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Wild Wild West

I was smitten, and all it took was a single glance down Deadwood, South Dakota’s Main Street. Paved with brick and lined with turn-of-the-century street lamps, the street curves its way through gently refurbished saloons, hotels and general stores that date back to the Gold Rush days of the late 1800s.

Surrounded by the Black Hills, the entire town of Deadwood is a National Historic Landmark and is probably as close to a Wild West town as you’ll get these days.

Photo Courtesy of Deadwood Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau.

If you can ignore the sounds of slot machines as you meander through the town, you can almost imagine what it was like more than a century ago. Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane were among the most infamous Deadwood characters, and visitors can still grab a beer and play a game of poker at Saloon #10, where Wild Bill was gunned down by an outlaw.

I wasn’t expecting the charm of Deadwood to blow me away like it did. After all, it wasn’t by choice that I found myself in South Dakota. It was simply chance (or luck or maybe something else) that joined my best friend and her husband, a Mount Rushmore State native. When she first told me that they were getting married in his home state, my reaction was somewhat mechanical: I guess there’s another state I can check off my list. But after visiting Deadwood and some of the best kept secrets in the state, I quickly realized that there’s much more to South Dakota than just Mount Rushmore.


My name: Jennifer Gaines, but my friends call me Gaines, Jenni-Dallas or just plain Jenn.

(Find me on Twitter @jenngaines)

Travel ambitions: It's my mission to visit each of the New 7 Wonders and to step foot on every continent before my next milestone birthday.

Greatest travel lesson learned: Find the local hangouts to experience the real, true culture of a place. During a trip to Europe, my friends and I spent several days with a French family in the small town of Vichy. We had a private party in their family-run creperie, feasting on cheese-stuffed crepes and sampling wine that we picked up in the Bordeaux region a few days earlier. Their English wasn’t much better than my French, which is limited to a few well-known phrases from Moulin Rouge and the question: Parlez-vous anglais? (I'm proud to say that I can spout this question off in several different languages, and luckily most Europeans do indeed speak English!) After a few bottles of wine, the language barrier was hardly noticeable (slurring actually sounds the same in French!), and we managed to swap stories about life in other places. What a slice of local flavor!

My most beloved place in the whole world is: My grandparents place in Texas. It’s a 10-acre oasis in between two sprawling cities: Dallas and Fort Worth. A creek runs through their enormous backyard, where Granddad built a deck over the water. The entire place is shrouded with all types of trees (mainly pecan), blocking the Texas sun in the summer. Dusk is the best time to sit on the deck, drink a glass of ice tea and watch baby raccoons from the spring litter surround their back porch as Gram feeds them bread (no lie!). There will be dozens of raccoons eating on any given night. In the fall, my family gathers in the courtyard in front of their house for an annual “weenie roast.” Granddad lights the bonfire, and we roast dogs and s'mores. Yes, y’all, we’re from Texas!

Favorite way to get around: Well, I’m not much of a driver. I get lost easily and my tires have never come across a curb they didn’t want to get to know a little better. But, I do enjoy cruising around and listening to music. That said, I much rather explore a place by foot (with my iPod in tow) for a more intimate encounter.

View that took my breath away: Coming from Texas (where the view is wide but there’s not much to see), scenes from my new home of San Francisco never fail to amaze me. The city is a pedestrian’s dream, but don’t forget to turn around and look behind you as you meander through its neighborhoods. You won’t realize it, but you’ll be at the tip-top of a hill and the ocean will suddenly seem to be at eye level. Take a drive through the Presidio and over the Golden Gate Bridge where even more stunning views await!



Loved your South Dakota article, but you missed my two absolute favorites in the Black Hills. The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs is the largest deposit of ancient Columbian mammoths (a huge elephant found in what’s now the Americas) in the world. You can walk among the skeletons of over 50 mammoths, where they died, in an ancient sinkhole. AND (my son’s favorite) the nearby Plunge– a huge Olympic-size hot spring pool with hot water changed dozens of times a day by the natural hot spring that gave this town its name. Mt. Rushmore holds nothing to a day in Hot Springs, in our family’s opinion!


Can’t wait. I have a trip planed for 2010.


So glad someone else is trying to visit all 50! Actually, at the rate I’m going, it’s like I’m trying to live for 6 months or longer in all 50.

How many are you up to?

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