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November 1, 2012

An America often taken for granted

When I was growing up, there was nothing more exciting than an old-fashioned, rip-rousing Western. The sight of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry corralling outlaws and restoring order made me proud.

In later years, I sat glued to my chair as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday shot the bad guys at the OK Corral. And the Lone Ranger with Tonto galloped to Rossini’s “William Tell Overture.”

More than once, I dreamed of what it would be like living in the Wild West and enjoying a life of log cabins, covered wagons and wide open canyons.

After traveling the world over, it was time to discover the USA, so we booked a tour of the National Parks that took us across six states and reintroduced us to both the Badlands and Goodlands.

In some ways, it was a history lesson I don’t recall learning in school. Our first stop was Mount Rushmore. I did not know that the carvings of the four presidents are scaled to men who would stand 465 feet tall.

I was unaware that all 60-foot-high heads would fit inside Chief Crazy Horse’s head — a monument that’s being dedicated to Native Americans.

It caught me by surprise that John Wayne’s first speaking part was in “The Big Trail” filmed in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in 1932. It was the first time Wayne rode a horse. That area was on our itinerary.

I found it fascinating to learn that another icon named William Cody gained his nickname by killing 4,280 buffalo in 18 months to feed a number of laborers on the Kansas-Pacific Railway.

People also knew him for his Wild West Show, which included such characters as Annie Oakley, Chief Sitting Bull, Wild Bill Hickok and Pawnee Bill. A visit to his museum in Cody, Wyoming, revealed an interesting anecdote that hit home.

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