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June 29, 2017

South Dakota - the Center of our Nation

The geographic center of the contiguous 48 states is in Lebanon, Kansas.  Fran and I stopped there in 2015 on a previous trip east, that blog is HERE.  The geographic center of the nation including Hawaii and Alaska is at Belle Forche, South Dakota.  Behind the Visitors Center is a nice display to celebrate the event.  The physical site is 20 miles away including 17 miles (R/T) of gravel and washboard.  That’s not for the RV.
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Also at the VC we learn the main outdoor activity in Belle Forche is Frisbee Golf!   Although there were several courses we did not play.  I did use their FREE dump station.

The little museum attached to the VC has a large collection of western cowboy memorabilia, a display of the numerous western movies filmed in the Black Hills and some fossils.
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The large bank building in Sturgis proudly shows the date of 1876.  The Ft. Laramie treaty of 1868 promised "undisturbed use and occupation" of the Black Hills to the Indians.  But that was before the discovery of GOLD!, in 1874.  By 1877 the Black Hills were confiscated by the US, in what is regarded as the most controversial treaty regarding the Black Hills.

It not only took the Black Hills from the Sioux, but established the reservation system.  It still remains a controversial land grab, known as the “Sell or Starve” Act.  In 2011 President Obama offered the 9 tribes of the Sioux $1.3 billion as a settlement to the dispute.  The Sioux refused.
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Sturgis, which is close by, is most noted for the massive motorcycle rally and tattoo parlors, but other rallies are held throughout the year.
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During our visit it was a rally to celebrate the Chevrolet Camaro, hundreds of Camaros.
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There were three of the Bumblebee Transformer cars.  Less than 400 of these were made patterned after the Camero used in the Transformer: Last Knight movie.
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The Camaros in the Show & Shine displayed some very creative paint and expensive schemes
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My favorites were liquid metal, bat out of hell, a salute to the 911 firefighters
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Deadwood (named after the dead trees surrounding the gulch) is the only town in South Dakota where gambling is still legal.  As with Sturgis its history begins in 1876 after the discovery of GOLD.  The Deadwood Gulch placer miners worked the richest vein in the Black Hills.  The entire town, all 300 buildings, burned to the ground in 1878.  Hence the oldest buildings in town date from 1879, including most of the masonry structures.
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The Kansas lawman Wild Bill Hickok came here with his best friend Colorado Charlie in 1876 to work a mining claim.  But Wild Bill found the money good and the labor more to his liking at the card tables.  He was shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall in Saloon No 10.  After the fire, Saloon No 10 was rebuilt in brick and renamed Eagle Bar. … Big marketing mistake!  Across the street a model of the original Saloon No. 10 was built, and called … yup Saloon No. 10.
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It is in Saloon No. 10 that a fairly accurate reenactment of the events of August 1, 1876 is made by the Deadwood Alive theater group.  Colorado Charlie is a retired history teacher.  He taught 8 different history courses on the Black Hills at the college in Rapid City.  He is also wrote the scripts and choreography for all the re-enactments performed throughout Deadwood.  He sat at our lunch table for a good 20 minutes spellbinding us with his stories.  In the picture below he is setting up the scene for the events to come.
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The bar girls are our waitresses, but are now soliciting drinks from the gamblers at the tables.
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After a drink, Wild Bill joins the card game
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And is shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall, while holding a pair of black aces and eights, with a nine of diamonds … the dead man’s hand.
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Fran with the entertaing Colorado Charlie, then murderous Jack McCall and Wild Bill.
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Saloon 10 is a National Historic Museum, with a bar …. the only museum on the register with a bar.  Worth a stop.

Photos of Wild Bill and family
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The original wooden headstone, made by Colorado Charlie
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We did not make it up to the cemetary, where both Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are buried.

And many photos and drawings of what it was like for the placer miners in the muck
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Another of Colorado Charlie’s reenactments is a shoot out on Main Street.
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We really want to return to the Black Hills for its beauty, history and the many trails we did not take advantage of.

June 26, 2017

Wyoming - the High Plains and a Tower

Our first stop after we cross the state line is the Southeast Wyoming Welcome Center, a beautifully done information center and rest area.  I did not take the camera in with us, and really should have, certainly this is one of the best information centers we been to.  The east side of Wyoming is known as the High Plains
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And it is windy on the plains, even the cattle are taking shelter behind the wind breaks.  The dancing waves of grass extend to the horizon.  If we were not driving it would be a great time for kite.
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My favorite little Canon G15 point-and-shoot camera that I left on the dash of the RV at the VC is now cooked.  The remaining pictures will be taken with the much heavier Lumix.

At the VC we learned Fort Laramie is the first settlement in Wyoming, now a National Historic Site, and it’s along our route.  At the confluence of the Laramie and North Platte rivers, some 50,000 arrangements passed this way either on the Oregon Trail, or to finds gold in California, or to the Mormon settlements growing around Salt Lake, or a different life.  And the Army presence also grew, as did conflicts with local Indians.

I'll toss in a plug of J.Dawg who is now blogging the Oregon Trail, I'm just crossing over it.

We arrive late afternoon and it still 98F as we walk around the grounds.  The NPS has restored some buildings that are now open for visitors to observe what life was like during the time of westward expansion.
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As westward expansion continued the fort grew. New construction was built on the previous foundations as the fort grew.
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The treaty of 1868 was signed here deeding all the Black Hills to the local tribes for all time.  In addition to assisting travelers the Army duties now included protecting Indian Territory, but fur trapping and prospecting continued.  The 1874 Black Hills Expedition led by George Custer (yes that Custer) led a large (1000+) troops into the Indian Territory of the Black Hills for the proposed purpose of mapping, but most historians now consider mineral exploration as a priority as rumors of gold were spreading.

A bridge was built over the Laramie River to allow the Army response time to be decreased when they were needed.
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The Oregon Trail Ruts along the North Platte River were created when the trail was forced away from the river and crossed a ridge of soft sandstone.
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For sure Wyoming has wind! lots of it, but it also has coal.  Wyoming is the nation’s energy leader, producing 3 times more coal than West Virginia.  The long coal trains run day and night.  I would not want to see these vast expanses of plains covered with windmills, but bet this wind could power the entire nation!

The wind did do us a favor by blowing the heatwave we’ve been trapped in, to someplace else!  It’s a cool mid-60s when we wake up at Devils Tower National Monument.  The The Belle Fourche Campground within the Monument is full, but the KOA just outside has space.  The entrance sign is within the park boundaries, while I am a few feet away taking this picture from the KOA, it s that close.
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The tower literally does just jump up out of the grasslands.
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The hiking at Oregon Pipes and Elephant Butte was done in sandals, it feels good to lace up the boots for a bit more of a challenge.  The trailhead for the 2.8 mi Red Beds Trail loop is just past the entrance station.   The trail gets its name from the red sandstone along the Belle Fourche River and climbs quickly 500’ to the base of the tower.   Notice Fran has her jacket on … it was cool when we started.
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At the Visitors Center the 1.3 mile (paved) Tower Trail is easily the most popular in the park.  While we watched 3 tour buses unloaded their passengers, English was no longer the common language. 

It is permitted to boulder scramble, but not to climb above the boulder field.  The kids made it look fun, but most adults followed the paved path.  Several native tribes still consider this sacred ground, leaving prayer beads and prayer cloth on the trees.
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The tower was first climbed by the use of a wooden ladder in 1893.  A small portion still remains.


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Just before the halfway point is a nice view of the tower and of the grasslands below.
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The two deer not far off the trail seemed oblivious to the commotion of the bus loads now blocking the trail for selfies with them in the background.
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After completing the Tower Loop we again pick up the Red Beds Trail to finish its loop back to the campground.  The trail starts wide, with an easy climb through the Ponderosa Pines.
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But soon descended steeply into the grasslands.  Looking back up the trail it is the steepest section of the hike.
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The grassland gives way to the red sandstone, almost as brilliant as that seen as Bryce – but on an itty-bitty scale
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We return to the bridge and the campground to find it filled with Chevrolet CamerosSturgis is having a Camaro Rally this weekend.  We just might swing by a take a look several hundred of them tomorrow.
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The KOA is pretty typical with some great sites (ours!) some not so great.  Big rigs can pull through, little rigs, like ours, can back in.  Our site is water/electric (50Amp) for $52, 30Amp is all we need but none were available.  Adequate store and restaurant, but lame WiFi.  The WiFi reaches the whole camp, but is shared via satellite to the rest of the world.  The location is perfect, as is the walk to Devils Tower on quiet trails.