Saturday, June 30, 2007

GART Day 5 - The Deadwood Total

Tamara says that after all the food we bought, and all the stuff we did, and all her gambling, she's still leaving with more money than she came to town with.

It looks like Deadwood was essentially free. Hooray for lucky girl!

GART Day 5 - Exploring Deadwood

We spent all day doing fun things in Deadwood. I climb as many stairs as I could. We went on tour of the city and the graveyard. We went to every casino in town and gambled in most of them. We learned about Wild Bill Hicock, the reason Deadwood's famous. We ate ice cream and watched gunfights. We milked everything out of this town that we could. And it was a lot of fun.

We were both exhausted by about 7:00, so we decided to head back to the hotel. We bought a couple of subs at the sub shop, then decided to go on the go-karts and bumper boats because we're young and fun! I think Tamara had a little too much fun spraying me with the water cannons on the bumper boats. I told her next time we do this I'm just going to save her the trouble and jump into the pool.

We still had a couple of bonus coupons to use at the hotel, so we decided to do a little more gambling. When we went over to the bar to get a couple of beers, we were told that drinks were free if we were gambling. You mean I could have been drinking FREE BEER this entire time?! I told the bartender that he hilariously opened the floodgates. I'm pretty sure he got tired of seeing me showing up with an empty glass, but there was FREE BEER on the line! Come on!

I also spoke a little with one of the cashiers, and she recommended that we visit Wind Cave. With all the caves in the area, it's been difficult to decide on one to go to. But she's really into caves and dropped this one without hesitation, so I'm willing to bet it's a good choice.

Deadwood has been fun, but exhausting. We've only been here two nights, but I feel like we've been here about a week. Soon I'm going to need a vacation from my vacation.

GART Day 4 - Driving to Deadwood, SD

The drive to Deadwood was long and straight and boring, on one of the longest, straightest, and boringest roads I've ever travelled on. You could look down the road to the horizon and not see a single curve. And when you got to the horizon, to the farthest spot you could see twenty minutes earlier, the road stretched out further still, longer and straighter. At least it was easy to drive -- I just set the wheel and went to sleep.

Tamara wanted to visit the geographic center of the US, located just outside Belle Fourche and not much out of our way. When we got to the visitors centre in Belle Fourche, we found out it was actually north of the city and not south as we expected. The centre was closed, but directions were written on a sign taped to the door. They included things like, "look for a barn with a red pole on the right side of the highway". You'd think something like this would have, I don't know, a road sign, or something. But maybe they capitalize on visitors coming in from the south.

We got into Deadwood and booked a room at the Comfort Inn. We were able to catch the trolley downtown shortly after we unloaded the car. I don't know the last time I've felt this excited! It all just seemed so surreal, I was laughing at everything!

So we're walking down the street and a small group of people come out of one of the buildings. There was a song being played on bells somewhere in the distance, and one of the woman asked us what it was. It was a familiar tune, and while we could hum it, neither of us knew the name.

Tamara noticed that one of the men had Saskatchewan written on his shirt. After a brief chat, we found out that they were hilariously from White City and knew Wendy and Curtis Machmer.

We decided to eat at Mustang Sally's, and the food was delicious. We did a little gambling at a few different casinos, and Tamara won nearly $50!

Life is good.

GART Day 4 - Running Around in Medora

We started the day with ice cream for breakfast, because we're adults and you can all get bent. Then we snuck off to the Marquis de More's chateau, which I wasn't really wild about seeing, but was actually more interesting than I expected. While we were there, one of the tour guides told us that there is a crazy backwoods trail across dirt roads, private land, and cattle ruts that runs directly out to the petrified forest! So I would be able to go after all, provided that Tamara wouldn't mind spending an hour by herself as I hiked across the scorching prairie to get to it.

After the chateau, we stopped for lunch at Maltese Burgers, a much better meal than last night's buffet. Then we drove off in search of the petrified forest -- which wasn't as hard to find as we expected, but involved a lot of driving over things that weren't really roads.

The road stopped at the end of Teddy Roosevelt Park. We were told that there was a tiny opening in the fence that you crawled through, and that description was completely accurate -- if I were much bigger I wouldn't have been able to get through.

And so began my 1.5 mile hike out to the petrified forest. I had these visions of seeing rattlesnakes and buffalo -- mostly due to the stories told to us by the guide at the chateau, but it was largely uneventful. The trail was very well marked and required lots of climbing, but there was never a chance of getting lost.

The forest itself wasn't what I expected. I imagined, like, a forest, with petrified trees fallen over every which way, but it was completely different: stark, barren, and strangely beautiful in a simple, very minimalist way. The petrified wood was strewn about everywhere, all around, for hundreds of feet, and the ground was a baked white clay you might find on a sea bed. Actually, it looked like this was the remains of an ancient sea whose water had evaporated away.

I spent about 20 minutes taking pictures, then hiked back, where Tamara was patiently waiting. We headed back to town to gas up and get back on our way.

My worst mistake, though, was doing the hike without my shirt. All I wanted to do is get some colour so Heather wouldn't laugh at me this summer. But instead I got sunburned all across my shoulders and upper back. Now Tamara is laughing at me, because she was insisting on sunscreen. I can't win!

GART Day 3 - Medora Musical

I don't do a lot of talking about fate, but only because I don't really believe in it. Y'know, there's a tiny portion of my mind set aside for ridiculous beliefs, and it kind of hangs out in there, checks out the fridge and whatnot, maybe watches some TV in its underwear, that kind of thing.

But every so often fate gives me a slap in the face, something that feels as ridiculous and shocking as dumping a pail of ice water down my pants. And I got that during the musical.

It's not like the musical is anything stunning. The first minute into it, Tamara and I both leaned close and said, "Saskatchewan Express!" But to be fair, although the show is in the same theme as something from Saskatchewan Express, it's a lot more polished. The parts Tamara and I liked best were the tribute to the American armed forces, the weird religious numbers near the end of the show, and the closing number: God Bless America, complete with giant American flag.

But it wasn't the music, the dancing, the religion, or the jingoism that masde me think this was all fated: it was Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt is peppered throughout the play because of his ties to North Dakota. He's very important here, not only because of his conservation efforts, but also because it's his favourite state. I always just discounted the man as kind of a bully, but it turns out he's more interesting that I gave him credit for. And the times around him were very interesting too.

Very well. So I'm to learn more about Teddy Roosevelt. But why was this fated?

Well, if Tamara hadn't misread the map, we would have driven through to Medora the night before, and gotten rained out. And if I hadn't been overcome with sleep for some reason, we wouldn't have stopped at all. If I'd done the 16 mile hike I'd planned, I probably would have been too tired to go to the musical. And when we booked our room, the bunkhouse we were sent to was called Canada Goose.

Sure, it could all be coincedence, and the pieces tend to come together when you look at things in retrospect. But when things tend to clump together like this, I tend to think more about fate than chance. In spite of myself.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

GART Day 3 - Crappy Meal at the Chuckwagon

We both ate at the all-you-can-eat buffet, and we both got sick from it. I joked on the way in that we should order from Maltese Burgers, and apparently we should have.

It's not that the food was bad, but I was bloated from liquids and ended up eating too much, while Tamara just ate something that didn't agree with her. But this wasn't a very good experience for us.

So far I'm 0 for 2 today. Hope the musical's good. And I hope it doesn't rain like last night.

GART Day 3 - Crappy Day at Teddy Roosevelt Park

Talk about a total bust.

Look, I'm pretty okay at reading maps, all right? I'm more than happy having Tamara as my trusty navigator, but I can get by just fine when she's not around. However, this did not prevent me from driving back ad forth over the same stretch of ground about 200 times while I was looking for trailhead that would take me out to the petrified forest.

Like, could you guys maybe mark the trails? Y'know, with a sign or something that says "Petrified Forest" and a big arrow pointing in some direction? Instead of giving me some stupid map with the trails not even marked all that well?

As it was, I never found the trailhead. I did manage to find a trail that kind of started in the middle of a field and led down to the bank of the Little Missouri river, but I chose not to wade across it, mostly because I was unsure what would happen on the other side. Like, is there a trail there or what? Could you maybe give me a sign?

So while I didn't get to do any of the hiking I had planned, I did manage to climb all over some stuff and take a few trails through some other areas, like the sandstone and the now extinguished coal fire.

I knew these coal fires burned a long time, but this one was found burning in 1880 and finally burned itself out in 1977. I spoke to some people who were here in 1968, and they said there was smoke coming out of the ground and the whole area had an awful smell. It was also really interesting to see how these sorts of things are just a regular part of the area's life cycle, and the effect they have on the environment.

I got back to our hotel room all hot and sweaty, and although I was later than I expected, we still managed to squeeze in a brief swim before heading out to supper. Tamara bought us tickets to the Medora Musical this afternoon, which actually sounds kind of okay. But we'll see.

GART Day 3 - Hiking and Touring in Medora, ND

We drove into Medora this morning. I was excited about spending four hours hiking the 16 miles to the petrified forest. Tamara was excited about not doing that. So we decided to split up and do our own things: I'm going to hike and Tamara's going to explore the town.

And speaking of the town, is it ever touristy! I asked Tamara what makes a touristy place stand out, and she said it was because everything is so period. She might be right. Although Moose Jaw kind of smacks of that sort of thing, I haven't been to enough touristy spots to come to that same conclusion.

We are absolutely going to get gouged here.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

GART Day 2 - Pizza and Beer in Belfield, ND

It was a long day of driving and doing stuff, and I needed a nap. We stopped at Belfield for a break, and went to Dairy Queen for a couple of slushy drinks.

We were only 20 miles out of Medora. I wanted to press on, but Tamara pointed out that they had three things here that I wanted: beds, pizza, and beer. So we got a room, watched the hilariously lousy Chronicles of Riddick, and went to the bar to eat pizza and drink the night away.

Tamara drank them out of Heineken, so she started on Rolling Rock. It's an interesting beer: I don't think I'd go so far as to call it good, but the two sips I had weren't really enough for me to decide that I didn't like it.

We also ran into a group of people that went to the Medora Musical -- it got rained out! So it looks like we chose the right time to stop after all. The only bad news: no wi-fi. So posting will have to wait until we reach civilization.