Not many TrekAmerica trips traverse through the prairie grasslands of South Dakota, and after a couple of hours driving over an otherwise flat, empty land, many trekkers ask "What is here?" Only Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Black Hills gold, Badlands National Park and my favorite, 1880's Town.
1880's Town is a time warp where tourists and wild west fanatics can walk through a re-constructed western town, complete with 30 buildings dating from 1880 to 1910. There's a church, general store, saloon, post office, train station and even a costume rental to truly get a sense of living at the turn of the century. In fact, many of the buildings and props were used in the filming of the 1990 movie Dances with Wolves. On a recent Northern Trail, we made a surprise morning visit to 1880's Town on a long drive day across the prairie (All you experienced Trekkers know about long drive days...) After paying the entrance fee and perusing a modern gift shop, we opened a back door leading to the town and into the wild west past. Suddenly, it was 1880 except—click, snap, "smile!"— the group wasted no time diving into their pockets to start the iPhone selfie speed photo contest.
We walked to the town saloon where the costume rental was located in the back. Soon enough, with plenty of help from the woman in charge of the costume rentals, all the gentlemen were in full-blown cowboy gear with hats and pistols and the ladies had donned period dresses (some more conservative than others) and also with pistols stowed away in hidden locations. A lady had to protect herself in the old west.
Looking, if I may, phenomenal, we walked out of the saloon double doors and into the center of the small town. Cue the tumbleweeds, dramatic music and close-ups of grim facial ex-pressions I thought. Other tourists, not as fantastically dressed as ourselves, approached us to ask if we were actors. When did the show start? What did we do? How long have we worked there? "Well, m'am.." one of the cowboys started, but the accent gave most of the "actors" away immediately.
Then we were adults, dressed in the best play gear of our lives, romping around like kids; our cowboys performed shoot-outs for us, we captured a damsel-in-distress and tied her to the train tracks, had a ride in an old fashioned carriage, robbed the bank and dealt out some drinks at the saloon. I think we appreciated the play time more as adults than we ever did as children.
We could have spent the whole day in 1880's Town wearing costumes and perfecting our wild west alter egos, but the road was calling and we had to quickly change back into our 21st century clothing, already spending too much time there already.
I rounded my gang up, we loaded up the van and set off to ride across the prairie grass-land, only this time thinking about how many others had rode across it before us and how the land probably looked just the same for them.