We drove through the backroads from Sundance, WY to get a feel of the land and landed in Deadwood staying at the Deadwood Mountain Grand where we meandered through a Vegas-style lobby to get to the hotel itself. We weren’t prepared for the casino culture that eclipsed the history we were seeking in town. We loved the series and the movie and while the historical buildings and signs were apparent, they seemed more like an attraction for the casino crowd – we’re not casino people so it doesn’t appeal to us. In Skagway, AK, you had interpretive centers and the money invested into education and museums that were part of the main drag: You got a real feel of the Klondike Goldrush.
We decided to have dinner at the historical Franklin Hotel which had that grand old hotel feel to it and even the bar had the velvet covered chairs – yet you are again, surrounded by loud slot machines, so instead of immersing in the old west we finished our drinks and went outside because the noise was getting obnoxious. We were then met with motorcyclists with loud engines who decided to blare their radios to compete with the sound of the engines. It was deafening.
As we wandered around town, to the historical sites where Wild Bill Hickock was shot and Seth Bullock had established his hardware store, we also noticed deep pockmarks in some of the cars; a testimony to the violent storms that pass through this region. Ouch!
We visited the Mount Moriah Cemetery the next morning which was a great experience; based on the date on the headstones, the mortality rate was just so low and many of them dated back to the mid-1800’s. Of course Will Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane were the highlights – Seth Bullock’s grave site is a 1.5 mile hike up a gravel road; I suppose to secure his legacy in Deadwood’s history. It was getting hot and we needed to hit the road so declined that particular adventure.
Passing through more vast grasslands, we decided to stop by the Badlands National Park. It was in the 90’s and we came up from the south end of the park that turned out to be over thirty miles of gravel road (oops!). It would have been easier to come off the I-90 but you still would need to do the mileage to get around the high points of the park; we went from south to north. This desolate, fascinating landscape sprawls on for quite a ways with several overlooks.
We saw a herd of bison on the open range and it gave me a sense of how it was on these prairies prior to the post-Civil War migration. There were “villages” of charming prairie dogs scurrying across the roads and poking their heads out of the mounds.
Amongst the many fascinating features are the Yellow Mounds – an anomaly we hadn’t encountered through our travels in the Southwest.
I loved the landscape of the badlands; they reminded me of the Bisti Badlands of New Mexico with the same clay-like soil, but of course on a grander scale and not as bizarre.
I became fascinated by the White River Overlook, maybe because it took me to another planet, even though most of the Badlands is like that.
White River Overlook, Badlands National Park
It turned out to be a lovely evening as we passed through the Buffalo Gap National Forest (forest is a relative term as it’s mostly grass). Sadly there were a fair amount of casualties on the I-90; deer, porcupine, raccoons, rabbits. We spent the night at the Landmark Country Inn that was run by a lovely Mexican family. Another Mexican family was staying there; it was great to see a diversity of people and ownership in this area.
The following day we found ourselves traveling through the the Fort Pierre National Grasslands that was part of the Great Plains, though so much is now cow pasture and corn. Vast, endless, preturbed by agriculture though much remains virgin, it’s too vast for us to consume.
We stopped at the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center in Chamberlain. It was so well put together and equally heartbreaking when you consider there is more land than we can possibly use, yet we white people came and settled, pushing the Lakota, Sioux and accompanying tribes into finite reservations. They had some of the artifacts from “Dances with Wolves” on display which was filmed in the area and goods for purchase made by local Indians – thankfully nothing from China was for sale.
We ended the day at Sioux Falls KOA in the shade (thankfully) on a 90 degree day. It was next to the interstate and a bit noisy, but otherwise well-kept. When I checked in I was directed to the shelter in case of a weather event. We had seen the carnage with some granaries and barns that looked like they had been ripped open by a gargantuan can opener. They apparently have had some very severe storms prior to us arriving. I’ll take the hot weather over a nasty storm any day!
What also drew my attention was that my father grew up on a farm north of Bismarck, ND, amongst the same grasslands of the Great Plains, and I got a sense of how it must have been before he joined the Navy and was deployed to the Pacific; quiet, vast, out of reach, still – until hammered by storms and plundered by dust. It was even harsher for my grandparents who settled there, Russian Germans escaping persecution from the Czar, adjusting to this new, harsh environment.
We set out for Winterset the following day to see the covered bridges made famous by the “Bridges of Madison County.” It was a very hot and windy day, and a long drive. We arrived at Covered Bridges Winery which is a Harvest Host site. We did some wine tasting; the local grapes are designed to withstand the harsh winters. I bought a nice bottle of Rose. The wines are named after the bridges or characters from the movie, though it didn’t come across as over-commercialized. Since it was so hot, and we didn’t want to be dry camping in the blazing sun, so we decided to see Winterset and the bridges. I love those hot days when it starts to cool in the evening and the nostalgic smell of summer beckons. We walked along the quiet streets of Winterset, pride spilling onto the sidewalks, passing a smattering of quilt shops and peeking into the Northside Cafe; inside there was a jumble of movie props, apparently left for an undefined destiny.
The city is shadowed by the Madison County Courthouse, that sits in stately residence, dominating the middle of town. Winterset is also the birthplace of John Wayne and his history is proudly displayed in local museum.
The golden evening ended with a trip to the Covered Bridges Scenic Byway, including the famous Holliwell where the flies were tragically voracious if you ventured too far into the grass.
Otherwise these stops are a great way to picnic in the quiet amongst the cooling trees with the babbling undertows of passing rivers.
The sun set over the rolling hillsides and we parked up in the shade outside the winery with no one else around, the wind was now an inviting presence that flowed through our tiny rooms, humbling us to sleep.
The following day we stayed at a shady and calm campsite on the edge of Monticello that wasn’t too far from the Field of Dreams site outside of Dyersville.
It was seriously hot and humid and the wind seemed to provide litte relief. Fortunately the evening cooled off nicely allowing for a good night’s sleep. The next day was more palatable and the clouds were a respite from the blazing sun. This made for, in our estimation, a perfect day to visit the Field of Dreams.
When we arrived it was just starting to get busy, but not overly so.
Bob was glassy-eyed as we walked around the pitch, taking in the essence of the great American pastime. It doesn’t take long to meander through the site that includes the field, house, gift shop, grounds and of course fields of corn.
What was even more lovely were fathers and coaches bringing their kids (yes girls included!), to the legendary pitch to practice.
It makes you teary-eyed when you think with all the negativity in the world you can come to a special place like this – this enduring dream-like wonder that encompasses the heart of America, that on the surface seems so simple, but as you dig deeper you slip into a more profound sense that the fantasy here isn’t a mere fabrication – it truly delivers on its promise:
“They’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.”
James Earl Jones as Terrence Mann – Field of Dreams
Field of Dreams is about so much more than baseball – people who claim it’s the worst baseball film ever missed the entire essence of the movie, which is tragically their loss: We dream, those dreams are crushed, we love, we lose, we get tangled in the past and cannot move forward. Field of Dreams is a place that transcends all of that, it’s about resolution and the universal need for human connection. The power of the storytelling hits you on a subconscious level and leaves you in a state of wonder: With baseball as its foil, you can stand on the pitch of nostalgia and allow yourself to dream across generations.
It is timeless and just as relevant today as it was 33 years ago.
Iowa itself touched me in a way that I had not expected, I felt as though I had stumbled upon a forgotten America, a place buried in my early childhood. It was windy but we were not ravaged by the storms that had torn apart the livelihood of too many farmers. Our eyes could stretch only so far into the horizon across the fledgling stalks of corn, interrupted by the tireless farms and stainless silos. It was forever green, sliced and curved like carved fruit, lovingly pressed into the hills and fields. The grass was the sea that rolled onto a beach of eternal sunshine. The golden sunset and echoes of crickets welcomed the calm, distilling the absence of the unrelenting buffeting. Constellations swirl and drop their seedlings; we dream while fireflies dance in the tall grass on a cool summer’s evening.
Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.