Black Hills Badlands Medley—Day Seven
My Ride on the Hard Packed Gravel Sage Creek/North Rim Road in the Badlands and My Campground
I rose early and got rolling, in hopes of seeing some of the wildlife, but before I had left I saw a herd of buffalo close to camp, just on the far side of Sage Creek, moving toward the road. I headed out on Sage Creek Road and could see the herd below me on the right. Eventually, the track turned into North Rim Road.
Riding Along I Came Across this Fella and Poked Along Behind Him for a While
I passed the paved turnoff to the northern visitor station to continue on dirt and soon spotted Prairie Dog Town, where Will had to stop the day before for a stampede of the critters running across the road in hundreds in front of him. None challenged my mastery of the road, but many hundreds were scattered around the prairie on the north side. I kept cruising until I spotted a big dark hulk up ahead. As I approached, it turned into a huge lone buffalo, perhaps six feet at the shoulders, leisurely plodding along on the right side of the road. I slowed and followed, keeping my distance, while it turned its big shaggy head back to look at me from time to time. I would stop until he was a bit further ahead, then catch up again, only to stop and wait once more. Judging by his lack of interest in a couple of cars passing him, I eventually decided to pass him slowly on the left, with my hand ready to roll the throttle if he showed more than a passing interest in me. Luckily, as I was doing so, he found the only tree in the Badlands for miles around and trotted a few feet off the trail to use it to rub himself. I stopped just ahead of him to get a good photo, then rolled off down the road.
The One Tree in the Area and this Big Boy Found It
I stopped soon, however, at a pull-off where I saw a pickup with a camper top parked. I was on the very edge of the really rough Badlands topography then, and as I got off and looked over the edge, a voice came to me from the camper saying there was a bighorn sheep below me on the right. There it was, sunning itself on a precipice below me. He posed for a couple more photos before I moved on. Soon I was nearing the end of the gravel road, where I’d turn around and go back to the road leading to the visitor center and highway on the north side of the park, when I spotted a couple pronghorn antelope, who were scuttling off to the north, spooked by a car ahead of me.
Looking South over the Badlands
I retraced my path then got on pavement and to Interstate 90, which I would follow most of the way into Wyoming. By the time I passed Wall, I was hungry and stopped in the small town to try to find breakfast. Usually, I am not a fan of big “tourist traps” as my father had called them, so tried to ignore the huge Wall Drug. I found only one other possible place but was not too keen of the looks of it. I went back to a gas station I had stopped at and asked the woman working there where she’d go if she was looking for a good breakfast and she said Wall Drug and that their pancakes were great. Local knowledge is usually best for this kind of thing I reckoned, so I got back on the bike and rode back to Wall. It was not open yet, but it was only a few minutes until it would be, so I waited then took my place in line. Instead of the suggested pancakes, I got bacon and eggs and inserted a dime into the slot for a cu and a refill of their famous five0cent coffee. The recommendation was spot on and I left ready to face the rest of the day’s riding.
The interstate passed by Sturgis, which would be filled in just another week with hundred of thousands of bikers, much like our southeastern Daytona Bike Week, with a debate on which one was bigger. I had been to plenty of rallies like that in Florida, including Daytona and Biketoberfest to name just a couple, and I found them all pretty much the same. Once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, but I could not resist the temptation to take a route through downtown Sturgis downtown and to get a photo of my bike in the famous town.
The Obligatory Sturgis Photo a Week before the Crowds Appeared for the Annual Rally
Before zooming into Wyoming, I took a loop off the interstate that intersected with Spearfish Canyon Highway at Savoy. Spearfish Canyon Highway had been recommended by Will the day before and he had probably just driven it a couple hours ahead of me. Not long after I made my turn into the canyon, I got more gravel practice in the form of road works for a few miles, then it was absolute motorcycling heaven until looping back to Interstate 90 at Spearfish, just twelve miles east of the Wyoming state line.
Turning west again into Wyoming, I turned off at Sundance, intrigued by a gray line denoting an unpaved road, that would cut northwest across another section of the Black Hills and deposit me right in front of Devil’s Tower. I decided to give it a go, after my experience and successful transit on dirt in the Badlands.
Gravel Roads to Devil Tower
I wriggled my way up into the mountains while the road became much more of a challenge than Sage Creek Road had been, with much looser gravel and many twists and turns ups and downs through the mountains. I tried to keep my grip loose on the bars and let the bike wiggle around when it hit the softer patches of gravel .I tried to keep my confidence up and committed to riding the whole distance across. Soon I had gotten quite used to the looser stuff and the bars wiggling around in my hands while I made progress at twenty-five to thirty miles per hour, except in a couple more gnarly sections. After twenty miles or so the road surface evened out, and I was heading northwest through valleys with small ranches punctuating the space, and riding over many cattle guards. And then the view opened up, and rounding curves I’d get a glimpse of the tower, ever growing bigger as I approached the main highway. When I arrived, Devil’s Tower was exactly straight ahead and magnificent. There was also a tavern on the other side of the highway a short distance south, so I stopped to have a beer, cool down, and see what I could find out. As I was walking in, another rider was coming out, and I asked him if they charged for parking at this National Monument like they had at Mount Rushmore, but he said, no, it was completely free. Sitting inside and sipping my cold beer, I could see the tower in the big picture window across that side of the tavern. Thirst allayed and having cooled down a bit, I headed back out on the bike and headed around the corner toward the park. Almost instantly, I was in a mile-long line of stopped cars. I could see the entry booth ahead, and if it was free, I could not imagine why it was taking each vehicle five to ten minutes to get past it. I sat broiling in the sun for fifteen minutes, when I finally decided I could not get a much better view by being directly under the mountain than what I could take from the road where I was, so I pulled out of line and turned around, stopping to grab a photo of the bike in front of the dormant volcano’s plug that had been left behind as the rest of the volcano had worn away over eons.
First Glimpse of the Tower
Just Outside the National Monument and Back on Pavement
Photo taken, I was on my way south, then west a short distance to Gillette, Wyoming, where I turned south on a state highway that would cut across the plains and join the interstate far south of me. From there I took I-25 south toward Colorado.
I Thought I was Going to Get Caught in this, but the Storm Stayed Well West of My Path
It was getting late and I had not eaten, so I stopped at a hotel restaurant to have a burger and fries and to take advantage of their wi-fi, so I could check on places I might be able to stop for the day. I pulled up the ADVRider forum’s Tent Space Map and found someone in Cheyenne. I texted him, and unfortunately, his wife and daughter were both sick, otherwise I would have had a place to rest of the night. I asked him if he knew of any decent campgrounds in his area, and he recommended Terry’s Bison Rach, at the last exit before entering Colorado. It sounded perfect, a campground where I could set up camp and get a shower, and even with a bar and restaurant. I found the place easily enough, and turning off the highway, the side road followed it south on the east side until almost kissing the state line. It was priced about middle of the road for a private campground at twenty-five dollars. I pulled in, registered, and set up the tent. Then I wandered over to the bar and went inside, but it had closed I was told, although the staff were still inside. No problem, though, they could sell me a couple bottles to take back to the tent, so I was happy enough with that. I was tired and after downing the beers in the darkness at the picnic table at my site I went to bed. The shower would wait until the morning.