Sunday, August 29, 2010

Big Hat… no cows

Wall, South Dakota

Failing to live up to hype in the West goes by the colourful expression “Big Hat…no cows.” While there is universality in the sentiment, when traveling through America's western plains it is particularly fitting.
Admittedly the interstates that take drivers across the Dakotas were designed without scenic considerations in mind- they are among the straightest roads around.
As compensation, the speedway-side communities have attempted to entice visits with misplaced hypifications. Outrageous size seems to be a mainstay to the Dakota mindset as the world’s largest buffalo, dairy cow, bull’s head, metal sculpture, sandhill crane and prairie dog can be seen without bothering to pull off the blacktop. So much for pulling in the tourists.

Dakota promotions also take on another approach, but rather than pushing extreme size, the push is in extreme volume. More than anything else the interstate is a marathon of billboard endurance. These signs provide excessive warnings to various western theme parks, souvenir outposts, 5 cent coffees, and drug stores offering sameness marketed via trumped-up heritage.

What gets little hype from the billboards is the intrinsic character of the area- the land itself. This is the area of the greatest of the Great Plains and the undulating nothingness is Dakota's true gold.

The trick though, is to look deeply and see something in the nothing. When you do, soon you forget the big hats and start enjoying the cows.

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