bardicvoice (bardicvoice) wrote,

The Biker Babes’ South Dakota G’Journey, Part Three

The Biker Babes’ South Dakota G’Journey, Part Three

Sunday, 25 August 2002: Keystone and Mount Rushmore

This morning, we went up past Keystone to Mount Rushmore. Gorgeous day, expansive blue sky, and the memorial – awesome! I can’t figure why we never came here when we were kids, but ... it’s a great show. Realizing what went into bringing it about, and all without any fatalities or serious accidents, was humbling and amazing. The visitor center has a good film, museum displays, a cafeteria (I had the buffalo stew!), and a nifty gift shop that provided the three of us with matching patriotic red, white, and blue shirts. We walked all the trails providing views of the memorial and stopped at the sculptor’s workshop and the generator house. Wow! Hopefully the pictures will come out – especially Mom and Terry adding a couple of faces to the memorial, and the picture of the three of us on the bike in front of the sign. Terry spotted the sign in Keystone with a family doing the picture thing in front of it (the kids had lined up all their beanie babies on the stone plinth!), and she pulled the bike around in a turn to ask if the folks would be willing to take a picture of us. If that one comes out, we’ll have something to send to Hog Tales ... (Contemporary note from me:  It worked, and that’s now my icon for these stories!)

On the way down and back from the memorial, we drove through the heart of the Battle Creek fire area. The fire is fully contained and now almost totally out, but the tent city of the firefighters is still beside the highway at Rockerville. At its worst, the fire had actually jumped across Highway 16, and we drove right through the burned-over part. That was amazing. You could see where the fire had been, and the road was stained red in spots where fire retardant dropped from helicopters had hit the highway as well as the trees. Whole hillsides were nothing but charred poles of tree trunks, marked at the fire edge by trees whose foliage was fried brown and others whose trunks showed char but whose needles were untouched.

We walked through Keystone after leaving the Rushmore memorial, and then we rode the 1880 Train from Keystone to Hill City and back. The 1880 Train is an old steam engine with historic cars that runs on old rails up and down the mountain. We’d seen mountain goats up at Rushmore: from the train, we saw lots of white-tail deer and some wild turkeys. Sights along the way included views of Harney Peak, the tallest point between the Alps and the Rockies; the ghost stop of Oblivion, an appropriately named and long-abandoned town once used in the filming of Gunsmoke, and more recently in the film Orphan Train; and tracks off to now-abandoned tin, tungsten, and gold mines. One of the richest of those mines, the Holy Terror, brought a funny story with it; the tale is that the miner named it for his wife, who had been upset that he’d never named a venture for her. Apparently the gold that came out of this one sweetened her temper! Hill City is the main train depot, where I finally saw in person something I’d only ever seen in Western movies – a steam locomotive taking on water. The train is a great ride.


Monday, 26 August 2002: Crazy Horse Mountain, Custer; Big Thunder Gold Mine, Keystone


Crazy Horse is a memorial more monumental than Rushmore: a carving of Crazy Horse mounted on a horse, showing Crazy Horse from the waist up, and the head, neck, and one lifted foreleg of the horse. In fifty years, the only feature that has been completed is the face of Crazy Horse. All four of the heads on Rushmore would fit in the head and flowing hair of Crazy Horse! The family sculpting it is working now on the head of the horse, which will be 22 stories tall. It’s impressive, but I wonder how much I’ll see completed in my lifetime, especially since the final complex is supposed to incorporate an airport, a university, and a hospital as well as the existing museum. The project accepts no government or taxpayer funding, but relies entirely on donations.


From the memorial, we took a trip through Custer State Park again, but this time on the Needles Highway. The Needles are striking granite spires, many with rocks precariously balanced atop columns. Wow! The scenery was spectacular: too bad I can’t keep a camera clicking while I ride. Helmet-cam, where are you? There are far more images in my mind’s eye than in my camera. We saw more deer on this trip, and one more bison. We never saw bison in herds; we’ve always seen them either solitary, or in a group of two. Makes you wonder about those herds ...


But we saw more than did the two unfathomable men who dug the Big Thunder gold mine in Keystone. Of all the mines available to tour, this one had the easiest access. Unfortunately, it also had the poorest guide of the trip. The Big Thunder is a drift mine, which means it is a hole dug mostly straight back into the side of a mountain. Well, it’s not actually straight back; the tunnel has one slight kink in it, so that someone blasting at the face would have a place to shelter if the charges went off before he could make it all the way out the mouth! (The other mine types are open pit mines, which are simply excavations stripping off the surface of a mountain, like the Homestake Mine, or shaft mines that drill straight down into the ground and then have tunnels opening off of them, like the Holy Terror.) Anyway, this particular drift mine goes 680 feet into the side of a hill. The two men who owned it spent 32 years digging it out, and after all that time and effort, it netted them a grand total of 10 ounces of gold, worth about $50 at the time. They were digging right next to one of the richest drift mines in the area, but the rich veins that they were hoping to intersect petered out before reaching their tunnel. Our question was, what idiocy kept them hoping and digging for 32 years? You’d think that anyone with a brain would have given up long before then!


By the time we left the mine, the weather had turned, so we put on our gear in the rain and rode home wet. Didn’t dampen our spirits any!

Tuesday, 27 August 2002: Devil’s Tower, WY; Hulett, WY; Spearfish, SD


In the morning we made tracks for Devil’s Tower, crossing the state line into Wyoming. More beautiful country! The Tower was really impressive, especially when you saw the fallen columns up close and realized just how huge each of those formations really was. We walked the 1.25 mile Tower Trail in a little over an hour, with frequent stops to look up and look out. Looking up was enlivened even more when we realized that we could see groups of climbers on their way up. Yipes! We all decided that wasn’t for us.


We also saw our first honest-to-Pete herd of bison – as opposed to single animals – grazing in a pasture below the Tower along the Belle Fourche river, but from as high as we were, they were just specks that could have been cattle or horses. Only when we drove past them later on en route to Hulett for lunch and the long scenic route home could we confirm that they were, indeed, bison.


Hulett was a cute little town where we opted to hit the Pizza Plus Café for lunch, and wound up with a yummy veggie pizza. There’s not much at all to Hulett, but it’s cute!


The scenic drive through Wyoming was beautiful. All of the country out here is full of abrupt changes, with sudden painted rock escarpments jutting up from grasslands. The soil was very red, and so were the lowest layers of most of the little cliff faces, shading to gold above. Pretty.


We returned to Spearfish to buy tickets for the night’s performance of the Black Hills Passion Play and to kill time until the show. The layout reminded me a lot of the Shepherd of the Hills production in Branson – an amphitheatre built into a rustic hillside. We saw some of the cast – six white horses and one brown were grazing in the pasture by the parking lot.


The “killing time” part turned into a real treat, because we visited the D.C. Booth Historic Fish Hatchery, and that was an unexpected delight full of fascinating information tidbits (did you know that the U.S. government shipped fish eggs and fry by train in specially built Fish Cars?) and the fun of feeding fish and ducks. The preservation of the place is remarkable and largely the work of volunteers, although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came back to this location once it had been restored to locate a museum here. The grounds are gorgeous, the historical renovations and displays are spectacular, and hey – you can feed the fish! It’s no longer an active hatchery – the hatchery had to move ten miles away when increasing progress diverted more and more water from Spearfish Creek and the local aquifer (including the Homestake mine establishing a hydro power plant you can still see when driving through Spearfish Canyon), but the active hatchery keeps the ponds and runs at D.C. Booth (named for the first superintendent) stocked and active. Wild to realize that trout fishing in the West exists only because of hatcheries: until the white men brought the railroad, all those cold, pure, perfect-for-fishing Western streams were bare of trout or any other fish beyond suckers and chub!

We decided to do a real steak dinner here in the heart of cattle country, so we dined at Mad Mary’s Steakhouse. Okay, each dinner was enough beef for a week (well, slight exaggeration on my part – the sirloin tips weren’t that huge a portion, and Mom’s 7 ounce sirloin wasn’t that bad a violation, but Terry’s 14 ounce ribeye came close!), but it was tender, perfectly cooked, and delicious.


The Passion Play was pretty well done. It is a 63-year tradition in the Hills, with a huge cast (we wondered how much of the total population of Spearfish was showing up on stage) plus animals (the sheep were hysterical – they didn’t want to go where they were herded!). Rain threatened and sprinkled a few times, but the thunder and lightning proved hollow and didn’t stop the show.


Wednesday, 28 August 2002: Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore Gold


Terry wanted to do two more of the scenic drives in Custer State Park – the pigtail bridges (heavy wooden framework bridges that carry the road in a tight spiral over itself), which include tunnels through which you can see the faces of Mount Rushmore, as in a frame; and the wildlife loop trail. The curvy pigtail bridge road was a blast, with spectacular views. The wildlife loop finally delivered the one western sight we’d so far been denied: large herds of bison, roaming free. A few hundred head had passed the ranger station in the early morning, we were told, and we saw ‘em – scattered into several large groups were bison of all ages and sizes, including a bumper crop of calves. Most seemed unconcerned about cars and motorcycles; animals crossed the road with impunity. Wild! We also saw the park’s famous begging donkeys, several of which had pretty thoroughly mobbed a small car in search of treats, sticking their noses right into open windows. A couple of other bikers who had been watching before we arrived advised us that we’d missed the main feature of the show – that the black donkey had been mating with the grey one, which was what caused the now-mobbed car to stop for pictures in the first place! We eased on by and kept driving, marveling at the monster size of the bison bulls and rapidly losing count of the animals we saw. We also saw quite a few pronghorn antelope scattered around too, including one who posed very prettily (too bad I couldn’t get the camera out!), and lots and lots of prairie dogs.


We lunched at Red Lobster, and then went to take the tour of the Mt. Rushmore Black Hills Gold Company, right on the outskirts of Rapid City. That was fascinating, from what it takes for a piece of jewelry to bear the designation “Black Hills Gold” (it must be made in the Black Hills and incorporate a design with grape leaves; most is 10-karat, with 12-karat leaves and other features appearing in rose gold – which has more copper in the alloy mix – or green gold, which has more silver in the mix), to actually seeing many of the steps in the process from design to finished piece of jewelry. All of the steps and the detail and the tedium of the work: I’ll never look at Black Hills Gold jewelry the same way again. I bought a simple but classy dress watch.


I sat for the last time with our laundry, making my journal entries; from here on, we’ll be heading home.

Oh, and for any bikers who read this: in the vicinity of Rapid City, get your gas at the General Store, on the intersection of  N. LaCrosse and E. North Streets. 93 octane at the lowest price anywhere! We tanked up every day before starting off on our adventures.


Thursday, 29 August 2002: Rapid City to Watertown


This was a pushing day. We left Rapid City at 04:53 – and two exits down the road, we ran into rain accompanying the incredible lightning show we’d been witnessing. We pulled off at Box Elder – one exit before Ellsworth AFB – and changed into rain gear under the handy canopy of a Conoco station. Once we hit the road again, of course, the rain passed on, but the gear was handy anyway to shed the spray from passing trucks. We headed east, then north to Pierre, the state capitol, which the locals pronounce as “peer.” Going from Fort Pierre to Pierre itself, we crossed the Missouri again, and watched the land change back from grasslands into rolling farm fields.  Lunch was the Turtle Creek Saloon in Miller, a popular local spot, judging from the patronage. We pushed on east again through familiar DeSmet to Watertown, and rested.


Friday, 30 August 2002: Fort Sisseton


Note on last night’s news: you know you’re staying in a sportsman’s small town paradise when what’s biting where and which bait and tackle are working best are a regular part of the evening news!


We headed north to Sisseton in wind-driven, pouring rain. It was so wet and blowing so hard that my leather gloves soaked clean through: I wrung them out like cleaning rags when I finally got to a dry place. Couldn’t wring out the boots, though, so those got shown to the hair dryer for a few minutes when we finally got back to the hotel.


Well, when we got to Sisseton, north up 29, we got a surprise: Fort Sisseton State Park is 35 miles west of the town, on highway 10. The AAA tourbook hadn’t even listed the fort – we’d decided to go there based on a throwaway description in the South Dakota state tourism book – so we hadn’t a clue where it was relative to the town.

But it’s the journey we’re in for anyway, so we headed west on 10 in the rain – and 25 miles before we would reach the fort, we found 10 closed for major work! The road surface simply vanished into greasy red-brown clay being shoved around by earth-moving equipment. Fortunately for us, the woman stationed in a parked car at the start of the closure was able to describe a route to take us south and west to clear the construction area and return to 10 to complete our journey to the fort. I say, fortunate, because there were NO detour signs marking any alternate route! We thanked the lady, who returned to the shelter of her car, and headed in the direction she described ... and the second turn put us onto a road that abruptly transitioned from blacktop into rural gravel! At least we were on three wheels, and this time, unlike our Wild Horse Sanctuary visit, we wouldn’t get dusty ...

The next turn continued the gravel country lane motif, and the fourth turn back to pavement left us wondering which direction to go. We turned right, to head back north toward 10, but found that we hadn’t cleared the construction yet. The guy there, who really got a chuckle out of three insane women out in the rain on a sidehack rig, gave us the more complete instructions that the first woman had missed, and we got back onto the detour. A few more miles down the way, we finally encountered our very first “Hwy 10 Detour” sign, and were able to hook up with the road again and find the fort, although it was a fair bit later than we’d intended!


About 15 minutes after we reached the fort, the rain stopped, so I did get a few pictures. This place is really neat! It is the best example I’ve seen of a preserved fort from the 1860’s through 1880’s: the original stable, barracks, hospital, officers’ quarters, commanding officer’s house, armory, guardhouse, library, blacksmith’s shop, and several other buildings have been marvelously restored, and some totally vanished buildings, like one of the corner wooden blockhouses, have been reconstructed. You can walk the grounds, which are gorgeously maintained (including the berm and defensive ditch circling the fort – this one never had a palisade, because there wasn’t enough timber), and then view the exhibits in the north barracks. You can request a guided tour from the ladies in the barracks, and there are a few regularly scheduled guided tours as well as interpretive tours by costumed guides.


I have no idea how or why AAA missed including this gem in their tourbook, but I’m planning on sending them a tip to check it out and put it in next year’s book. Visiting costs only $5 per private vehicle, or $3 per person. There’s also camping available right at the fort. The fort was originally built in 1864 in response to an Indian uprising, but it wound up never seeing any hostilities itself, instead just serving as a garrison to keep the peace.


The ladies in the barracks gave Terry good directions about how to get to Hwy 25 south, which got us to 212 heading east back to Watertown. Our return was rain-free, but as we approached home base, we realized that the rain had been there just before us, and we learned that it had never stopped raining in Watertown until we got back. Good for us that we rode the rain to Sisseton!


This entire drive was through the glacial lakes region of South Dakota, and we couldn’t get over how much water was everywhere, and not just falling down on us. I lost count of the times that we drove between lakes or sloughs, and many of them had warning signs: “Deep water beside road. Reduce speed.”  The drive was rough on Terry, with narrow passages between deep water to navigate while being battered by brutal crosswinds.


We also saw lots of birds, including what looked like storks, egrets, and herons as well as many types of ducks. I added one more deer sighting to my total, and we saw one monster pheasant statue that looked like it wanted to compete with Huron’s “World’s Largest Pheasant,” which we saw on our drive to Watertown yesterday. The farms here are big, and very far apart – you could travel miles to take coffee with your neighbor.


Saturday, 31 August 2002: Watertown to Milwaukee

Once again, we hit the road simply to eat it, loping across the miles to wind up back home. Along the way, we had several of our major impressions reinforced, like the size differences in farms even between South Dakota and Minnesota, not to mention South Dakota and Wisconsin. We watched the countryside change again. By the time we reached the vicinity of the Wisconsin Dells, we encountered more traffic than we had seen in our entire jaunt across South Dakota, and the ever-increasing number of cars as we approached Milwaukee was astonishing to eyes that had grown accustomed to wide vistas and sparse populations. The weather was gorgeous, bright and sunny, and the ride was easy, for all the miles we covered.

This trip solidified my resolve to get a pair of chaps, though. More than once on this ride, we ran into swarms of grasshoppers, and I really do mean we ran into them. These things were fully two inches long and there were a lot of them, and when we smacked into them at highway speeds, they hurt. I looked at my legs when I was getting dressed one morning and realized that I had lines of little bruises running down both shins from grasshopper impacts at 60+ mph, and that was despite my wearing heavy jeans! Terry not only had chaps, but also the front fairings on the bike to protect her, and Mom had the windscreen on the sidecar, so I was the only one getting mashed by hoppers. Yeesh!

As has become a tradition, we ended the trip by stopping at Leon’s custard for a totally unbalanced end-of-trip supper. It was definitely a good journey!

Tags: harley, motorcycle diaries, real life, travelogue

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