Denver, CO to Spearfish, SD – After a quick stay in Denver to lighten my load (I have everything I own in the trusty little Toyota Matrix), I head north. My plan is to make it to Devil’s Tower and then spend the night in Spearfish, SD. I nodded to Fort Collins and Cheyenne, both towns I’ve been told are great to live in and luckily have good coffee just off the interstate. In Douglas, WY, I tell the car, “Let’s go north!” and we head off on 59 through the Thunder Basin National Grassland. I detour to see the real Oregon Trail and stand in the cut worn by wagon wheels before heading back across the hills.
The highway winds and then parallels train tracks. On the train tracks are coal trains. Off to the other side of the road, you see signs for the coal mines. Then I realize these are the same trains that will travel across the country to pass through my backyard in Washington; the same trains we’ve counted and know to be damaging to the health of our communities in so many ways that I can’t get into it here. I have a set of jumper cables in the car and wonder if I could park, hop across the highway and connect the rails. Supposedly this makes the traffic guardrails come down and confuses the railroads for hours. What if I could do it in the middle of Wyoming? I tell myself my goal right now is Gillette but this thought takes up miles of road.
I stop for coffee in Gillette. A sign coming into town says, “If it’s not a baby, you’re not pregnant” and for some reason, I spend a long time trying to this out. I thought at first that no, that’s a rose, not a baby so obviously if a woman has a rose in her, she’s not pregnant. I pull into Gillette’s “no-bucks” coffee house and figure it out. It’s the first of many signs. Wyoming gets me going in more ways than one.
The Gillette News Record states that the town is still using too much water however consumption has gone down and that’s something to be proud off. It says that the city is especially using too much water on Mondays. I get distracted by the coffee and wonder what people are doing on Mondays that uses so much water but then read that it’s mainly the farmers irrigating too much on that particular day. The woman who gives me the coffee says a fire is real risk right now. They finally had rain yesterday but it wasn’t enough. I send a silent prayer out for rain.
A few miles up from Gillette in Moorcroft where you turn off to get to Devil’s Tower, I turn a corner headed out of town and all of a sudden my car jerks sideways hard to the right. I look in the rearview mirror for a twister. There’s nothing but another car is pulled over up ahead. I can see from the shadow that my bike is still on the roof. It’s not until later that I notice whatever that wind was yanked the bike and thus the rack sideways, knocking it almost one inch cockeyed. I make plans to store the bike in the car later that night since I’ll have to adjust the rack anyway and that little incident scared me quite a lot.
I took a picture of Devil’s Tower but honestly the drive there was more impressive. As much as I’m a sucker for shortcuts, I’m also a sucker for farms with large rock cliffs in the background although no one was offering those to me free. The reason I didn’t go all the way to the base of Devil’s Tower was because I was taking pictures of the farms, none of which captured their perfectness and all seemed to be taking with a verde filter since I was green with envy. I need to figure out what it is about Wyoming that gets me going like it does.
Just before the exit to Beulah, back on I-90, I saw a fire burning in the forest off in the distance. I looked and looked as I rounded the corner, trying to drive straight since suddenly there were a lot of cops. Now being from Washington, I didn’t want to call in something that wasn’t an emergency but I held my phone until Spearfish and reported to the KOA gals that there was a fire. I told them I didn’t want to be “that Washington woman” who sounds the false alarm and they assured me it was probably taken care of. We chatted and I told them my plans to drive to Eagle Butte in the morning and asked if was safe since it is on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. “Oh yeah,” said a young woman who was as pale as me. “My whole family is from there.” How? She told me much of the land is either leased or even owned by white people. I wondered how it would be for me to walk into town but she assured me I’d be safe.
She also told me the Deadwood Rodeo was that night. This was too good to pass up! I dolled myself up Western as much as I could and headed to Deadwood, scoring a sweet parking spot just across from the rodeo grounds entrance. I wasn’t supposed to park there unless I was a patron of the Deadwood First Gold Hotel but the man controlling the parking said to just come have a drink after the rodeo. I wasn’t sure if that would work out and had already decided not to drink after seeing all the cops out and about. Later I found out that the Hell’s Angels owned the campground next to my KOA and Wyoming’s finest were out in full force. The campground was so full of bikes, the ground almost vibrated.
I live for rodeos. What is it about horses flying out around the arena, their riders carrying banners and the national anthem making me almost cry? Dodge sponsored the event and a large Ram truck made its way around the arena as people cheered for the rodeo queens. A woman tells me that rodeo is the official sport of South Dakota.
Deadwood Rodeo is the best of the best. I sat next to a boy who said he wanted to be a bareback rider. He chatted about how you score points as a team of six Belgians wove figure-eights. The announcer said that the larger horses were always at the back of the team to stop the wagon and the agile horses at the front because on turns, they’d have to travel farther. I’m enthralled. I sit next to a Deadwooder named Sylvia who explains the scoring of the bareback riding as we cheer. The points are based not only on the ride but also on how far the horse “travels”. A horse who comes out of the chute and stays close to the gates scores higher than one who bucks around the arena. If a man can stay on long enough, real live cowboys sidle up to the bronco and the rider, if he can get his hand free, jumps onto the horse with him as the other cowboys chase down the still bucking animal. A man flies off of a horse called “Cocktail Slipper” and we cheer.
For barrel-racing, we cheer just as loud. This would be my sport if I liked horses more. The announcer and the clown entertain the crowd between rides with Obama jokes. It’s the first time I’ve known our president is this funny to people. A group reenacts the shooting of Wild Bill Hickox complete with fake gunfire. It’s the 90th anniversary of the rodeo and one family has had a member in the reenactment for all those years. The woman next to me tells me I really should go see the bronze statue of one of their family members downtown if I have a chance. She coaches me patiently on what to look for when we move into roping – there is not a more enthusiastic fan of the rodeo in Deadwood. I’m mesmerized by boots, leather and cowboy hats. After steer-riding, the rodeo is over. Calling it a night, I consider a visit to the hotel for a drink, wisely refrain, and hop on the highway back to Spearfish. I’m surrounded by Harleys but somehow on the highway grade the tires sound sound like a woman is singing, or maybe that was me.