Another of the disappointments at the shacklet was the free, high speed wireless internet I was counting on. While this feature was available, it involved some tricky maneuvering. What I would have had to do was hang out at the bar of the nearby Holiday Inn, buy drinks for one of the bikers sitting there, get chummy, and use my feminine wiles to elicit his internet password so that I could steal onto the hotel’s security enabled connection. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, and so now, weeks after I am home, I am just now telling you about the first days of my trip. I understand that most of you live vicariously through me and don’t want to miss a moment of my adventures, and I’ll try to make that dream a reality for you, but people, we can’t live in the past. From now on my blogs about South Dakota will be interspersed with what’s going on with me in real time. I just felt you should know.
So, in Keystone itself, there are basically five things to do. You can ride a ski-lift to the top of a mountain and then careen down a track carved into said mountain in a little cart outfitted with a hand brake. Fun as this sounds, it never happened. You can walk on the boardwalk that is supposed to recreate the experience of Keystone in its heyday, and eat bad food or buy t-shirts that say “Keystone, South Dakota!”, or “FTW: the 70th annual Sturgis Rally”, or “Bald men have holes in their pockets so they can run their fingers through their hair.” Nice. I guess Keystone in the 1880’s was much the same as today, full of fat tourists from Minnesota and skanky biker chicks looking for shiny, black, faux leather pants with the crotches cut out. While I figured this was just what I needed to score free wifi, McAdams got frightened by a 7 foot cowboy rustlin’ up business for a Wild West bar room brawl reenactment, so the boardwalk was out. You can walk into Keystone proper and see an old mine that was in ruins, or a town that was nearly dead, or old and abandoned farm implements rusting in the sun. Exciting and uplifting as entropy is, this endeavor only took us about half an hour. The next thing to do was take the 1880’s train. Train!!!!! Boy howdy, do I love a train!
The 1880’s train is a narrow gauge steam engine that was originally used for mining, and has been in continuous use, for one thing or another, since…wait for it…the 1880’s! It is the only train of its kind currently operating in the world, and you can only catch it in Keystone, South Dakota! Who’s lucky to have landed in a shack in Keystone, I ask you?! MEEEEE!!!!!! It runs up one of the steepest grades in the country, and goes to Hill City, a town ten miles away that, when it was born in 1875, became one of the first cities established in SD…and I got to go there! So lucky!
Sometimes sitting on a train, bound for a journey to parts unknown, listening to the hiss of steam and watching the track roll out endlessly ahead puts one in a meditative mood. McAdams turned to me with a rather serious expression. She’s not usually one for random heart-to-hearts, but as the 1880’s train chugged to a start with a small lurch, she confided that she was worried about the future and had some regrets about the past. “I don’t know,” she said quietly. “Sometimes I feel I keep going down the same paths, but I never get anywhere, and one day I’m going to end up like this train, back and forth, back and forth, because it’s the only stretch of track I know. Do you believe that we all have a purpose in life, something we’re supposed to do that will let us contribute to others as well as fulfill ourselves?”
“Wooo-Woooo!” I replied, for that is what I like to say when I am on a train.
Here are some things I learned from the conductor, a real nice fella in overalls and a cap:
*In Hill City, they mined all kinds of things, including lithium. This made me think that if lithium was in the Black Hills, it must also be in the water, which may have explained why I was so calm and happy in South Dakota. Hooray for drugs I don’t have to pay for or lie to my parents about!
* At train crossings, conductors toot the Morse Code for the letter ‘Q’. It’s a practice they took from British sea captains who were carrying the queen on their ships. They would whistle “Q” and everyone else would give them the right of way because royalty was on board.
Betcha you didn’t know that, right? 1880’s train, you are fun and fascinating! Wooo-Wooo!
*South Dakota still honors the claims of Homesteaders and miners, and so while most of the beautiful Black Hills are mostly state and national park areas, 10% of that valuable real estate is privately owned. We passed through beautiful forests that were suddenly broken by a dirt road that led to a huge house where kids played and horses ran free. There were also a bunch of dumps, but they had real nice views. The honoring of these ancient deeds is slightly ironic, since the American government deeded the entirety of the Black Hills to the Native Americans who had already lived there for centuries, and then booted them off as soon as we found gold in them thar hills. I guess lithium makes people pretty mellow about rape, murder and mayhem, so we didn’t mention this little historical fact to the kiddos on the choo-choo. No buzzkills allowed on 1880 train! Wooo-Wooo!!!!!
The last thing to do in Keystone is to leave it. So that is exactly what we did.
Next up: Giant Heads Rock!