|Highway 14 from Cody to Gardiner/Nikles|
It used to be gold. All over the West, towns sprung up to bloom briefly around the discovery of gold or silver deposits, only to wither away as the mineral was depleted. Today, in Gilette, it's coal. Wyoming produces 39% of the nation's coal, and a big portion of this comes from the 12 coal mines around Gilette. Gilette's population doubled in the 60's, and then double again since the 1990's to a population of around 30,000 today. The coal extracted from around Gilette has been more efficient (cleaner) than most coal areas. It has made the town wealthy: median income for a family in 2000 was reported at $78,377.
Mike Enzi, the Junior Senator from Wyoming, used to be mayor of Gilette.
Today, as the nation looks to move away from coal to cleaner sources of energy, the town has to grapple with its future. Will it be another ghost town when we decide we want to obtain electricity from renewable sources instead of open pit-mining. Those long coal trains on the outskirts of town will disappear too. It's an essentially Western phenomenon.
|Coal train outside Gilette, Wy/nikles|
|Needles Scenic Byway, Black Hills SD|
The Black Hills started in the West. With the discovery of gold in 1874, miners swept into the area in a gold rush. Some towns, like Spearfish and Hill, and Custer, survive from that era. But today, they are more about tourism. The state of South Dakota employs hordes of t-shirt clad youngsters in the summer to collect $20 from every car driving the scenic Needles byway through and around dramatic granite spires.
The Black Hills themselves are soft, rounded, and wooded. They bring to mind the Appalachians, or landscapes in old-Europe, not the rugged independent, individualist West. They are an isolated range, rising from the Great Plains to a height of just 7,244 feet. There are genteel, prosperous ranches, bed and breakfast hotels. Private property with expensive looking houses dot the landscape. Large, fenced tracts of land are forebodingly private. The land has lost its Bureau of Land Management and National Forest Service public spirit.
Down the road from Mt. Rushmore is a competing private venture: the Chief Crazy Horse monument. Started in 1948, it is planned to be the world's largest sculpture upon completion. But there are doubts it will ever be completed. This is an entirely private venture, on privately held land, and seemingly controlled by the wife, and children of the initial carver/sculptor, Korszak Ziolkowski.
|Zilkowski's vision of Crazy Horse Sculpture|
|View of Crazy Horse today/photo NPR|
South Dakota Facts
South Dakota was admitted as state on November 2, 1889. Today it has a population of 865,454 (2010 Census).
The two senators are John Thune and Mike Rounds (the same number as California's 39 million, lest we ever forget). The state has one member in the House of Representatives, Kristi Noem.
The state capitol is located in Pierre, SD (population 13,646) located right in the middle of the state. The largest city is Sioux Falls (metro population is 252,000).