July 9, 2005 – Saturday – Day 14

48 States or Bust – The USA on Two Wheels
Miles Today: 327 – Total Miles: 3660 – Daily Average: 261.4
11:30PM-10PM (!) – 7.5 hours (time zone change!)
Rapid City, SD to Buffalo, WY
(-stayed at an EconoLodge-) (SD – 17/48)

We found a surprisingly good and rather inexpensive breakfast. We shared a bowl of delicious thick oatmeal and wonderful fluffy pancakes in the attached restaurant.

As we checked out, the friendly owner just let me have the data cord that was borrowed last night, and I made him promise to tell the lady on the night desk that I had come back to return it. As I figured, he had a lot of those cords laying around, and he offered it to me at no cost and with a smile.

We got on the road to Rushmore about 11:30ish. It would be a 25-mile jog down to the four big guys, and then we’d head back this same way to get back onto Interstate 90 west.

It was warm, and got up to over 100º today. We motored on up to the monument through spectacular clear weather, and lucked out with the sun just hitting it right. The presidential faces poked up on the hillside and looked magnificent. There were workers up on the faces this particular morning doing a cleaning job. (It did look kind of disrespectful seeing the folks rappelling over the foreheads and eyeballs of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, but I guess it was for a good cause. I learned that a tv crew was there earlier, and that Katie Couric had said something like that she wouldn’t want the job of cleaning out Washington’s nostril!) Since I was there last the whole place had changed with regard to parking and gift shops, etc. There’s a huge parking garage built into the mountain now. I learned a lot that I didn’t know (or had forgotten) about the place. The idea of the sculpture came from a South Dakota state historian. It took about 14 years and the labor began in October 1927 and ended in October 1941. It was named after a New York lawyer, Charles E. Rushmore, who was in the Black Hills in 1885 researching minding claims. He asked his guide the name of the big mountain there and reportedly got the answer that immortalized his name on the landscape from his guide. The guide said, “Never had none. But hereafter we’ll call ‘er Rushmore, by Jingo!”

Originally Lewis & Clark, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Chief Red Cloud were going up there. But Gutzon Borglum, the sculpture preferred carving the presidents so that the sculpture would be of national significance. For Borglum, Washington represented the birth of our country, Jefferson the expansion, Lincoln the preservation, and Roosevelt the development!

We enjoyed walking around there and seeing the huge faces from various spots. We were frequently, in our yellow suits, mistaken for the workers who were up on the mountain. It was tempting to just play along, but I would tell them they were mistaking us.

When one in a family had to be out of a picture so the picture could be taken, I would volunteer to take the shot so everyone could be in the pose. I did this a number of times, but was turned down with a big group from Norway. The fellow said he would just Photoshop himself into the group.

Chatted with one of the friendly gift shop guys, and I asked him how business was. He reported that although they had some busy days, that since the economy was slow, and because of the high gas prices, there was less discretionary cash for people to spend, that things were a little off business-wise.

We left Mt. Rushmore around 1ish, after taking a bazillion pictures, having stopped briefly in the wonderful gift shop area, and getting back to the bike on level 5 of the parking facility – which by-the-way, cost $8 to use. We met a guy named Billy Ray Osbourne there who was riding an Iron Butt Parks Tour where he would have to ride through a bunch of national parks in a short amount of time. He said he was going up for a look, then leaving right away for the next park.

From Rushmore we went back through Rapid City as planned and then got on the big highway. As we left the area, we rode through the smoke of what must have been an absolutely HUGE forest fires off to the left. From the distance we could see the smoke billowing into the clouds and I was afraid that the road would be closed. It wasn’t by the time we got through.

We took the Sturgis exit and went right to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. It was only a few weeks until the big Sturgis Rally, the grandpappy of all motorcycle gatherings. Motorcycle enthusiasts all know the Sturgis name – in fact, more than a half million motorcyclists make the pilgrimage there each year to descend upon the little town. This is the 65th anniversary of the big bike bash in Sturgis, ND. 70% of the bikers at Sturgis ride Harleys, and the next biggest chunk of riders are on Hondas, followed by 5% on Yamahas. Here’s a quote from an advertising piece, “Founded by motorcycle shop owner Clarence “Pappy” Hoel and his Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club, the first rally featured 19 racers vying for bragging rights on a half-mile dirt track. Sixty-five years later, the Sturgis Rally has become one of the most popular motorcycle rallies in the world.” By-the-way, 51% are between 41 and 53 years old.

We had a good time going through the small museum. There were a lot of old-time motorcycles that were fun to look at, and the folks were friendly there. Several times folks engaged us about our journey and it was fun talking about it. I’m not really much into the big crowd Sturgis thing, so I was glad to be there before the multitudes arrived. We bought Official Sturgis bandanas for friends Sparky and Dave who had ridden out with us on that first day two weeks ago. I also tried to call them from the museum, but had to leave messages for both.

From about 3:30 to 4pm we took a refreshing lunch break and sun block application break. I had been having a little problem with something in my right contact lens. Kept trying to wash it out at the restaurant. It was a few more hours before the problem went away. Just a little speck in there I guess.

Instead of staying on the highway we took the 14A exit to Deadwood which would also give us the Spearfish Canyon loop back to the highway. It was a good decision. I’ve bicycled down 100’s of canyons but only two or three were better than this one. From the high cliffs to the sky and the burbling Spearfish Creek below it was wondrous riding with fabulous views. Karen took 100’s of pictures from the backseat as we rode along. The air was fresh and we’d hit those pockets of cool air along the way that were as surprising as they were refreshing. The Spearfish Scenic Byway went on for almost 20 miles of glorious views. It was memorable.

Then we were on the big super-slab awhile into Wyoming and toward Devils Tower. As we were on the off-shoot road to Devils Tower I glanced upward in the cloud-spotted sky, and there was an absolutely amazing and life-memorable sight. Four little white tufts of clouds were one beside each other in a horizontal row. And darned if they didn’t seem to spell out J – O – E – L !!!! Karen noticed the letters, too, and got a picture of them. The nice coincidental cloud alignment brought even more of a smile to my face.

Considering that we had more than 120 miles to go to the room we had reserved in Buffalo, WY, it was getting late as we pulled into the guard station at Devils Tower. The nice park ranger lady allowed us in at no charge even though I couldn’t quite get my hands on our Park Pass. We wound our way around the approach and up to the base of the big tower. Again, we caught the setting sunlight just right on the rock.

In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower the first national monument. He acted to protect the Tower from commercial exploitation. Although scientists aren’t sure exactly and the Indians have their legends, the best guess is that an igneous intrusion is what caused the 867 foot tower. Seems that about 60 million years ago molten magma was forced into sedimentary rocks above it and cooled underground. As it cooled it contracted and fractured into columns. Over millions of years, erosion of the sedimentary rock around it then exposed Devils Tower. It’s an awe-inspiring sight.

If I had to do it over again and knowing what I knew at the end of the day, we would have camped there at Devil’s Tower. But we had already made the motel reservation for further down the road.

We left around 7:30pm, and then we had the rush to get the many miles to Buffalo, WY (our 17th state) before dark. The darkness caught us, and we rode about 75 miles through the amazing red sunset and into the night darkness. This part of the ride surely surpassed anything difficult for me so far. My hands felt positively cemented to the handlebar grips and my eyes glued to the ever-dimming roadway. And I could feel the tension spread across my back as each maneuver in the ever-decreasing light became more and more important to safety. Eventually we were trucking along at 70mph as I stuck as mightily as I could just back of the tail lights ahead of me. Soon that guy got away and I was content to motor along at 60mph within the ever-beaming reflectors on each side of the road and beside the roadway lines. There were no overhead street lamps, of course. Occasionally, the road lines were obliterated by dark new surfacing upon the highway. THAT was scary!

For the brief peeps I was able to take, the sky around was tantalizing as it turned from sunshine to dusk to dark. After the spectacular western sunset, huge rows of dark clouds rimmed the heavens. At one point there was a big rectangular window in the long bank of dark clouds showing light through it alone. There were pockets of heat that blasted against us, and then times when we were awash with cool-to-cold breaths of breeze. Through my rear-view mirror the scene was total blackness! Occasionally a car would pass. Once a big truck shuddered past us. And the bugs dotted the windshield more frequently than in the daytime, also squashing themselves against our hands and pants.

It wasn’t until 10pm that we rolled off the interstate and sought out the motel. I was in no mood – or shape – for anything other than a shower and sleep. (And I would have foregone the shower if it weren’t for the scores of bugs I saw on my yellow pants.)

Author: Joel Perlish

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