After a lovely church service in a historic Episcopal church in downtown Buffalo, WY, we took off from Buffalo, and headed for South Dakota. We arrived in Spearfish, SD in time to ride over to enjoy that last evening of the Sturgis Rally for 2010. We had planned our trip this way on purpose since we’d rather ride the great roads without thousands of other motorcyclists. One man we met at Chris’ Campground mentioned that during the week, it had been more of a “parade” than a “ride” since it was so crowded. Our campground is not crowded now and the prices are back to normal. Since the Sturgis Rally is the biggest money maker of the year for this area, all the RV parks and campgrounds double or triple their rates for Sturgis week. One salesperson we spoke to said she and her husband move to their 5th wheel during the rally week, and rent their three bedroom home for $3750!! The vendors, while getting ready to pack up, offered wonderful sales on Sunday afternoon – we bought six shirts for a total of only $35. Some of the shirts were originally priced at what we paid for all six! We also took time Sunday evening to ride around our campground area; we saw several very tidy farms plus two gorgeous golf courses with wooded fairways, elevated trees, and scenic views, each located only a couple miles from the campground.
Monday we rode the 140 mile Devils’ Tower loop, back into Wyoming through Belle Fourche, Aladdin, and Hulett to the Tower. After Alaska and Hawaii became states, a remote location not far from Belle Fourche became the center of the United States (the center of the 48 contiguous states is near Lebanon, Kansas). The town has built a granite monument in a pleasant riverside park since the actual geographic center is about 20 miles out of town and not able to be reached easily. Having been to the southernmost place in the US (in Hawaii), the southernmost place in the contiguous US (in Key West), the easternmost place (West Quoddy in Maine), and to the Four Corners (although that isn’t really in the actual place either), we thought it would be fun to take photos at Belle Fourche as well. It was not an easy task – turned out the road into town is being resurfaced, so we had to sit in a line for a long while to get to the monument. It was not hot though, so it was not bad, just hard to have to do a lot of waiting on the motorcycle – it gets hard on Fred’s legs. I just have to sit still.
Our next stop was over the border in the tiny village of Aladdin, Wyoming – population fifteen! Aladdin boasts one of the oldest stores in the state; the Aladdin General Store was built in 1890, the same year Wyoming became a state. A hodgepodge of old and new merchandise made this store fun to visit. Another notable structure in tiny Aladdin is the Aladdin Tipple, a structure that was once used to load coal directly from the mine into railroad cars; it was in use until 1927. The Tipple was restored in 1990 and sit prominently on a hill a short distance east of the general store. The town is in the Bear Lodge Mountains, a small range adjoining the Black Hills to the west. The Bear Lodge mountains are softer and more subtle than the craggy peaks of the Black Hills. Heading farther west some more, we rode through the red rock valley of the Belle Fourche River; the roads are winding but not too tight, and the scenery was beautiful.
After passing through the town of Hulett, we could see glimpses of Devil’s Tower, a high volcanic uplift which became larger and larger until we finally turned onto the road that let us climb up to the first national monument of the US, designated so by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906. We had been here once before in 2005, but only for a short visit. This time we spent several hours at the park. We enjoyed a ranger’s talk about the geology of the tower, its sacred nature for many Native American groups, and a history of the climbers who have scaled the tower. Just as he was telling us how one climber ascended the tower 365 days in a row, up walked that climber – it was not planned at all, but just serendipity. The older man told us he had climbed the tower at least 2000 times, and he was going to escort a group of young female climbers to the top of the tower that afternoon. The first recorded “official” ascent was made by two ranchers in 1893, and the record for climbing the tower is only 18 minutes! Considering that it is 1,267 feet high, that is totally amazing! We learned three possible ways the tower might have formed, but geologists are not sure which is accurate. One Native American legend is that a giant bear clawed the grooves into the mountainside while chasing several young Indian maidens, but the tribes have other legends also attached to Devil’s Tower as well. At least six different groups consider the area sacred – Arapaho, Crow, Lakota, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Eastern Shoshone. We saw evidence of this when walking around since there were many prayer bundles attached to the pines in the area. Geologists do agree that the land surrounding Devil’s Tower has eroded over the years, leaving the igneous rock forming the tower to loom over the surrounding forests and prairies of the area. We took a 1.3 winding walk around the base of the tower and the boulders surrounding it; only experienced climbers are permitted to actually scale the steep tower itself. We saw some deer, several climbers at various levels of their ascents, a close up view of the forest and foliage surrounding the tower, plus different views of the tower as we circumnavigated the base.
Our next stop on our loop ride was at Sundance, Wyoming. Here we got to see the Sundance Kid relaxing on a bench in the town square, not far from where he once was imprisoned for horse theft; this town is where he took his nickname. On the way back to Spearfish, we passed right by the Vore Buffalo Jump. We didn’t stop because we could get a good view from the road of the large sinkhole used by Plains Indians from 1500 – 1800. Archaeologists say the remains of about 10,000 – 20,000 bison are likely to be excavated at the sink hole. There is a visitor center there, but since we’d had a great education already at the larger buffalo jump in Alberta, we figured we didn’t need to stop at Vore.