Tuesday, September 05, 2006

No dead wood here

It’s a little disconcerting to walk into a Comfort Inn and find a casino, but then again, this is Deadwood.

After the government closed up the brothels, Deadwood, S.D., was, almost literally, dead. In the late 1980s, the town talked with government into allowing gambling … the first place outside Las Vegas and Atlantic City to do so. It made some sense: Deadwood had been a gambling center back in the Wild West days of the late 1800s. The proceeds – about $180 million so far, said local Tom Griffith – go to historic preservation, both of homes and the now-thriving downtown, and about 1 million tourist come here each year.

I got in just before sunset. Tom, a local businessman and travel writer, and wife Nyla, who sits on the town commission, took me to dinner with a couple of other locals, Pat and Jean. It was a fun night, proof that despite South Dakota’s conservative reputation, there’s no shortage of opinion on all sides of the key issues. (As someone pointed out, this is the state that gave us George McGovern.)

This is the same Deadwood as in the HBO series, and just in case you’ve missed the point, there are daily reenactments of the murder of Wild Bill Hickock in the Old Style Saloon No. 10. The saloon was once down the street, but that was before the town’s megafire a century-plus ago, and today’s bar may not be an exact replica, but the spirit is authentic.

The place is covered with animals heads and historic photos, including ones of Wild Bill – he’s buried up on the hill at Mt. Moriah Cemetery – and Calamity Jane, who is buried next to him.

The Wild Bill story goes like this: Jack McCall got off murder charges by telling the judge that Bill had killed his brother. Then the courts found out McCall had no brother, so the law tracked him down and hung him.

No. 10 Saloon isn’t the town’s only high-profile establishment. After Kevin Costner filmed Dances with Wolves in the area, he opened The Midnight Star. The three-story operation is classic Deadwood: gambling, dining, bar, plus movie memorabilia to boot…well, to the killer boots Whitney Houston wore in The Bodyguard. Too bad they’re not my size.


MRS. O, RC,SD said...

Just wanted to thank you for visiting our state and for all of the great articles you wrote. I also read the Rapid city Journal article you mentioned. I hope someday you can come back because there are so many things you didn't get to see. Spearfish Canyon, The Passion Play, Terry Peak, Roughlock Falls, The Wildlife Sanctuary in Spearfish, 1880 Train, just to name a few. Thanks again and come back soon! Have fun on your next journey!

Sarah Eaton said...

Hello Jane,

Your visit to the Black Hills sounded awesome. I especially loved the safari and the great photos of the wildlife you saw. I also appreciated your impression of Deadwood. Like you, I found it to be a lovely town, but one that represents both the pros and cons of gambling on a small town. Yes, the money has been used to beautifully restore buildings that might otherwise have fallen down, but behind almost every storefront is a casino, not a real town. At least it's fun to visit!

I guess you're now headed across Wyoming. Now that you're truly in the West, you might want to put aside your books on tape, at least for a few hours, and pick up a few western/cowbow CDs. Having the right music can help you capture the true spirit of the place. The Buffalo Bill Historical Center has an amazing collection in its gift shop. A particular favorite of mine is Sagebrush Symphony by Michael Martin Murphey.

I have to warn you that you may soon be encountering some of the less than delightful aspects of the West and the higher and drier elevations you will be reaching - your nose will probably start bleeding (it's normal), your skin will dry out (I hope you packed a super moisturizer), and you may start to notice hazy skies caused by forest fires. There are two burning now justt north of Yellowstone, and the smoke is drifting (I can't see the mountains, even where I am). A good site to keep tabs on fires is www.nifc.gov/fireinfo/nfn.

When you reach Yellowstone, I hope you will have at least a few days to see the park and the surrounding area. You could easily spend a week. In addition to the sites in Yellowstone that we're voting on, you may also want to venture outside the park. If you have time, Grand Teton National Park (perhaps my favorite mountain range) is just to the south of Yellowstone. The Beartooth Highway, which Charles Kuralt called the most beautiful road in America, is just to the northeast.

When you finally leave Yellowstone, I'd pick the west entrance. Although the north entrance from Gardiner to Livingston is beautiful, that's where you'll likely encounter the most smoke, and possible delays. The east entrance goes through West Yellowstone, where there's a great museum in the old Union Pacific Depot. The museum focuses on the role of the railroad in establishing Yellowstone National Park and has a fun exhibit on railroad china. The road from West Yellowstone travels north through the beautiful Gallatin Canyon and passes Big Sky. Again, I'd be happy to take you to lunch or show you around. I left my phone number on Marjie's voice mail.

Laura Boyd said...

Jane, I just love this! You are doing such a great job. You really are a gifted writer.
I've seen the monuments in those Black Hills and they are awe-inspiring. Looks like you had great weather also.

Curryshores1 said...

Me again... If you have a chance to drive Rte. 212 into or out of Yellowstone's east entrance, it is a truly amazing trip. One of the most harrowing I've ever driven (including the French Alps). The twists and turns present new views almost every minute.

Some of the choices we have for voting aren't fair. I think you should add another couple of weeks on so you can do it all!

Stay safe. No more speeding tickets.

sara herald said...

Was in Philly so I just caught up and am so happy you got to enjoy South Dakota. The trip sounds great. Not sure about your route to Yellowstone but if you can get to the Custer Battlefield and the museum in Cody (just east of Yellowstone) you'd enjoy them. When traveling to Glacier please take the interstate towards Missoula from Yellowstone and then take SR 93 north towards the Flathead Lake. Stop for just a few minutes at St. Ignatius Church on the Salish reservation (just south of Ronan) to see some architecture that you wouldn't expect, one of the missions that was built. When you get to the base of the Flathead Lake(largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi) stay on the east side via SR 35 towards Bigfork. Just before you get to the town of Bigfork stop (or better yet I could call and probably get you a room) at Averill's Flathead Lake Lodge, a guest ranch which has been owned and run by the Averill family for over 50 years, horses, sailing, lake and magnificent sunsets. If you don't stay just ask Jody, Kevin or Maureen to show you around. There's not much in this country that's been in continuous operation this long and the lodge was originally built by the Conservation Corps during the Depression. The town of Bigfork is delightful. Try eating at Showthyme or for locals get outside of town a bit to the Echo Lake Cafe. Don't know if the river is too cold yet but if not try tubing down the Swan River. From there would skip straight to Glacier, and if you end up on the boat cruise don't just cruise take it to the other side and hike to one of the glaciers or falls. While Going to the Sun road is a given this park can't be appreciated without a hike. We've been there at least 12 to 15 times and I haven't seen even a fraction. There is really no food service except at the lodges so put picnic food together in Bigfork for a couple of hikes. The weather can shift quickly so take a fleece or something warm if you are hiking. Don't know what's on the agenda for Seattle but the Olympic National Park on the peninsula has the only rainforest in the continental U.S. Keep having fun.