Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mt. Rushmore, Wildlife, and The #1 Motorcycle Ride in South Dakota

Well, the main attraction in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota is Mt. Rushmore, but there's much more.  The closest we could get to all the activity was Hermosa, SD and Southern Hills Camground.  This is their take on Mt. Rushmore at the entrance - Kennedy, Reagan, and Bush. The plan is to move the statues to a hill in back of the park and have a walking trail up to view "Mt. Hermosa." I guess you can say the owners lean a little right.  (Kennedy, in comparison to today's Democrats and many Republicans, was actually pretty conservative.)  I did a double-take one evening when Rhonda said she was going to "the heads" to take a picture.  We have 40 years of boating in our history and bathrooms are known as "heads" on a boat, so that's the first thing that came to my mind. And if you have been following our blog on this trip, you recall my photo session at a rest stop bathroom to document the triple action combo soap-wash-dry machine!  I thought, well maybe she thinks it's OK!

Another unique thing about the RV Park is two still-in-use drive-ins next door.  They seem to have a fair amount of business.  Here's one of them.

Lots of thunderstorms and weather rolled through while we were here.  One evening, Rhonda caught a rainbow and thunderstorm back to back.

After a couple of humdinger storms, in additon to parking the bike under the nose of the RV, we started covering the bike and strapping her to the truck for a little extra help!  Our neighbor behind us  had his bike blown over the day before, scratched up the left saddlebag pretty bad.

Back to Mt. Rushmore.  Our first view from a distance.  Wow, just wow!  

It took 14 years to construct, designed and spearheaded by Gutzon Borglum, well-known and accomplished sculptor, with the help of 400 workers.  All were local and no-one died of accidental injuries during construction!  Borglum died of natural causes right before completion and his son completed the project. 

The original notion to build a monument was to honor legendery people from the area but the final decision was to go patriotic - something the country and our citizens could be proud of for many years to come.  Here's the story on why Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln were chosen.

 As you approach the monument from the parking lot, you walk through a presentation of states, flying the flag of each one and noting the date each joined the union.

Now, stop what you are doing, stand up, and salute the great state of Alabama!

As the sun begins to set, the crowd heads for an evening presentation in a huge amphitheatre at the base of the monument.  There's also about 20 minutes of patriotic music.

The program  begins with an impressive speech by one of the Park Rangers.  In short, he notes the strengths of all of these men, especially Washington, who had the opportunity to become "king" of America, but would not consider it.  He believed in the democracy that we still know today, and all of his efforts were directed toward that goal.  There was a video on the details and construction of the monument and toward the end of the ceremony, the monument is lit up - very impressive.

Then they asked all veterans to go to the stage.  As you can imagine, there was a standing ovation and much respect for those who serve to defend and protect our democracy.

The evening closed with all singing the national anthem together.  It was quite an afternoon and evening for us, and while we certainly arrived as proud Americans, we left feeling even more so.  We are so blessed to live in this great country.
 God Bless America!

The Crazy Horse monument is under construction about 20 miles away but we just viewed it from a distance.

Here's where they are headed with that one - gonna be impressive.

Speaking of impressive, we headed to the heart of the Black Hills to check out the #1 motorcycle ride in South Dakota.  It's referred to generally as "The Central Hills Loop" and consists of Hwy 244, Hwy 87, Needles Highway, Highway 16A, and Iron Mountain Road.

Rhonda and I first tackled Needles Highway, which is named for the stone spires that look like needles and 3 narrow tunnels that you have to "thread."  The first one was no big deal at 10'6" wide.  Plenty of room, but we did pull the mirrors in just in case.  Don't forget, we are driving a Dodge Ram 3500 dually.

We got to the next one and there was a huge crowd out of their vehicles and off of their bikes checking this thing out - pretty narrow, 8'4'' wide to be exact.  I did not know the exact width of our truck at that point but figured we could make it.  One biker said, "I had planned to come through here tomorrow in my dually but I'm not sure I can make it. I'm gonna video you going through!"  Here's the challenge.

Well, there was nothing else to pull in after the mirrors, so off we went.  About halfway through I'm thinking "this was probably not a good idea."  But all you can do is concentrate on the one side you can see and stay as close to that wall as possible.  We made it through and then measured the truck - probably got those in the wrong order, huh?  The truck is 8 feet wide, so we had 4 inches to spare and this tunnel is not square by any means, lots of uneven walls throughout - living on the edge again! I tried to find the guy who said he was gonna take a video of us going through so he could send me a copy but never found him again (probably rushed home to get his dually so he could do it today instead of tomorrow).  "Here, hold my beer and watch this!"  We continued on and the third tunnel was back up to 9 feet - "Hey, let's put the mirrors back out!"

Here's some of the scenery and the spires (needles).

This guy's got the right idea, at least going downhill.

Iron Mountain Road was a hoot - 17 miles, 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, 3 pigtails, 3 tunnels, 2 splits, and 4 presidents.

The four presidents reference is to one of the 3 tunnels - you come out of the tunnel with a view straight ahead of Mt. Rushmore.

And to close out this post, take a quick trip with us on the Wildlife Loop, an 18-mile road through a section of Custer State Park.


Deer with a nice rack.


Several came up to Rhonda's window but left quickly after realizing there was no food.

And Buffalo.  They are huge (adults at about 1400 pounds), they sound mean and snort a lot, they have 2 small but sharp horns up front, and they don't mind holding up traffic.

Speaking of holding up traffic - on a separate bike ride a couple of days after these pics were taken from the truck, I ran into 3 differents herds on my way to Hot Springs, WY and finally had to turn around and backtrack my original route to that point to get back to the RV!

I have a feeling they do not mind using the horns if they feel the need!

And speaking of Buffalo, that's our next stop for 4 days to check out the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Sturgis, SD = Motorcycles

I started riding motorcycles again about 2 years ago after a 40-year hiatus and have ridden about 27,000 miles since then.  I ride mostly with members of our FAITH Riders Motorcycle Ministry at Lindsay Lane Baptist Church in Athens, AL.  These are wonderful folks and we have a good time together.

Sturgis, SD is recognized around the world as the home of the largest motorcycle rally event of its kind and I have wanted to go there for a while.  We are about three weeks early for their annual 10-day rally, but the town always has the feel of a motorcycle town.  It's exciting to be here!

A couple of months ago, we had an "All Roads Lead To Memphis" post in the blog but according to this, all roads lead to Sturgis! 

"All roads" would certainly include those from Athens, AL, so we added a pin on the map to document that at one of the restaurants.  (There have certainly been others from Athens before me, including some from our FAITH Riders group, but there was no pin!)

The Sturgis Rally began in 1938 with a small group of riders on Indian motorcycles and has since grown to an attendance of around 1 million, yes, that's 1 million.  The rally generates 95% of Sturgis's annual income at $800 million dollars for a city of about 7000 residents.  (My brain's thinking now - If I could make 95% of my business income in 10 days, I probably would just take the other 355 days of the year off!  Don't you think?)

Imagine 1 million people on motorcycles in a small town for ten days.  Rhonda and I were on Galveston Island, TX a few years ago during their rally which hosts 400,000 bikers - it seemed like the entire island rumbled, and Galveston is lots bigger than Sturgis!

This will give you a little bit of an idea.

Rumor has it that the rally can get a little rough (actually, that's probably not a rumor).  There's a larger-than-life 44 Magnum on display at a gun dealer location right behind the city's "Welcome To Sturgis" sign, and a "Bikes, Booze, and Bullets" thought came to our minds as we entered the town -  not a good combination.

When we checked in at the RV Park just a block away from downtown, "Kentucky Girl" at the desk went through the park rules with us - you know, pets on a leash, trash disposal, etc..  She closed with "and if you decide to get naked outside, please do that after midnight.  Before midnight is only allowed during the rally!"  She seemed serious???  We also read somewhere how much beer is trucked in for the rally - a lot!  Well, we don't drink and the naked rule in public was not an issue for us!  Things were nice and quiet at the McManus RV.  Truth is, we were expecting sort of a Bourbon Street, New Orleans atmosphere.  As it turns out, Sturgis is a very nicely kept and clean city, everyone was friendly, no trouble stirring of any kind while we were there.  Of course, put a million folks on motorcycles and a lot of booze together in a small area and I guess most anything can happen!

If in fact the rumors of the rally are true, one odd thing that we saw might come in handy.  Sturgis has very large trash cans along the side of the road to handle all of the beer bottles and cans! (You notice these things when in a new area.)

The other thing to do while in Sturgis is, you guessed it - ride motorcycles.  Rhonda does not ride, so we have come up with a great way to take pictures of the bike routes - we ride the route together and take photos from the truck.  It's much easier that way, Rhonda enjoys the routes and scenery also, and the bike ride itself for me is not interrupted with lots of stops for pictures!

The favorite route is through the town of Deadwood and Spearfish Canyon.  Deadwood is a typical tourist  town and there is not much there except saloons, gift shops, and small gambling/casino stops.

Their "claim to fame" is.....

..........and killed.  Wild Bill Hickok (yes, there is no "c" before the second "k") had quite a reputation as a drover, wagon master, soldier, spy, scout, lawman, gunfighter, gambler, showman, and actor.  The card hand he was holding when he was shot (2 black 8s, 2 black aces, and an unknown fifth card) is still known as the "deadman's hand."  Hickok was only 39 when he was killed and is buried in Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood.  The city wanted $6 each for us to see that so we passed.  You always hear of "Calamity Jane" paired with Wild Bill, but according to historical records (you know, Wikipedia) Wild Bill actually did not care much for her. However, she requested to be, and is buried beside Wild Bill, allowed by two of Wild Bill's friends as a posthumous joke.

The ride after Deadwood and through Spearfish Canyon is beautiful.

There are three waterfalls on the route.  Only one does not require a hike to see it, so that's the one we have pictures of!  (It was almost 100 degrees that day, so the air conditioned truck won over the hike.) Bridal Veil Falls below, right alongside the road.

The second favorite ride out of Sturgis takes you into Wyoming to see "Devils Tower."

Devils Tower is a magma outflow which cooled underground and was later exposed by erosion. The tower is 867 feet tall.  The diameter at the base is 1000 feet.  At first site below about 15 miles away.  

Five miles away.

From the entrance.

Up close at the base. 

Devils Tower and Bear Butte near Sturgis are considered sacred to the Lakota tribes. According to one legend, two Sioux boys wandered away from their village. A large bear thought they would make a good breakfast. The boys prayed to the Creator who caused a large rock to rise up carrying them out of the bear's reach. The bear clawed the sides of the rock trying to reach them, forming the tower's grooves. The bear then went over to Sturgis to take a rest and became Bear Butte. (Today the large hexagonal columns of the Devils Tower make it one of the finest traditional crack climbing areas in North America. No, I did not go climbing!)  Here's Bear Butte a few miles outside of Sturgis.

So, we enjoyed our stay in Sturgis, attended church at First Baptist Church (ironically the pastor is from Alabama) on Sunday morning......

...........and headed for our next stop -  the southern Black Hills around Hermosa, SD, Mt. Rushmore, buffalo, and the top motorcycle rides in SD - The Needle and Iron Mountain Road.