Wyoming’s a blur. South Dakota Killed Aren’s Liver.

We left the Colorado Rockies and wormed our way North and East destined for the vacation portion of our trip; into the Black Hills of South Dakota for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally!

After a shower stop and breakfast at the Western Ridge Ranch (home of the family of ladies who like to flip Aren shit because he is a “spaz”–I approve of this place, by the way), we got back onto US287 and drove North to Laramie Wyoming.  Even though breakfast had only been an our earlier we stopped in at one of the haunts from last year, the Altitude Brewery, to see if the worst server any of us have ever experienced was still working there.  If you recall (and by “recall” I mean go back to last year’s posts) we had a pleasant server by the name JT, or “Just Terrible” who was just that:  Terrible.  He meant well, he just sucked.

Instead of JT we got a lovely, competent young woman who got us everything we ordered and nothing we didn’t.  WOW!  Aren thought he saw JT walking around.  I was befuddled; Either management was incompetent or JT really worked through the bugs in his system and made himself worthwhile.  I had to know, so I asked our server, “Does a guy by the name JT still work here?”

“Yup, he’s right over there.  Do you want me to go get him?” She pointed to the gentleman Aren thought was the culprit, who was standing behind the bar yucking it up with some customers.

“Good God no.  He was our server last year, and he was the worst server any of us have ever had…”

“He’s the general manager now.”

I gave her a shocked and pitied look and just put my hand on her shoulder.  She gave all of us a knowing look of yeah, he sucks… hard.

It turns out management was incompetent.  JT, I am sure you are wonderful person, I just don’t think restaurants are your calling.

We left the Altitude Brewery and went further North on SR34 to Wheatland and Interstate 25.  All of Wyoming was in a haze.  It was hot and the air was blue with smoke from distant fires.  There were no green pastures, not like last year, and every lake and pond was dry.  Once off I-25 we went East on US18 caressing the North Platte River along the way (the only river I saw on this entire trip through the Rockies that had a normal flow of water).  US18 transitioned into US85 and there were many miles of brown, dead grass that followed.  Then Dave vanished.

“Where did Dave go?”  He had been a constant presence in my rearview mirror this entire time.

“I saw a puff of smoke.  That might have been him.” Replied Aren.

Uh oh.

I hung a u-ee, and headed back South to look for Dave.  Nothing to fear, Dave putted passed us and gave a “shocka” while two entirely different types of smoke plumed from his tail pipe.  One was white and sweet smelling, the other dark and ominous.  We did another U-turn and pulled along side Dave and asked if everything was all right.  All we got was a shrug and thumbs up.  Good enough for me.  I passed Dave but kept my speed to 55-60mph in case his Jeep felt like exploding at a higher speed.

A long line of converted 5th wheel 1-ton trucks passed opposite our gypsy caravan.  I guessed these were trucks that had just delivered a bunch of Harleys for rich people attending the Rally.  We arrived in Newcastle needing a fresh tank of gas.  I filled our tank at a business who’s only identifier was the word “GAS” in large letters atop a pole seventy feet in the air.  The four of us and Mud suddenly traveled back in time.  The gas pumps were from the sixties and my guess was that none of the pumps had actually filled an entire tank since then either.  I can’t imagine a driver patient enough to wait the four hours it would take to fill an 18 gallon tank.  There was a man with a Winnebago next to us who had been there twenty minutes and managed to only squeeze three gallons into his 100 gallon tank!  I bet that dude had a long night!

North we went, through Four Corners.  *Blink*, gone.  Then into South Dakota.  We turned off US85 onto US14A and down Spearfish Canyon.

The land that is now the Black Hills was at onetime the floor of a vast ocean.  Thousands of feet of sediment and limestone was laid down over millions of years.  A funny thing about the ocean, no one realizes this, but there is one part per billion gold resting suspended in every drop of water.  Much of this microscopic gold finds its way into the muddy depths and rests for a time on the bottom only to be covered even more gunk from above.  That is until there is an orgy of orogeny!

Millions of years ago a great ball of magma rose from the depths yearning to break free of its lithic confines and pushed this once retired seafloor upward.  In the carnage fractures appeared in the now rock-hard, former ocean bottom.  Through these cracks water, super-heated by the molten rock below to hundreds and even thousands of degrees, wiggled its way up to the surface.  Along its path the “one in a billion” gold that was once a negligible blot in the mud started melting and got fed into the highways of hot water.  Soon all these lonely particles of gold found their long lost brethren in the sources of thousands of hot springs.  As the water got closure to the surface, and further from its heat source, it began to cool.  Pressurized water that was once well above the melting points for gold, copper, silver, lead, sulfur, and quartz was now cooling to the freezing temperatures of these minerals (still in the hundreds of degrees).  Inside the fractures of the Earth from hence the hot springs flowed began a great condensation of riches.  Load gold in big quartz stringers!

A few million years of weather later: rocks break down, crumble, roll into stream beds, and worked their way downstream.  Some of the rocks that break down happen to be these frozen quartz intrusions.  Some of these quartz intrusions happen to be full of blobs of gold.  In 1874 miners in the South Black Hills found some of that gold in the rivers.  In November 1875 the real deal was found in Deadwood Gulch in the North Black Hills.  At the top of Deadwood Gulch resides the Homestake Mine; to this date, the single most lucrative gold mine in human history.  More than 50 million reported troy ounces of gold from that one claim were produced over a 125 year span (that is $80 billion in today’s dollars!).

Spearfish Canyon had its own share of prospectors.  The canyon walls show no mineralization save for the odd geode here and there, but high up the steep gulches, hidden by the black pines, white bands of quartz would shed their treasure and the nuggets and flakes of gold would roll down the creek.  About five miles from the mouth of Spearfish Creek a miner’s cabin was built in 1903.  109 years later there are six cabins, a house, and a lodge owned by my friend Jesse’s family.  Our drive down the canyon brought us to our home for the week: Rim Rock Lodge!

We all gave Jesse big hugs.  I said hello to Jesse’s sweet parents, Bruce and Cheri, and made the introductions of my ragtag crew.  A quick unpacking job in the lodge where we were staying and we piled into Jesse’s trusty white grandma car for an evening in Deadwood.

First stop:  Mustang Sally’s for burgers and “chicken balls”.  Spicy little deep fried marbles of cholesterol and chicken that we have come to love.  They drank lots of beer.  With our hunger quenched more libations were required, so on to the Saloon No. 10, the most famous site in all the Dakotas (a place that also happens to be owned by Jesse’s cousins)!  In the beginning days of the gold rush of 1876 there sat a claim along Deadwood Gulch assigned the name of Claim No. 10.  Seeing that beer, liquor, girls, and gambling was much more profitable and not as back-breaking, a saloon was built on the claim and carried the name with it.  Wild Bill Hickock was shot in the back of the head here–and still is to this day… Actually, twice a day to tell the truth.

The fever was on.  The band was playing, some foosball was had, and Jesse’s beautiful cousin Micheala brought the boys theirs rounds.  Micheala is also a local celebrity as she and her cousin Charlie are both looking good straddling motorcycles in this year’s No. 10 rally poster (they signed one for me!).  From The 10 we went to the Deadwood Tobbacco Company for the rocking blues band.  Then last called from there we returned the to The 10.  When I designatedly drove the party back home late that night the damage had been done.  Aren went to bed first.  It turns out Aren has a ten day limit on binge drinking.  His warranty ran out, and his “check liver” light came on.  Aren didn’t get out of bed until 5pm the next day and hasn’t stopping bitching since!

While Aren slept the day away Dave, Erik, Jesse, and myself went to the Spearfish Rec Center (the greatest rec center of all time) for water slides and intermittent sunshine.  Then burritos and back to the lodge where I woke Aren up and gave him a football-sized curried chicken burrito.  He whimpered, ate a few bites and returned to sleep.  This routine went like clockwork for the next few hours until at last the giant arose.  Aren said he wasn’t going to drink that night.  Aren is a liar.

More to come!

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