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TRAVEL JOURNAL INDEX >Smach Dab in the Middle of it All

Deadwood, SD and Devils Tower National Monument, WY   07/06/06 (Day 72)

Smack Dab in the Middle of it All


Curiosity gets the better of us, so we stop and do Deadwood, South Dakota. Or is it the other way around?

The place is like Disneyland with a cowboy hat on. Every business along the crammed 15 block main street has a ground floor filled with slot machines and poker tables and the thin trappings of what we think of as “wild west” (sawdust on the saloon floor, et al). Businesses quibble over where Wild Bill was truly shot and scramble to attach his name (and/or Calamity Jane’s) to whatever they can. For example, you can take a drive down “Calamity Lane” and don’t forget to stock up at Wild Bill’s Deadwood Fudge shop. What? Don’t you remember how much old Bill liked fudge?

On the plus side: food is cheap ($7.99 prime rib, $2.99 breakfast buffet) and the betting limits are low (some slots start at a penny and some poker tables start at $5), so your financial risk is at least tolerable. And there is a lovely hotel in town called the Silverado Franklin Hotel (no, we don’t just love it because it’s got Silverado right there in the name)—although, its lobby is junked up with slot machines too.

In the end, the forced pageantry (Live gunslinger show in the streets every day at 4! Mannequins dressed up like hookers peeping out of second floor windows!) manages to cheapen the legitimately outlaw, sexy, exciting heritage of this town. As we were leaving/escaping Deadwood, we visited Mt. Moriah Cemetery high up on a hill over town ($1 admission) and paused at Wild Bill and Calamity Jane’s side by side graves. We swear we could hear them spinning in them. Our advice? Watch the TV show instead.

In need of a little good solid reality, we head off in search of the geographical center of the United States (your tax dollars at work!). After all, one of the (precious few) stated missions of the Trans-Americas Journey is to get to know our own back yard a bit more and what better place to do that than at its very center?

We know the spot is in or around Belle Fourche, South Dakota and figure there are probably signs and all sorts of hoopla surrounding it. It’s not until we’ve driven in circles for 40 minutes that we admit that we simply cannot find the center of America (literally and, perhaps, figuratively).  

As we’re dejectedly driving out of Belle Fourche, we pass the visitor center and there, finally, is the hoopla we’ve been in search of. But we should be forgiven for not finding the spot on our own since the Geographical Center of the United States is in the middle of nowhere, about 20 miles north of Belle Fourche, where it was moved from its original home in Kansas after Hawaii and Alaska were added as states.

To get there, we leave town and head down Old Highway 87, a beautiful, but completely desolate, road through natural prairie pasture land that’s been fenced off and is now used by cattle ranchers. About eight miles later, there it is: A slightly bent, very weather-worn steel fence post jammed into the ground about five feet in from the road.

If we would have blinked we would have missed it. In fact, even without blinking we almost missed it. We’ve been told there is an official US Geological Survey marker flat on the ground by the post, but we decide not to hop the rusty barbed wire fence and wade through the very rattlesnake-friendly grass to get to it.

Then it’s over the border into Wyoming to Devils Tower National Monument. We arrive at Devils Tower just in time for sunset light on the monolithic rock that juts up out of the flat landscape in a way that’s just bizarre and sinister enough to warrant the name.

After watching the color change on the rock, we set up camp and meticulously position the door of our tent so that we have a view of the tower right from bed. As we settle in, we can’t help but be tempted to make mashed potatoes for dinner so we can sculpt them into the shape of the tower, ala that iconic scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

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