Day Seven: Friday, May 5th 2017
Hogs, Snow, Devils Tower and Porcupines!
After the previous ridiculously long day and night on Devils Tower I have to admit I was totally knackered the next morning. So I decided to have bit of a slow morning, get an extra hour in bed in the beautiful suite at the Americinn and have a leisurely breakfast before making the most of the incredible weather we were having at the. By 09:00 it was already 81degF, unbelievable considering the morning before it was snowing and bitterly cold in Deadwood only 20 miles south.
I have to say, I’ve mentioned my North Face jacket a few times , and I’ll say it again: in the UK they rarely get to do their job, we simply don’t get the low temps these coats are designed for but in South Dakota and today in Wyoming, it was the right jacket to take with me. It’s prefect as it literally crushed down to fit inside its own pocket and then billows back out to gargantuan size within seconds. Bloody well worth the money and I now see why so many pros wear them. Anyway, this morning it was shaping up to be a super warm day and the forecast for the whole coming weekend was excellent. So I had a good long chat with Stacey and Gregg at the hotel and discussed where I should go. I really wanted to go back to DT to watch the whole of the movie sitting on my own on the mountain as the sun goes down and time it to fit in with the final 30mins of wonder that closes this awesome movie. But I had another movie I wanted to watch a part of in a special place it was linked to.
On the I90 between Spearfish and Moorcroft heading west, is the turn off for Devils Tower. It is a great fortune that the city on the turning is none other than Sundance.
Yup, it’s the very same Sundance that gave its name to one Harry Longabaugh. He got nicked in about 1920 for stealing horses and was locked up in the city jail for 18 months. When he came out, to recognise the civility in which he was treated whilst in jail, he named himself after the town. So died Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, and so a legend was born: The Sundance Kid.
So after breakfast I headed back out at a slower pace for my last full day in the US Midwest. I headed back down to the I90 and headed west again towards Sundance. On the way I stopped at the Wyoming Visitors centre, the place I’d stopped at the previous Sunday and was closed…this time it was fully open and I stopped to see what was there and to maybe pick up some tips on where else to detour to on this fine blue day. I’d pretty much done everything within a decent drive away and anything else meant a good few hundred miles return trip, so I put the brochures back, said hello to one of the folks who was on the precious night’s tour around the mountain in the dark and headed back to the 90.
I love the famous 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with Redford and Newman and in particular the beautiful Katherine Ross whom I think I had a crush on as a kid ha-ha.. and thought I’d go see the town made famous by the outlaw connection.
Sundance is a tiny town just off the interstate and I was surprised at how quick it was to drive through. No sooner had I entered it than I saw signs pointing me to an exit! I did a U turn by the Elementary school and headed back up E. Main Street. There was a state trooper tailing me as I crawled through town and I drove real slow. He had the coolest patrol car I’ve ever seen, but he just moseyed on by when I parked the car on North Third Street opposite the Wild West Espresso café.
On my left was the monument to the Sundance Kid and as it was very quiet I snapped a couple of pix off before taking a look around. The jail that once housed Longabaugh is now gone but there is a great museum right around the corner on E. Cleveland St. It’s down some stairs under the sheriff’s dept. It’s got displays of original mid-western paraphernalia and all sorts of cool exhibits on life in the area from early Indian times. There’s a great section at the back on criminals who were connected with Sundance with some great stories about what they did and how they died. It was a tough place to live and you died badly in those days! Harsh Justice indeed.
Heading back out to the bright and hot sunlight I realised how high I was altitude wise, around 4700ft above sea level and along the streets there was still snow! Unreal. 81 deg and snow in the streets. Probably because the ground hadn’t thawed out. So I was glad to have a 4x4 still!
I had a quick lunch at the Wild West Espresso café and sat on the sidewalk enjoying the day when a seriously gorgeous Hog pulled in. The colour was a gorgeous coca cola brown metallic which sparkled in the lunchtime sun. It was beautiful. I asked the owner if he minded if I took some snaps or vid of it and he was totally cool. Came out and told me all about it. What a bike. He told me he was coming in to Sundance to get it serviced at the Hog dealership around the corner which I had no idea was there.
Low and behold right around the block on E. Main St was a Custom Deluxe Hog dealer filled with all sorts of cracking bikes in various states of tune up. The lady behind the counter was really cool. She let me snap off some shots of the excellent State Trooper bike being sprayed up. It was one hell of a machine.
I bought a super cool tee and hit the road to my next destination up on the Sundance/ Warren Peak Road about 7 miles north of Sundance and about 20 miles SE from Devils Tower.
Warren Peak is a Fire Lookout station on top of Bear Lodge Mountain. It’s a classic tall structure with a bunch of stairs taking you up to the lookout tower at the top, all metal, offering 360 views of the landscape in all directions at about 5000ft above sea level. There was quite a lot of snow around at that altitude and it made for some excellent views across Wyoming and South Dakota. The climb up was fun as it meant putting the car into X mode and digging in to get up around the gravelly side road that winds up at the top of the peak. The views were incredible, and you literally could see for miles. I was stunned by the clearness of the air and could only wonder what the night sky must be like up there with a clear night. Fantastic no doubt.
I actually had a bit of a sleep in the car up there as it was so peaceful and I left the panoramic sunroof open to get the fresh cool air in the 4x4. Again, I have to say the car was a perfect choice as I don’t know how I would have fared that week in a drop-top Mustang. Well done Subaru, it’s a great car and I loved hanging out with it for the week.
So after cranking out a few shots of me and the car and of the beautiful blue sky, I hit the dirt track in full X mode, dropped back down to the main highway and drove back up to Devils Tower.
Timing was crucial as I wanted to watch the whole movie at the right moment to coincide with the sun setting so I could watch the last half an hour in the dark before snapping a few long exposure shots of the mountain and once again, heading home to a much needed sleep before the next day’s long ride home back to the UK.
This I did and instead of sitting like a twatt at the base of the tower with a bunch of tourists watching me watching a movie, I opted for the parking areas out on Joyner Ridge Trail and settled in with a bag of chips, a spring water and a bunch of popcorn and hit play.
I didn’t see another sole for close to three and a half hours.
Well, that’s not entirely accurate….:) Part way through the dining room scene where Roy builds the massive sculpture, I spotted movement up ahead on the trial. It was a couple of deer and a porcupine! Awesome. So I paused the movie and crept out the car, it was dusk and this little feller was rummaging around on the dirt trail. I got about 50 ft. away and it scurried off! A close encounter for both of us. There were deer everywhere and they crossed the trail heading for the tower. It was getting dark quickly now and there was a deep growl from off in the trees to the east and that was enough to send me back to the car pronto. Ha-ha.
I watched the end of CE3K in the semi-dark, with the tower as a backdrop through the windshield and it was a fantastic moment for me. There I was, 7600 miles from home, alone on the mountain, watching my favourite movie where it was filmed and watching the scene with the real mountain just behind my screen….it was Bluetooth to the car hifi so it sounded great. It was – as were many moments on this trip – emotional to say the least.
I think it’s safe to say this was one of the best weeks of my life and each and every day brought something wonderful to the table and something you could not buy or read about. You just had to be there. It was too real to be caught in a camera or a brochure. I got out of the car to witness the final waning sunlit drain from the countryside and realised that I was literally living the dream. It was real, I was really there and nothing could compare to being alone in the silence and darkness of that amazing location. Spielberg, Alves and Gottlieb nailed the location and made it real on our screens but it’s quite something else to be there in person to absorb the beauty of Devils Tower, the setting, the sounds and the smells of the surrounding countryside.
I hope I have done a reasonable job in conveying the above with this website which is one of the reasons for setting it up. One day this trip will be a long-distant memory, so this is a reminder to myself of what it was like to actually come here and live that dream held since childhood and share it with a wider audience.
Before I left the trail I took some more long exposure photos of Devils Tower in the dark and some of the surrounding valley. Devin Cherry was the right – this probably is the best vantage point for photos as the sun goes down behind you – casting its last rays on the mountain which stand totally proud of the surrounding countryside. Quite an amazing view. I’m sure there are countless other fantastic places to snap from but for me this was good enough, plus I wasn’t equipped to go hiking in the moonlight alone across the prairie!
I quit the mountain at 21:30 and headed back down to the main road. It was empty, not a soul around so I stopped off at the sculpture near the Prairie Dog Town near the campsite and took some parting shots from that angle. The drive home was quite surreal. Not only was I fully awake this time haha, but it looked beautiful under the moon lit cloudless sky. It was stunning. More of a deep blue than a black sky and I was able to pull over every so often and simply gaze up in awe at a classic mid- west night. No ambient light pollution or traffic or houses, especially between Hulett and Aladin. Just silent, deep blue night skies that beg wonder and awe. One could easily believe Spielberg’s story of aliens cruising the back roads and spinning off to the heavens. Great road!
Got back to the Americinn at Belle around 23:00, packed as much as I could for the journey the next day and basically fell asleep on the floor. Totally wacked. Woke up around 03:00 and texted Sue to say I was doing fine, climbed into bed and passed out.
Join me for my last day on this bloody mental trip of a lifetime as it comes to a close and I head East for the shores of ole Blighty!
Goodnight from Belle Fourche in South Dakota, US of A.
All images and text copyright Glen Ferris 2018. All rights reserved.