02 June, 2009

Deadwood, South Dakota


Road Trip: Days 3-4

We're big fans of the HBO series Deadwood, so decided to spend our first night in the Black Hills camping a mile outside of this historic town. Just like those early gold miners, except with access to a hot shower and toilet. It was Memorial Day weekend, and we figured camping would be the most economical option. Even so, it was still around $30 a night for a tent spot without hookup. But that's the price for hanging out in a tourist zone, I guess.

We pulled into the campgrounds way after dark, after driving through one hell of a brutal storm with flash floods and water cascading down the highway. The camp office was already closed, but we found our site assignment on the message board and more or less stumbled through the dark to find it. It was pretty late, and the grounds were quiet. There were people next to us, and after nodding a hello to them without getting a response, we set up our tent. It was lightly drizzling.

It's been years since we've slept in a tent; our last time was in Peru, when we hiked the four-day trail to Machu Picchu, and that was in 2002. We were a little out of practice setting up a tent in the rain, a little cranky from the long day's drive across the state, and a little bit argumentative because we hadn't agreed on how to get to town yet. It was only a mile, and we wanted to go get a late night whiskey (it was Deadwood, after all) in one of the 80-someodd casinos. Walk or drive? It wasn't far, but it was along a two-lane road, in pitch black drizzly rain, with a narrow shoulder in some stretches. Drive? Well, someone wouldn't be getting their whiskey.

So, as we finished setting up camp and were shutting the hatch of the car, one of us--not sure who--accidently hit the electronic key for the car and locked the doors. And the car alarm went off. We each looked at the keys in our hands, and tried to turn the alarm off. No luck. Usually, just unlocking it again works. If not, then getting into the car, closing the door, and putting the key in the ignition works. "Hold the umbrellas," Ted said as he slid behind the wheel. But the alarm stubbornly refused to go off. And then we started sniping at each other, because the car was loud, the campgrounds quiet, and we were disturbing everyone within earshot.

"Why won't it go off?" "How the hell should I know? Did you try turning the key?" "Well, duh, of course." "Just get in the car!" "Huh?" "Just get in the car, let's go."

When nothing worked, we did the only thing we could think of, get the heck out of there. So, loudly honking the whole while, we rolled on down the hill and back onto the two-lane road to town. And the honking stopped.

"Problem solved. Just drive to town," I snapped. "I'll be the designated driver tonight."

"Why? We should just go back, park the car, and walk in. Our whole plan was to have a whiskey in a saloon."



After some more arguing, we drove into Deadwood, parked the car, and I started to stomp off. Just as it started to rain again.

"Well, let's at least take the umbrellas with us," Ted said.

And it dawned on me. In my haste to jump into the car, I had tossed the umbrellas aside. They were sitting on the ground at the campgrounds, open, no doubt filling up with rain. The absurdity of it made me laugh, and I couldn't stop. "I love you," I said to Ted, who was also chuckling. "Let's take the car back and walk in." Just as we got back, we discovered a shuttle bus waiting in the parking lot, ready to transport people into town! If only we had known it was running!

As near as we can figure, one of us must have accidentally hit the "panic button" on our key, and in our panic to shut the alarm off, didn't realize what we had done. Oy!

Deadwood itself is amazing. The entire town is a National Historic landmark. Nowadays, many of the historic buildings house casinos--which makes for pretty cheap drinking. $2.50 for a Manhattan, $3 for straight whiskey. In Chicago, that generally runs us around eight to twelve bucks a piece (which is why we don't go out drinking very often). So we found an outdoor table, got ourselves a drink, and watched the people walk up and down Main Street. What had started out as such a stressful visit mellowed out nicely; we ended it by eating some canned peaches, which if you haven't watched the show will make absolutely no sense to you.

The next day, we did the tourist thing. The first stop was the town museum. Although a very small museum by most standards, the Adams Museum was one of the most well-organized, informative museums I've been to. We spent about four hours there, pouring over the materials. I was particularly interested in the photo albums of local architecture, and the exhibit on Deadwood's "Chinatown".

We also took a walk up to the Mount Moriah Cemetery, Deadwood's "Boot Hill," which had a fantastic overview of the town and the graves of Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickock, and Deadwood's former lawman, Seth Bullock.
Tomb of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane, Deadwood, South Dakota
Tomb of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane, Deadwood, South Dakota

There was also a Calhoun family plot were the folks were "at rest;" this is my Calhoun guy trying to look like he is resting. I know, we're big dorks.

Seth Bullock's grave was actually on a hill above the cemetery, amongst the Ponderosa pines. When we hiked up there, we discovered that people had left him all sorts of trinkets. Rocks, pretty leaves, mardi gras beads, an airplane-sized bottle of whiskey. I wonder if people have always left gifts at his grave, or if it's directly related to the popularity of the Deadwood TV show?

In any case, we saw that someone had left Bullock a cigarette, but no matches, so we left our book of matches for him.

I really meant to take more pictures of Deadwood's architecture, but didn't get around to it. That always happens. I'm so busy rubbernecking, that I forget to take pictures. But you should definitely go to Flickr for some amazing shots that other people took.

I did take this picture, however, just a random one of someone's house. We're trying to decide on paint colors for the portico of our house, and this is just about what we had in mind: cream for the pillars, with muted shades of red, blue and green for the trim. I took several pictures of the trim of this house from various angles.

Well, from Deadwood we headed on over to Devils Tower, just on the other side of the border in Wyoming. Come on back tomorrow for those picture


Martyn said...

Just read your blog about Deadwood. Sounds as though you ended up enjoying it, which is the main thing. I thought I'd put you on to a couple of books that you might find interesting: "Wild Bill Hickok & Calamity Jane: Deadwood Legends" by James D. McLaird, and "Seth Bullock: Black Hills Lawman" by David A. Wolff. Both were published by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press, and give really good looks at these famous characters whom you saw lying in the cemetery!

Joanne said...

Thanks for visiting the blog, Martyn. I'll look into the books; we loved Deadwood after our rocky start with the car problems.