Tuesday, October 21, 2008

DAY THREE - or "Live animals and dead Presidents"

Sunday, 19 October 2008.

So today was going to be the day to do a little sight-seeing and then hit the highway toward Idaho. After talking to the couple sitting beside me at the bar last night, I made some changes to my route. I would go back down Spearfish Canyon during the morning, check out Deadwood on my way through, then cruise through Sturgis before heading down to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument. Then I would head out of town and stop at Devil's Tower on my way through Wyoming. I didn't have retrace any routes that way and it would allow me to see the most in as little time as possible.

The drive through Spearfish Canyon was even more amazing during the day. There were cliffs and bluffs and outcropping and waterfalls. The smell of the decaying Aspen and Birch leaves was refreshing and almost sweet in the cold morning air. It was difficult to concentrate on the challenging drive with so much beauty around me at every turn. I had overslept (stupid hotel alarm clocks) so I only stopped once to take a picture that does very little justice to Bridal Veil Falls. Just imagine another twenty miles of scenery just as beautiful as that and you will have some idea of the drive I took this morning.

I made a souvenir stop in Deadwood. It's a very cool little town. The main street with the oldest building is occupied almost exclusively by casinos, bars, and gift shops. There is a Harley store that sells licensed merchandise. One of the casinos was also raffling a customized Ultra Classic Electra Glide. The town was nice and quiet on an early fall Sunday morning.

I continued on to Sturgis which turned out to be a bit of a let-down. All I saw there were bars (which were closed), gift shops (which were also closed), and empty store fronts that apparently only did business during the motorcycle rally. I didn't have any maps of the city to show me where the "cool" part of town was, and I didn't have enough time to go exploring for it. I'm just going to have to come back during the rally, I guess. I'll bet I find the cool parts of town THEN!

Finally, I got on the highway to Mount Rushmore. It was on highway 16 near the monument where I had my first close encounter with wildlife for the day. Several wild turkeys were hanging out on the side of the highway poking around for lunch. I turned around and parked near them to take a picture. Like the rest of the animals in this state, they really didn't much notice me. I took a couple of good pictures of them and drove on. I only wound up spending about an hour touring the monument but got to see great views and even took the path that goes right to the base of the mountain. I took the time to stop and read a lot of the historic descriptions and I took a LOT of pictures. But since this is one of those seriously over-photographed national monuments, I won't flood this post with them. Still, I like this one a lot and you'll just have to put up with it. I was surprised that there didn't seem to be much of a museum on the premises. I did take the time to look through the gift shop and get my kids a couple of pressed pennies, then I hit the road again in order to get to the Crazy Horse monument. It was already after lunch at this point and I still wanted to get out of the state before dark.

Thanks to the helpful suggestion of the stranger at the Badlands National Park, I decided to ride to Crazy Horse via Iron Mountain Road out of Rushmore and then north on Needles Highway. As it turns out, both roads were slow going due to the great twists, curves, and spirals. The spirals on Iron Mountain Road were done with bridges called "pig-tail bridges." There were no good pull-off points to get a good picture of one, but take my word for it that there is an old wooden bridge under the spiral in that picture. As I first entered Custer State Park from Iron Mountain Road, I had my second wildlife encounter of the day. I have no idea where he came from nor why, but there was a donkey in the road. I stopped far enough back to get a picture without scaring him away. I really needn't have worried about it, though. A car approached from the opposite direction but he just watched it pass. After I took this picture, I rode on past the donkey. He just stared at me as I went by as well. My next encounter came just a couple of miles later. I have no idea where the mountain goats came from, either, but at least the terrain seemed a lot more appropriate for them to be there. And just like the donkey and the wild turkeys, they didn't seem to really care that a couple of cars and a motorcycle stopped to take pictures and drive slowly past. In fact, one of the mountain goats walked out into the road when a car approached. He definitely seemed to be expecting some lunch. We all just drove past, though. I soon found out where Needles Highway got its name. Although both roads had tunnels and rock formations, there is a rock formation called the eye of the needle that is a large narrow opening in a tower. Directly behind it is a tunnel that felt for all the world like driving through an eye of a needle as well. While I didn't get a picture of the rock formation, here is a good one of the tunnel. It is only covered for the first half (as you approach the camera) - the last half is open to the sky up a very narrow crevice. It was a gorgeous drive.

Even though the scenic route probably added twenty minutes to my drive, it was absolutely worth it. The problem was that just as I arrived at Crazy Horse, thick clouds began coming over the next range over and obscuring the sun. That really bugged me because the Crazy Horse monument has a great complex of several buildings dedicated to recording the building of the monument as well as native American history and modern native American crafts and artwork. There is even a pair of custom motorcycles representing the monument, one of which was being raffled off. If I thought I could spare the $20 I would have tried to win the new white Street Glide, too. As it was, I made due with more pictures. I spent well over an hour exploring the complex and taking pictures. As I was leaving, I decided to get a picture of myself and the bike with the monument behind. (A modern military leader and his ride with a representation of an historical military leader and his steed behind? Probably not, but it's nice to pretend.) The employee who took the picture for me was also a Harley rider. He told me that for a $125 donation, I could be escorted to the top of the monument. Or I could wait for the first full week of June to join thousands of others for a donation of a few canned goods. I may have to make the larger donation just to get a "private" tour. This is a beautiful monument that I hope is completed in the coming years while I'm still able to ride.

Finally, with clouds closing in it was time to get out of the state. After all, I needed to be almost 900 miles away in a little over 24 hours. I still wanted to get to Devil's Tower. Since it was only a couple of dozen miles off my path, I decided to risk getting caught by the imminent weather and go for it. "There's no bad riding weather, just poor clothing choices," right? I had my last close wildlife encounter of the day just after I left I-90 on my way to the tower. While I had seen quite a few road-killed deer and a couple of live ones in South Dakota, as soon as I crossed into Wyoming I started to feel like I was in one gigantic deer preserve. The picture shows just the first of more than half a dozen HERDS of deer that I saw close by the road as I finished my trip for the day. Highway 14 winds a lazy way to Devil's Tower and is a nice relaxing drive. I stopped once more when I got my first glimpse of the Tower, and one last stop at the souvenir store at the base. This store was the first place I had found that carried walking stick badges similar to the ones that the kids and I collected in Germany, so of course I bought three sets. I took a little time to warm up in the shop as the overcast skies helped drop the temperatures that were in the high 60s earlier quickly down to the low 40s. Then I hit the road one last time for a blast until dark, finally stopping at a Days Inn in Gillette, Wyoming for the night. Total miles ridden for the day - 318. Total covered so far - almost 1550.


Tee said...

Spectacular pics, and an amazing commentary. Keep on keepin' on, Jay; your journey is amazing. :)

Incidentally, those wild donkeys LOVE popcorn. File that tidbit away for later.

Bob said...

Outstanding photos, worth the wait for sure.

Thanks for letting share your journey.

Did Tee just call your a "common tater"???

Queen Ladybug said...

As much as I want to pick on you for keeping us in suspense for so long to hear about day three and see the pictures, I couldn't do it after reading this post. It was worth it.

Apparently my company has some sort of connection with the Crazy Horse Monument because of the blasting equipment they use and we can go up the mountain for free as an employee. Hmmm...I'm thinking plans for me to go out west, maybe next year, are starting to form in my little head.

(Common Tater - BWAAHAHAHA!! Watch out for the Potato Mafia until you get out of Idaho!) :-P

Stunod said...

Hmmm...Crazy Horse has barely changed since I was there 20 years ago. You can see the nose and the hole under the arm. I wonder if they will ever finish it?

I remember those pig-tail bridges and tunnels in the Black Hills. I don't know if you were on the right highway or not, but one of those tunnels perfectly frames Mount Rushmore as you approach.

Enjoy the ride, Jay. I'm lovin' the pics and story!

Webfoot said...

Crazy Horse hasn't changed much in almost 35 years since I visited it when I was 13 years old back in 1971. The flat spot of the arm and the hole was there then. The face has been filled out a little, but I don't expect it ever to be done.

Not to be picking nits, but those were Bighorn Sheep, not Rocky Mountain goats. The Goats would be white with short horns. A very nice encounter, something that I'm jealous of, since I've never encountered either Rocky Mountain Goats or Bighorn Sheep. Now Buffalo, I've seen in Custer St. Park.