Cowboys & coal

Our brief wander around Main St, Sheridan (Wyoming), while looking for dinner was enough for us to want to come & check it out while shops were open.  Checked out of the motel this morning, we went & had a closer look.  The first store that was open that looked like it stocked American made cowboy boots that Valerie wanted was Kings – & what a store.  With a relatively small frontage, it just kept getting bigger & bigger the more you explored.  If the main shop wasn’t filled with enough western paraphernalia (which it was), you crossed the alley out the back to the rope workshop.  There were scores of saddles, stirrups & all sorts of other things that were also very expensive.  Along the walls of course there were many trophy heads, I expected to see the North American ones – I didn’t expect to see heads of many of the animals I saw in Africa eighteen months ago: Cape buffalo, impala, antelope, zebra &, strangest of all, a stuffed giraffe.

I got chatting to one of the guys working on the ropes – there were so many coils hanging up on racks.  Most of their sales go to professional cowboys that work on the rodeo circuit & working farms.  Naturally, coils of rope were a whole lot more complicated than they seem & Mike was happy to chat as he worked.  Through yet another door was the museum part of the shop (it’s not many shops I’ve been in that have museums attached).  This place was staggering, along with many more (& I mean hundreds) antique saddles, there were rifles, pistols, carriages, a really impressive collection of old handtools & even a pair of trousers John Wayne wore in Red River.  I know quite a few people that would have been even more impressed than I was – & that’s saying something, it was a crazy place.

Valerie having bought herself a pair of boots, we were back out on to Main St. Sheridan is a really nice little town & there were all sorts of sculptures up & down the street. The one that caused me to double-take last night when driving past was this rhino – completely out of place in small town west-USA.

Parts of the structures surrounding Main St were also quite nice.

We were aiming for Rapid City in SW South Dakota & preferring to stay off the interstate as much as possible, we headed east on Route 14 through a rural area.  This was well worth it as we went through some more spectacular farmland that was surrounded by hills & the beginnings of mesa & buttes.  Clearmont was reputed to have 125 people living there, but we think we saw more turkeys roaming the streets than that.  Near the railroad there were a number of grain silos like this.

As the valley started to open up in to larger plains tiny little industrial facilities near the side of the road seemed to pop up.  I was guessing something to do with petrochemicals as we’d seen a few derricks in Montana.  Apparently they are wells for extracting coal-bed methane & there are over seven thousand of these little plants contributing to what is the third largest source of natural gas for the USA.  Further down the road it became apparent that we would start to see why there are so many huge trains running around the tracks in this part of the world.  We’ve tried counting wagons, but usually end up losing count at 130.  The Powder River Basin through which we were driving is the largest coal mining region in the USA – satisfying about two-fifths of the country’s coal appetite.  We lunched in Gillette, a mining town which is the least inspiring & interesting place we’ve been to yet.

With no other sensible option we were back on I-90 east to & over the Black Hills.  It was so odd to see forests of trees as we went over (apparently how the hills got their name – they look black from afar, compared to the bare plains).  Leaving the red interstate of Wyoming we were on to less well maintained roads in South Dakota.  As well as bumpy, they’ve but thin grooves about an inch apart down the entire road.  For some reason, this makes the Outback  feel as though the tires are slightly deflated & oval.  You wobble all over the place & it’s a scaled back feeling of being in a plane going through turbulence – you get pushed every which way with no rhyme or reason.  Here in Rapid City we have scored our nicest room yet for the cheapest price ($40) – this interweb thingy sure is a handy invention, if you can be bothered to be slightly organised.  Tomorrow we are off to the Badlands (another National Park) & hopefully a missile site & an air & space museum.

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