Motorcycle Road Trip 2011 – Day 44

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

Day 44 of my motorcycle road trip, and I got off to an early start. I knew it was going to be a long day. Lots of sightseeing side trips.

I flew along Highway 90 toward the Badlands of South Dakota. With a 75 mph speed limit, you can really cover miles, fast.  I reached Highway 240, and exited toward the South Dakota Badlands. First stop was the Badlands Trading Post. It was a rustic looking store constructed out of wood and logs. Too early for lunch, but they sold Buffalo hotdogs.

I entered the Badlands National Park. The Badlands was established as a National Monument in 1939, and then became a National Park in 1978. It was late morning, and already getting hot. I pulled into the first overlook and parked. The view was amazing. It is very hard to describe in words. You just have to look at my photos. I continued riding the 240 loop.

The Badlands are incredibly rugged. They were formed about 500,000 years ago as water and wind eroded and etched away the soil. The Badlands have a very diverse geology consisting of buttes, spires and rolling grasslands. The contrast between the deep canyons, towering spires, and flat table tops is very dramatic. Just as spectacular is the colorful horizontal layering of the rock formations. Each layer can be dated back to between 30 and 75 million years ago. The area also has a human history dating back to prehistoric hunters and gatherers. Later, the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation, and early homesteaders, hunted buffalo in this area. This makes the area rich with mammal fossil beds.



After about two hours exploring the Badlands, I decided it was time to move on. Highway 240 loops back to Highway 90 at Wall, South Dakota. On the ride toward the Badlands, I kept seeing large signs for Wall Drugs. It seemed like a lot of advertising for a drug store, so I decided to ride into Wall to see Wall Drugs. As it turned out, Wall Drugs has grown into a huge old-western shopping mall, covering a large portion of the downtown. If you can’t buy it a Wall Drugs, you probably don’t need it. It is also a huge tourist attraction. I grabbed a quick lunch and then hit the road.

As I approached Rapid City, South Dakota, I stopped at an information center to map out my ride through Mount Rushmore, and the surrounding park areas. A woman at the center thought my route plan through Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, then backroads to the town of Deadwood, then Sturgis, was overly optimistic. However, that didn’t deter me. I started on my way to Mount Rushmore.

After a short ride on Highway 16, I could see Mount Rushmore to my right. It felt strange to see this large sculpture carved into the side of the mountain. It almost looked like a picture, rather than a scenic landscape. After parking, I walked over to the monument. I couldn’t help but wonder how they created such a large sculpture, looking so much like the Presidents. It seems like it would be difficult creating a sculpture when you can see it all right in front of you. I don’t understand how someone could create a sculpture when up close they couldn’t possibly get a perspective of what they were carving. Anyway, very impressive sculpture, even more impressive thinking about how it was created.

Back on Highway 16A, I passed through the town of Keystone. It looked like a fun town. Lots of motorcycles parked along the main street. I assumed people still hanging around after the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which had just ended.

I was now headed toward Custer State Park. The infamous site of General Custer’s Last Stand against Chief Sitting Bull and the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. I decided to do the loop in the clockwise direction, even though park rangers told me I’d get a very nice view of Mount Rushmore going the other way around. I figured there would be less traffic. As I rolled along Highway 16A, I began to realize why the woman thought I was being optimistic. The road was very curvy, with endless switchbacks that had a 10 mph speed limit. In many places, the road was blasted through the mountains, and the tunnels were only a single lane. You had to stop and honk your horn before entering, to let oncoming traffic know not to enter the tunnel. Despite being very slow, it was very scenic and worth the ride.

I finally entered Custer State Park and its rolling plains — buffalo country. I didn’t see any buffalo roaming around, which I guess people often do. I just saw several wild donkeys on the road. One in particular was quite stubborn. He was standing in the middle of the road, and refused to move for cars. Everyone just drove around him. As I drove around him, he just looked at me and stood his ground. Highway 16A then merges into Highway 87, the Needles Highway. More amazing geology with massive rock formations in the form of spires and cliffs. And again, slow, single lane tunnels blasted through the cliffs.

By the time I reached Highway 385, to the towns of Deadwood and Sturgis, it was already nearing sunset. The first part of Highway 385 was quite beautiful. A winding, hilly road through more of the Black Hills National Forest. Unfortunately, much of the ride was in complete darkness, apart from what my headlight illuminated.

Deadwood looked like an interesting little western town. To bad I didn’t have more time, and daylight, to see more. I finally reached Sturgis, my destination for the night, about 9:30 pm. Since I’d started riding at about 6:00 am, that made for a 15-1/2 hour day. A long day of riding. Fortunately, my BMW R1200RT is very comfortable. I was exhausted, but not sore. I had a late dinner at the Si Señor Mexican Restaurant next to the hotel, and then off to bed. Tomorrow would be another long day of riding and sightseeing. I should have planned out this area better before starting my trip. It would have been nice to have 2 more days for side trips.




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