There were cowboys everywhere, complete with snakeskin boots, jeans, loud check shirts and wide brimmed Stetsons, clutching cans of Budweiser wherever they went. We had arrived at Cheyenne, the first stop from Denver on our fly-drive holiday to Wyoming, South Dakota and Colorado. We had caught the last day of Cheyenne’s annual weeklong “Frontier Days” celebration and were therefore able to enjoy a great afternoon at the rodeo. Next day we moved on across the seemingly endless grasslands of Wyoming to Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. Here we had our own little cabin among the pines at one of the park’s lodges and this served as an excellent base for a few days to explore the area. We visited Mount Rushmore with its huge sculpted heads of four presidents as well as the equally impressive Crazy Horse monument nearby which is still under construction. Here a 600-foor sculpture of Crazy Horse, the legendary chief of the Sioux Indians whose land this was, is being carved (or rather blasted) from a granite mountain. Millions of tons of rock have been removed and the head (nine storeys high) is now complete but it will be many years before this gigantic project is finished. We also visited the Devils Tower, a geological wonder, steeped in Indian legend, that rises abruptly 865 feet above the surrounding Belle Fourche River Valley. This was the location of the spaceship landing in the film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. We didn’t actually spot any aliens but we did meet up with some rather unconventional characters the next day at a little town called Sturgis. Sturgis has a population of only 6,000 but for one week every year it is the venue for the largest motorcycle rally in North America (if not the world) when some 300,000 bikes descend on the town from all over the states and abroad. The streets are closed to normal traffic and it becomes a biker’s paradise. Harley Davidsons dominate the scene and the air is filled with their throaty growl as the proud owners of these immaculately turned out and decorated machines cruise around the town. The scarlet headbands were everywhere, while there was a fair sprinkling of tattooed blonde girlfriends bursting out of skimpy black leather waistcoats. One of them even carried her pet baby python around with her, concealed somewhere about her person!
Next day, by contrast, the magnificent herd of buffalo in Custer Park looked positively dignified and that evening we felt rather guilty tucking in to our prime buffalo steaks (low fat and low cholesterol by the way). We consoled ourselves with the thought, however, that the more buffalo we eat the more they will be farmed and the more the herds will increase.
From the Black Hills we turned south again to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, more than fifty of whose peaks are over 14,000 feet. This is a beautiful area with magnificent mountain scenery, some of the highest mountain roads in North America, plenty of wildlife, a fascinating mining history, narrow gauge railways, ghost towns and tastefully restored gold rush settlements. It is also a great skiing area with the exclusive resorts of Vail and Aspen brimming with designer shops and gourmet restaurants. Here you could easily find yourself sitting next to Tom Cruise, Kevin Costner or any of the other celebrities who have multi million pound homes on the mountain slopes. From Aspen we drove over the breathtaking 12,000 feet Independence Pass to Colorado Springs, one of the fastest growing cities in the state. Here we visited the Garden of the Gods with its strange red rock formation sand the stunning chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy. We also drove out to the highest suspension bridge in the world spanning the Royal Gorge and the foaming Arkansas River 1,053 feet below.
After 2,000 miles driving and 11 different hotels, I have to confess we were ready to return to Denver and board our BA direct flight home to Gatwick, our minds buzzing with wonderful memories.