I am the Q of Keystone!

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!

Locked in Keystone

Carrie Ingalls Swanzey, Keystone, South Dakota

OK, it’s me again! I’m back! Didja miss me? Awww! I missed you, too! I am so glad to communicate with you all again that instead of ignoring you, as I usually do, I will now answer your FAC’s (Frequently Accessed Comments), in the order that they were received.
#1 to Alisa: I will get a dog, and soon. I like dogs. They come when you call, and if they don’t, you just don’t feed them until they do. I think this time I’ll start with a puppy, now that I’ve figured out how to train them. By the way, I’m FINE, just fine, even though Belle tried TWICE to sever my femoral artery. Thanks for your concern, everyone.
#2 to Shan: The cooler was filled with vegetables, because they are illegal in South Dakota, except for corn smuggled in from Iowa or potatoes from Idaho (no, you da ho!), or anything else, like mushrooms or onions, that may be used to smother a steak. We ate a lot of vegetable sandwiches, and McAdams hooked us up right; we had lettuce and other leafy things from her garden, and cucumbers, sprouts, broccoli, tomatoes, cheeses, carrots, hard-boiled eggs, and a bad-ass garlic-guacamole hummus, that she made while she was a tad tipsy. We had fresh cherries, blueberries, peaches and melons – McAdams has some real nice melons, I tell you what – and wine and crackers and another couple of bottles of wine. We picnicked all across the state and went to bed happy and full every night.
Speaking of picnics, one of the best ones was our first stop on the road, in Montrose. SD. We were just cruisin’ down I-90, lookin’ at the corn – there’s an awful lot of corn between Nebraska and Iowa – when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, this enormous, 60 foot bull’s head, surrounded by these weird skeletal guardians, rears up out of the gently rolling landscape. Some might just scratch their heads and say. “Hmm, that’s odd,” but not us! We are much more intrepid than that! We investigate, driven on by the kind of wonder and curiosity that makes America great! We climb that mountain just because it’s there! We shoot men in Reno, just to watch them die! We cross the road to get to the other side! Also, I had to pee; I have a bladder the size of a walnut. This turned out to be Porter Sculpture Park, a place so wicked cool, I’ll make it it’s own post, but suffice it to say, it was a fantastic, bizarre first stop, and we stayed for lunch with Wayne Porter, sculptor and vegetarian, who pronounced our sandwiches the best ever, on account of that “weird green stuff.” More on this later. I mean on the sculpture garden, not the hummus. I don’t think I’ll be mentioning it again.
Our first destination in South Dakota was Keystone, population 311. It was once a boomtown of over 1,000, because it was a gold mining center, and there are still remnants of mines and shafts and all kinds of 1800’s stuff. Its claim to fame is that Carrie Ingalls, perhaps the least interesting Little House family member, and certainly not the wilder one (get it?) lived there as an adult. Nowadays, Keystone is a tourist resort, because it is just down the road a piece from Mount Rushmore. McAdams, who wanted to go on vacation on the cheap, booked us a ‘chalet’ that sleeps eight. She’s tough to figure, that one. When I think of a chalet, this is what pops in my head:

I was very excited. Unfortunately, our Swiss chalet turned out to be more of a piss shacklet. Sandwiched between a Chinese food restaurant that appeared to be a front for nefarious drug deals and a biker-friendly Holiday Inn, the shacklet had been the home of an elderly lady and her obviously incontinent little dog. It looked more like this:OK, not really, but still it was not what we expected. Or paid for. And it stank, like small, old dog pee, the worse kind if you ask me. Small, old dog, ASPARAGUS pee*! And it was kind of scary, and the tv only got four, fuzzy channels, two of which were always showing All About Steve**, and the hot tub*** on the deck that we were promised was directly beneath the big picture window of the Chinese drug restaurant, and the only bathroom was in the kitchen****, and we were scared to sleep in the bed so we had to sleep on the couches in the living room. I suggested we go into town, or perhaps another town all together and check out our options, but McAdams is not one to admit defeat or change a plan once she’s committed to it, so she spent the rest of the trip telling me how great it was and how much she grew to love it. Silly McAdams. Keep believing the things that you say are true…

* Did you know that everybody’s pee has that particular asparagus odor, but, according to Web MD, a magazine I perused in a doctor’s waiting room, only 22% of people have the ability to smell it. Not only is this the kind of fact I see fit to remember, but this stat puts me in the top quartile of competent urine sniffers! Moreover, I have to admit, I kind of like the smell, and that puts me right up there with great thinker and recounter of minutiae Marcel Proust, who said the stalky veg “…transforms my chamber pot into a flask of perfume.” Food for thought y’all!
**All About Steve sucks, but you probably knew that already. One of the other shacklet channels showed marathons of House. How come nobody told me I’d like House?! That guy is one cranky, drug-addled, self-absorbed, self righteous, emotionally crippled, son of a bitch! I can’t believe I haven’t dated him yet!
*** Of course, in her quest to prove how great the shacklet was, McAdams insisted on trying out the hot tub. It took two days to fill up – I won’t even mention the energy and water that wastes – and, of course, after ten minutes of making friends with the folks revving up their engines in the parking lot pf the crack den Chinese place, she was ready to get out. “Refreshing,” she said, and then spent a half hour in the shower scrubbing vigorously and sobbing quietly, convinced that she’d contracted a deadly staph infection.
**** The bathroom/kitchen combo was my favorite part of the shacklet. I’d go in there with a book and a few minutes later, McAdams would rap softly on the door. “I’m just in here making a snack,” she’d croon. “Can I get you a sandwich?”
Good times.