Out on the Razzle in America

United Kingdom
Freelance writer, literary graduate and minor lad. In America for pleasure, not business. I've never been before, so I thought I should. Should I have done it all at once? Can it all be done at once? Only one way to find out...

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Black Hills, badass cowboys, big boring heads and Bison.

There is a transition from plains to mountain foothills in South Dakota. The transition takes place in the Black Hills, dark, pine-topped ridges in the eastern part of the state, home to Custer State Park and its bison herd, Mount Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse memorial. The effect of the transition is all the more spectacular if it occurred while you were sleeping off three steaks and some whiskey.

Custer State Park is a strange place, where shuffling bison move amongst herds of Harley Davidsons, and bighorn sheep amble up sheer slopes as groups of camera-wielding visitors strain and scramble to snap them before they disappear into the trees.

Descending briefly from the hills, the road to Wyoming takes you through Deadwood, a city of immense wild west notoriety that manages to handle the jobs of tourist trap and genuine National Historical Landmark with equal success. Housing the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, along with some gambling dens and bars, the town looks like great fun, though we only passed through. Soon after, we passed through Belle Fourche, at the East-West centre of the country. It doesn't look like great fun. It looks very boring. But again, we only passed through.

Strangely, in this landscape are found two of the most interesting single bits of stuff in the country. Mount Rushmore is the image for South Dakota's motto, "Great Faces, Great Places". Well, that and the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is bigger, more expensive, perhaps a bit more impressive, and will take even longer to not be ready. Both though, once seen, are very hard to do anything with, so you end up looking, mumbling, then leaving, perhaps having spent too much on an unnecessary drink or an Indian dreamcatcher.

Now in Wyoming for a spell, the radio choices are limited to classical music, classic rock, or religious rock, while your chances of seeing a non-white are similarly limited, especially if you remain in the towns that revel in the fact that their signs have elevations higher than their population.

You can always go to Gillette, "America's Energy Capital", home to mile-long coal trains, numerous cash for guns pawn stores, and one Chinese restaurant. Or just stay out of towns, and admire the scenery as it fluctuates between sagebrush, methane pumps, and pronghorns. You are best off tuning in to 91.1, forgetting about music or scenery, and getting stuck in to some wholesome religious teaching, such as about "the enemy", pornography, and learn to "defend yourself, your families, and your home from this dangerous animal", "more dangerous than a killer whale". It's no joke, you're far more likely to encounter pornography out here than a killer whale, (it won't get through the computer screen) so it pays to be prepared.

Anyway, cowboys. I spent last night in Cody, Wyoming, home to the famous 7 days a week rodeo. It is stirring stuff indeed, from the Star Spangled Banner sung at the beginning (while two children with flags gallop around the floor), to the three dollar beers and the resulting puns on riding, bellowed from the crowd when the time comes for the ladies' time trials. I volunteered to get amongst the sawdust for the clown's act, and met some actual cowboys with lassoes and everything, before being levitated via some visual trickery by the only clown that has ever sounded as ridiculous as he looked, a deep, gravelly Malboro man with green hair and purple eyes. The bucking broncos and steers are impressive enough, especially when they let off so much steam in the release cage that the rider thinks twice and gets back off again, but the real credit has to go to the two handlers, who ride around the ring, corralling the soon-riderless animals and keeping the show on time, all the while threatening the clown with a lassoing himself.

The rodeo did finish pretty quickly, although, as the saying goes, time flies when you're having rum. Or whisky in this case. The next day we were in Montana, bear country, as the scratch marks around our campsite attested. That and the massive pawprint in the mud. Apparently the best, or rather only, way to outrun a bear is to run across a slope. Easier said than done. After an evening of yeehaws, aww shucks and ahs and oohs, followed by a drinking competition with a man with a voice so husky that only a retard would challenge him or his ex-con friend to a tipple, I doubt I could run across a flat surface. Maybe the zigzags would confuse a bear. Next time, might be better off trying to outrun a beer, as my German travelling companions insist on calling the ursine locals round here. Beers can't run as fast as me, surely.

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