Thursday, July 28, 2011

A return to the beautiful Black Hills

Despite roaming around the oil fields and breathtaking scenery of northwestern North Dakota, we still had a little time to kill before meeting Daniel and decided to ride south to spend some time in South Dakota's Black Hills. I went through there last spring, visiting Wind Cave National Park, Mt. Rushmore, Sturgis and Deadwood, before leaving by way of the South Dakota Badlands. But I was glad to come back.

US 85, loaded down with big trucks servicing the oil-drilling operations near Watford City, was also being repaved, resulting in 30-minute waits for a pilot truck to lead the way down a one-way lane.

We'd just shut off the engines and park the bikes waiting for our turn to use the road.

The crosswind had tapered off just a bit, but was still roaring pretty good. This time, however, we were on the upwind side of the highway and just had to deal with the breeze. The northbound trucks didn't affect us. Lesson learned: If you have to ride in a crosswind, choose the upwind side of the road.

We stopped for breakfast in Belfield, N. Dak., where big hats and spurs never go out of style.

The slog from Belfield, N. Dak., to Belle Forche, S. Dak., involved a lot of very straight, very flat road across the prairie. There aren't many towns and the day grew warmer and warmer. By the time we reached Belle Forche, we were ready to sit in the air conditioned visitor's center and chill out for a half hour while we looked for a campsite. At first, we thought we'd try the KOA in Deadwood -- but that turned out to be hot, congested and right on a busy road. So, we headed for a private campground, Trout Haven Resort, which is in the middle of the Black Hills at the nexus of several excellent motorcycle roads.

Since Hawaii and Alaska became states, Belle Forche, S. Dak. now claims to be at the geographic center of the U.S. Well ... the exact spot is inconveniently a few miles outside of town. So, the local folks put up a marker right outside the visitor's center. Much more convenient.

David tests the water pressure at our Trout Haven campsite.

We had pizza and beer for dinner in a Rapid City sports bar, right across the street from a hill topped by a concrete brontosaurus, part of the display at Dinosaur Park. Shades of Salen Sue!

Next morning, we went to Sturgis for breakfast at Weimer's on Main Street, the same place I stopped for a meal last year.

Notable motorcyclists are memorialized in the brick sidewalk in front of the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame, which occupies the former Sturgis post office.

Exhibits included this silver and gold embellished and engraved Harley, said to have been the world's most expensive motorcycle when it was new. Given the price of gold and silver, it might still be.

There were many more bikes on the streets of Sturgis this July than last May. The weather was great and the roads in the Black Hills are spectacular. It's no wonder so many people come to the area to ride. The annual August rally is just another excuse to enjoy the area.

We left Sturgis to break camp at Trout Haven and then enjoy a few of the great roads through the hills, eventually checking into a campground at Custer State Park. Someone had fastened a makeshift "No Buffalo Riding" sign to the gatehouse where we checked in.

Custer is a popular park. A campsite can be hard to find -- especially on the weekend. When you want to stay more than one night, sometimes you have to pull up stakes and move from one site to another.

Once we'd settled in at Custer, David tried out his new hammock.

Sunday evening, we went to the Crazy Horse Memorial, under construction near Custer, and waited for the sun to break through the clouds to get this shot.

Monday morning, we rode a loop through the Custer State Park and came to a tunnel. It took a second look to realize the opening framed the Rushmore monument. It turned out that there were three more tunnels just like this on an incredible road that featured several "pigtail" bridge/road corkscrew descents.

We blew off the fancy new visitor center with its $10 motorcycle parking fee and still got a great view of the monument.

Coming around a corner, suddenly there was George!

After Rushmore, we turned west again toward Sheridan, Wyo. This was our first view of the Rockies, still with snow in the higher elevations.

In Sheridan, we hunkered down Monday night at a pleasant KOA that actually had shelters and concrete pads for the picnic tables. Pretty plush. Our neighbors were Harley riders to the core. This guy's full-dress Ultra sported red LED lights on the engine. Even his tent was orange and black with the Motor Company logo and name. Brand loyalty run amok.

Here's our route from northwestern North Dakota down to the Black Hills and out to Sheridan, Wyo.

From Sheridan, we headed up over the Big Horn Pass, our first Rocky Mountain high.

The deer were playing, but we didn't see any antelope.

At Big Horn national Forest's Shell Falls we got another glimpse of the power of this year's extraordinary snow melt ...

... and met some hummingbirds enjoying breakfast.

On the other side of the pass was a long, empty stretch across the desert to Dubois, Wyo. Along the way, we stopped to help a gal from Blair, Neb. whose camper had blown two tires. She had the spares and just needed some muscle to jack up the trailer.

Dubois (pronounced "doo-BOYS" in these parts) had a Wild West feel. We set up camp in the KOA along the Wind River.

On Tuesday, July 26, we'd arrive at Grand Teton National Park, the gateway to Yellowstone.

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