Gus: Why don't we wait and see how everyone else talks?
We checked in to our hotel, and then immediately left to visit the Broken Boot Gold Mine. This was an actual gold mine until about 1914 or so; then it reopened in 1956 to tourists. You can see what the terrain around it looks like; this was taken right across the road from the mine's entrance.
After waiting about 15 minutes for the tour to start, Gus and I and about 20 other folks walked into the mine. Our tour guide was a girl named Jen, who was a bit, oh, lackadaisical in her language: 'So, like, this was a mine? For gold? And, well, you know ... it wasn't that successful? At getting gold? So they, you know, whatever, shut it down? In 1914? Anyway ... they didn't get much gold? So now we give tours through it?'
Gus charged off into the mine, eager to try his luck and spot some gold.
People back in those days were a lot smaller than now. I'm sure they were happy as clams to run around in shafts that seemed huge.
As for me, I had to duck the entire time. Of course, I forgot about 45 seconds in - there was a spot where I could actually stand straight, and then I walked ahead, and SMACK! Ow ow ow ow! The top of my head against hard, sharp rock. Felt great. Gus took a picture of me walking in the mine with my head cocked over to one side. I know it looks a little weird - I had to manipulate it a bit so you could see me (note to Gus: cameras have this thing on them called a 'flash' that should be used underground).
The interior of the mine was pretty cool. When they re-opened the mine after 40 or so years, they found old mining equipment in there that had completely rusted. Nasty!
We also spotted a small shaft that had water in it. Jen told us that 'The water is perfectly safe? To drink? It's been tested? And it's OK? But I wouldn't drink it? No way?'
Gus managed to take another pic of me just as I was trying to take one of him. I know it's blurry as hell, but the expression you can make out of my face makes me laugh.
Then Jen did what I was hoping and expecting: she turned out the lights so that we were in total darkness. I turned around and took a picture of Gus, who I knew would not like the dark. I honestly had no idea what I'd see when the flash went off and I took the picture, but in my wildest dreams I could not have imagined that this is what would appear before me out of the depths of the earth:
Right after that, I leaned over to Gus and whispered, 'They oughta have a guy dressed in a white skin suit with bat ears jump out and act like he's starting to eat people.' Gus seconded my brilliant suggestion. If you haven't seenThe Descent, you undoubtedly have no flippin' idea what I'm talking about, which is why you should see it immediately.
We finally made it back outside into the light, where we were each issued a single share in the defunct gold mine. Gus proudly held his up. 'I'm rich!' he shouted, in his old Walter-Brennan-in-The-Treasure-of-the-Sierra-Madrevoice, 'Rich! Ah heh heh heh!'
After seeing where people had entered the earth to mine and came back out, it was time to visit those who had entered the earth, never to return. Damn, that's poetic. Nice one, Scott! In other words, we went to Mt. Moriah Cemetery, which was pretty cool, but is located on the top of one of those huge hills in town. I mean, steep! Here's the view looking down from the top of the street you drive up to get to Mt. Moriah.
Of course, I know what you really want to see. This is Wild Bill's marker:
Pretty cool. Right next to him is Calamity Jane.
If you've seen the movie about Calamity Jane, let me disabuse you of a notion right now: Calamity Jane did NOT look like Doris Day. No, ol' Jane didn't just get hit by the Ugly Stick; she fell out of the Ugly Tree, hittin' every branch on the way down. Granted, she worked as a prostitute when the need for money struck, but she warn't very successful; even grizzled, half-blind from drink prospectors had their limits. So she sure wasn't Wild Bill's girl; she was buried next to him as a way to meet her final request, but no doubt Wild Bill would've been a bit horrified by the whole business.
I really enjoy cemeteries, as anyone who's read my past travel journals knows, so I took this opportunity in a historically significant spot to take pictures all over the grounds. Sorry about all the shadows - it was dusk, as you can tell.
This one was particularly interesting - it's obviously a family.
This fella was in the guidebook. He went crazy and eventually managed to kill himself in his cell with a nail. Yeeouch. His grave is particularly ornate for this cemetery.
Plus, I kept looking at Gus and saying 'Mr. Anderson' in my best Agent Smith voice (The Matrix, for those of you don't know what I'm referencing). He quickly grew tired of it.
At the far end of Mt. Moriah is a flagpole; from there you can see all of Deadwood spread out before you, a banquet ripe for the tasting! OK, maybe not a banquet. An appetizer? Anyway.
Standing in this place, I took a panoramic movie of the town and the cemetery.
On our way out, I drew up short when I saw this very unusual grave. I've never seem a tombstone like that. It was very beautiful, and I imagined that it was placed there over the grave of a lovely but poor young woman who died before she should have of TB or some other disease. Her broken-hearted lover, a rich young man, placed this stone here to commemorate the depth of his feelings for her before wasting away himself of a broken heart.
Or maybe she was just a whore. Who knows?
I saw the back first.
You can see why I stopped. And here's the front. I have no idea what POURIEA means - is it a name? A word in Latin? Something else? Anyone know?
We drove back to the hotel - and it was a Hampton Inn, so it was actually very nice, with a great in-room Internet connection! - and settled in.
Gus lay on his bed, and we both noticed a bunch of black grit on his covers. 'What is that?' I asked, pointing. It took a sec, and then we realized: gold mine roof grit! In his hair! When he lay down, it fell off his head and onto the covers. We both had it. Great.
Dinner was in the hotel buffet. I walked back up after we ate while Gus wasted $10 gambling. He blames the old lady who sat at the slot machine next to him and started lighting cigarette after cigarette for his failure to win THE BIG MONEY! Instead, he came back up to our room short of $10.
I stayed up working on a book I'm writing, but I was just too tired. Gus and I hit the lights and were out before midnight. It had been a long day, and it was time to sleep.