Smalltown South Dakota and Wyoming have never been on my list of must-see places. But when the opportunity to spend a few days in them during a Cosmos tour of American national parks and canyons arose, I was happy to do it.
Unfortunately I didn’t make it as far east as South Dakota’s badlands, but travelled through its Black Hills en route from Denver, Colo. to Keystone. Large hills covered in pine trees look black from a distance, which is where the mountain range derived its name. Large, interestingly shaped granite outcroppings occasionally broke up the green and serene surroundings, and it was this granite that formed the backdrops for the region’s two major tourist draws, which I’ll get to soon.
|South Dakota's Black Hills region|
But first, I spent an evening in the town of Keystone, which was a mining town when it was formed in 1883 and is now home to less than 500 people. Its main street features a covered wooden boardwalk, which came in handy during a torrential rain storm, and most of its shops are aimed at tourists. One of them prominently featured very jingoistic Donald Trump T-shirts hung out front, which i found disturbing, and I spotted a few of them being worn while in the area.
|Bad Trump T-shirts|
Cheerful banter and joking ensued, and I was given a free pint of Lost Cabin Hefeweizen before power was restored, the rain had calmed and I ventured down the street to the Red Garter Saloon to have another beer and listen to country singer Jerry Allan in a classic western saloon adorned with vintage memorabilia which is open from April through October. Allan talked and shook hands with every member of the small Saturday night audience between sets, while local legend and 7’4” cowboy “Big Dave” Murra posed for photos with visitors he towered over.
|"Big Dave" Murra|
|Crazy Horse Memorial|
The beautiful Black Hills scenery continued to surround our bus as we headed west. We stopped just outside of Deadwood to visit Tatanka: Story of the Bison, where displays and two Lakota men told us about what the bison meant to their ancestors and their experiences growing up and adapting to both their native and white cultures. The visit ended outside at a recreation of a buffalo jump hunt featuring breathtaking bronze sculptures portraying 14 bison being pursued by three Native Americans on horseback.
|Tatanka: Story of the Bison|
Actor/director Kevin Costner paid millions of dollars to fund Tatanka, and his admirable work is appreciated for telling the story of how up to 30 million bison that once roamed North America’s great plains were reduced to about 1,000 by the end of the 19th century due to hunting and senseless killing by white settlers and visitors.
After dropping my bags off at Deadwood Gulch Gaming Resort, I walked 20 minutes to do my own exploring of this town with a population of less than 1,500. Every second or third storefront featured casino gaming (primarily slot machines, but with a few card tables), which I wasn’t interested in, but a satellite operation of Sick-N-Twisted Brewing Co. drew me in for a flight of five what turned out to be disappointing beers.
I paid $12.99 for an excellent meal of a 12-ounce bison salisbury steak, garlic mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables and garlic bread — washed down with a pint of Deschutes Fresh Squeeze IPA — at Gem Steakhouse and Saloon. I next visited the Celebrity Hotel and Casino’s collection of celebrity memorabilia and then sampled apple pie, coffee and margarita moonshine (the apple pie was my favourite) at Deadwood Distilling Co.
|Jack Lord's Steve McGarrett jumpsuit from Hawaii Five-O at Deadwood's Celebrity Hotel and Casino.|
The next morning saw us depart at 8 a.m. and drive through part of South Dakota before re-entering Wyoming and passing through the town of Sundance, which got its name after outlaw Butch Cassidy’s partner in crime “The Sundance Kid” spent 18 months in jail there in the 19th century. The highlight of a rather long day on the bus was driving through the Bighorn Mountains, which are part of the Rockies, and along the route of Shell Creek before arriving at Buffalo Bill Village Resort in Cody, Wyo.
My accommodation was a small log cabin outfitted like a modern hotel room, wifi included. From there it was a short walk into the heart of the downtown at Irma Hotel, where I got a pint of Snake River Brewing Pako’s IPA and a vantage point on its large deck for the 6 p.m. gunfight staging that’s been taking place on the street nightly since 1979 featuring locals playing tthe likes of Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid, Belle Starr, Wyatt Earp and others. It was hokey and the acting was poor, but it’s true to Cody and most people seemed to enjoy the 20-minute show.
|The Cody gunfight|
|A backyard visitor in Cody|
|Buffalo Bill Center of the West|