Sturgis – What a Great County This Is (4 of 4)
The 4th phase of my trip to Sturgis consisted of a tour of several state parks and national landmarks crammed into 1 day. The following is my recollection of day 4 of the great and epic trip west. Of the 58 National Parks in the United States I suspect I’ve been to less than half of them. In looking at the map surrounding Sturgis we were able to see that there were several National parks and attractions within a few hundred miles of each other and all reachable in a single day, even if aboard a 1938 knucklehead/panhead! The lofty goal for day #4 was to visit 1. “Mount Rushmore”; 2. “Crazy horse Memorial”; 3. “Black Hills National Forrest”; and 4: “William Custer Park”, with its ‘Needles Highway’, a National Scenic Byway. With a 5:30 sunrise and an 8:30 sunset in the “mountain time zone” we had roughly 15 hours of daylight to cover the terrain. Vintage filament headlamp on ’38 Harley is no better than a candle so we tried to avoid nighttime riding. The ‘sunup’ 1st order of business was Mount Rushmore. At 30 miles from our tent at a Rapid City KOA it was an easy zip down State route 16. We thought we would arrive early and beat the crowds but by the time we got there after coffee and pancakes it was a constant stream of bikes and cars. We’re as excited as school kids on a bus trip. Kevro in sidecar and I in the pilot’s seat with Jean behind pointed and hollered at the first sign of dead presidents a mile or so out. We took the attached picture at 9:00 am with the sun already pretty high in the sky. We paid a fee (aren’t National Parks funded with tax $?) and walked about the grounds which were loaded with bikers in dew rags and undersized leather vests. Sprinkle in the occasional Asian tourist with 3 cameras around their neck and you get the picture. We paid our homage (and our entrance fee) to Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln, took the obligatory pictures and headed out. Not before learning that the mountain was named after “Charles E. Rushmore” a prominent New York Lawyer who donated $5,000 towards sculptor Gutzum Borglam’s efforts to carve the massive busts. I, in fact, am a New York Lawyer. I once donated $5,000 to the March of Dimes, and they gave me a hat. A cheap hat. A cheap hat that did not fit. I digress but feel cheated nonetheless. We load up, kick the bike to life and move on with our day. Crazy Horse Memorial (CH Memorial) is a scant 18 miles to the west on US 16/385. The ride there alone is beautiful passing through the Black Hills National Forrest. Surprisingly, CH Memorial is so much bigger than Rushmore that all 4 of Rushmore’s heads would fit into Crazy Horse’s 1 big crazy head. CH Memorial is in fact the world’s largest and most time consuming mountain sculpture and is still under construction. When done, it will be 8 feet higher than the Washington monument! While we stand there and revel in its size, I think “MAN, this dude must have REALLY been CRAZY!!! Coincidentally we strike a conversation with a parking attendant who turns out to be the granddaughter of the original sculptor of CH Memorial, Korczak Ziokowski. More pictures are taken. It is afternoon. Past lunchtime and we’re told there is going to be a dynamite “blast” of rock on the sculpture so we wait to see it with a couple thousand other 2 wheeled travelers. 700 tons of rock are blasted from the horse’s side. From our vantage point we see the blast and the smoke with a good 4 or 5 seconds passing before we actually hear the blast. Kaboooooom, O.K. time for lunch.
We head out in search of a decent meal as the slim Jims consumed mid morning were exactly as described, slim. After some miles inside the Black Hills National Forrest we past what I thought an oasis and swing a U-turn not far from a roadside buffalo rolling in the dust. We have stumbled upon what is known as “State Game Lodge” in Custer, SD. Built in 1920 from locally quarried granite and site felled oak, birch and aspen it is a magnificent structure perched mountainside complete with trout stream meandering past. The Lodge has been visited by many Presidents and was Calvin Coolidge’s “summer white house”. We lean back in leather chairs under grand oil paintings and stuffed mountain lions and all secretly curse our musty mosquito trap tents awaiting us at camp. We gorge ourselves on bison ribs real mashed potatoes and buttery green beans. Followed by peach cobbler all washed down with Blue Moon Ale complete with orange slice. All the food groups. Such is the life of a nomad biker! We slap our bellies in satiated manly fashion and saunter slowly to the bikes. It is 3:00 p.m. and we have 5 ½ hours of light remaining with two destinations to go and I hope the food coma wears off soon. Within a mile we see an old coot road side with rocks piled under his bike struggling to remove his rear tire. The best laid plans. … Upon production of a full set of tools he smiles broadly exposing gaps where teeth used to reside. Our good deed done, we move forward an hour behind but a good karma act ahead.
The final part of the day’s ride is my favorite part of the day. We cruise through Custer National Park. While in the park we hear that “Needles Pass” is a must do. We head down SD Highway 87 Running through the black hills and have to stop several times to let Buffalo pass. They are 4 times bigger than a beef cow and were ambivalent to our presence. The saunter across the road with an “I dare you” demeanor. No one does! Needles Highway turns out to be breathtaking. Like riding the Alps. Several natural rock tunnels are dug through the mountainside and pull offs with photo ops are plenty. I’ve ridden all over the world and this is a world class motorbike tour! We end at Hill City, SD in a pub. 1 beer and a 30 mile jaunt at dusk back to camp makes for one hell of a day. The days trip courses through landscapes that are lunar and alpine and grassland meadow and precipitous mountain pass. My map shows we’ve not ventured more than a few miles from our tent in any direction at any time during the day yet see a plethora of sights. Boxing in our travels on a map produces a rectangle about 200 square miles. South Dakota alone is over 77,000 square miles. This great country is 3,800,000 square miles. We saw a scintilla of it. You could live to a hundred and blaze a trail across a thousand landscapes in these United States, and still miss out on most of its beauty. Make your miles, make your memories and as my man Robert Frost once wrote: “miles to go before we sleep.”
Well, signing off for now. Remember, ride hard, ride safe, and in the end make sure you ride home.
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