At the end of my last post, I was in the middle of South Dakota, heading toward Sturgis. My goal at that point was to drive through Badlands National Park then head for the Black Hills. On Brian Klock's suggestion, I decided to drive through Spearfish Canyon and stay the night in the town of Spearfish before checking out more local attractions the next day.
I got a bit of a surprise driving through the middle part of the state. Indiana's unofficial motto is "there's more than corn in Indiana," to which someone usually adds, "yeah - endless freakin' soybean fields." Some of the really adventurous farmers in Indiana will put out a field of wheat on occasion. Party animals, that bunch. I had to actually pull over and take a picture when I saw a field of SUNFLOWERS in the middle of South Dakota. I definitely wasn't expecting that.
Since I decided at the beginning of this journey to stop at whatever grabs my attention (within reason and time constraints), I pulled off at a roadside "attraction" called the Badlands Petrified Forest (I think). It was a little museum/gift shop with an enclosed back yard full of large specimens of local petrified wood. The place was well-organized and it was fun just walking around looking at the unique pieces. I especially liked the logs that had been flattened by intense pressure before being petrified, making them look for all the world like a gigantic loaf of petrified french bread. Several pieces were so perfectly petrified in natural colors that I had to touch them to be sure they were actually made of stone. There was even a ten or twelve foot high log. It was a massive stone that must have weighed several tons. I picked out a piece of petrified wood for my son and a piece of rose quartz for my daughter from their rock-hound yard and went inside to check out their museum and store. There was more petrified wood, as well as many large dinosaur bones and other fossils. As I was taking pictures, some movement on the floor caught my eye. A juvenile bull snake had come inside the building and the cold concrete floor was making him lethargic. I picked him up and he seemed to appreciate the warmth of my hand. I asked the owner if it was a shop pet before releasing him back outside. Overall, this was a really great little stop for such a small little roadside stand. I'm definitely glad I stopped.
Next it was finally time to head through the Badlands National Park. For a small fee, you can drive a 35 mile loop that comes out about 20 miles further down the interstate. Very convenient. The drive itself is a lot of fun for motorcyclists due to the hills and curves. The park also has several turnouts and overlooks with information boards telling about the sights. All told I spent well over an hour driving from stop to stop and taking pictures. At the first stop a family asked me to take a picture for them, and I asked them to take a couple of pictures for me. The husband asked where I was going and then made suggestions for nice sight-seeing and driving and gave me a good map of the area. As I continued on the road, it dropped down into and wound its way through the crags and canyons and then would come back up and follow along the rim. At one point, I even came across a wild prairie dog "town." Apparently these little dudes aren't afraid of much of anything. One seemed to like having his picture taken, even. It was really a beautiful drive and I could have spent a lot more time walking the trails and seeing the sights that were further off the road. Visiting this park could easily be an all-day trek, especially if you stop to shop in the very nice visitor center and gift shop. As it was, I had over a hundred miles to ride still and it was getting well into the afternoon. So I headed out.
Although I didn't have much interest in Wall Drug, stopping there seemed like a sort of rite of passage for folks traveling through South Dakota. As it turns out, the town of Wall is at the western terminus of the Badlands National Park loop, so I didn't have much excuse, really. I took a quick look through the place, but didn't see much that interested me. Mostly it was just a lot of shops. There was a penny press machine though, and since my kids like to collect the stamped pennies I decided to get a couple. I walked across the street to the little bar to use their ATM. Since I needed change, I stopped to get a Coke. There were several locals there drinking, and I started chatting with them. They looked for all the world like they were right out of a wild west painting. It turns out that one of them was a rodeo legend from back in the 60s and 70s. Apparently the guy had been read last rites three different times from bad bull rides, including being gored in the head twice. He's the guy with the falling hat in the picture. I stayed in the bar chatting for almost half an hour. These were very cool people and it was worth the time getting to know them before heading for Spearfish. I'm glad I needed to find that ATM.
Finally, I drove toward the Black Hills. It took almost another hundred miles to get to Sturgis, then I had to get to Spearfish Canyon. The route from Sturgis took me through the towns of Lead and Deadwood. The sun was going down so I didn't have time to stop in these towns, but I planned to visit them the next morning. Along the twisty two-lane I saw several mule deer right on the edge of the road - got a bit of a chill imagining what would happen if one started out in front of me. There was still a good deal of snow in the shady areas from the 8" the region received the previous weekend. As the sun went down, the temperature quickly dropped into the low forties and as I went up in elevation it got down to the high 30s. By this time, I didn't care. This was the most beautiful stretch of road I had ever seen. I spent the last 20 minutes of the drive twisting back and forth on switchbacks and hairpin turns. There were very few straightaways. Even in the failing light I could tell that this was a beautiful area. I was definitely going to drive back through here the next morning to see what I was missing tonight.
At the far end of the canyon, I stopped at a busy little restaurant called the Spearfish Chophouse. Man, those guys know how to kill and cook a cow. I had a ribeye and fries to celebrate my great day. I knew it was a good place to eat when I saw the cow skull on the wall above the entrance. (For those who don't know, I've had a similar skull mounted to the front of my Jeep for over four years now.) The meal was great and I immediately headed to a hotel to crash for the rest of the night.
As I lay in bed writing notes for this blog and remembering all the cool stuff I had seen and done and the great people I had met, I realized that THIS is why I took this trip. What a great day. Total miles ridden today - 470. Miles this trip - 1230.