Day 72 of our Journey

Deadwood, South Dakota milks the legends of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane to create a kind of Disneyland in a cowboy hat, but we stopped anyway.

Deadwood, South Dakota.

Deadwood, South Dakota

Every business along the crammed 15 block main street of Deadwood 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, etc.). 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? You don’t remember how much old Bill liked fudge?

On the plus side: food is cheap 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 although its lobby is junked up with slot machines too.

Deadwood, South Dakota works really hard to cling to its wild west roots.

In the end, the forced pageantry, including live gunslinger shows in the streets every day at 4 pm and mannequins dressed up like hookers peeping out of second-floor windows, manages to cheapen the legitimate outlaw heritage of this town. As we were leaving/escaping Deadwood, we visited Mt. Moriah Cemetery high up on a hill over town and paused at Wild Bill and Calamity Jane’s side by side graves. We swear we could hear them spinning in them.

For better or worse, the graves of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane are major attractions in Deadwood, South Dakota.

The center of the United States

In need of a little good solid reality, we headed off in search of the geographical center of the United States. We knew the spot is in or around Belle Fourche, South Dakota and figured there would be signs marking such a unique spot on the map. It wasn’t until we’d driven in circles for 40 minutes that we admitted that we simply couldn’t find the center of the US.

Belle Fourche, South Dakota is the nearest town to the geographic center of the US, which should not be confused with the geographic center of North America.

As we were dejectedly driving out of Belle Fourche, we passed the visitor center and there, finally, was 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 (32 km) north of Belle Fourche, where it was moved from its original home in Kansas after Hawaii and Alaska were added as states.

Old Highway 87 leads to the geographic center of the United States outside Belle Fourche, South Dakota.

To get there, we left town and headed 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 8 miles (12 km) later, there it was: A slightly bent, very weather-worn fence post jammed into the ground just off the road.

Eric at the fence post that serves as the only visible marker of the geographic center of the United States located outside Belle Fourche, South Dakota.

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

Here’s more about travel in the USA