USA Coast To Coast, The Ultimate Road Trip Part 6
2nd –10th August 2014
Leaving the Badlands behind we headed to the scenic mountain area known as the Black Hills. Famous during the gold rush days these hills were the home of the Lakota Sioux Native Americans who were driven out by the settlers and double crossed by the government of the time. It’s also the home of Mt Rushmore and Custer State Park, both of which were on our must-see list.
We’d been told by a host of people about the “mother of all motor cycle rallies” that attracts around 400,000 bikers each year. It was being held over the next two weeks in a town called Sturgis, and were assured that we didn’t have a chance in hell of finding accommodation within a 200 mile radius of the place. “Well that’s just great“ was one of the terms that sprang to mind.
The Black Hills and surrounding towns are a favourite area for the bikers to cruise, pose, party and stay in the weeks before and after the rally. So we were almost blown away when we made the all important phone call to the Roosevelt Inn in Keystone, an old mining town which just happens to be smack bang in the centre of the hills, and got a “yes” answer to the almost laughable question we asked. They had one room left and we snapped it up like there was no tomorrow.
Arriving mid afternoon we were greeted by the spectacle of hundreds of immaculately kept Harley Davidsons and a sprinkling of foreign brand bikes. Huge banners strung over the main street welcomed the bikers. Cafes offered dinner and breakfast specials, bike wash and detailing signs were plentiful as were happy-hours at any one of the many watering holes.
Leather, bandanas and tassels were the clothing of choice for the unshaven, larger-than-life males. While the women wore tight fitting tank tops, equally as tight faded jeans, designer sunnies, high heeled boots and as much bling as they were capable of wearing. It was a spectacle to say the least. But we were there for the sightseeing, not the people watching.
After another lovely BBQ dinner in the town park, we trooped up the road to the evening sound and light show at Mt Rushmore National Monument. Starting at 9pm the ranger program gave us a novel introduction to the awesome foursome whose images are carved into the mountainside. A daylight trip the following afternoon gave us a better look at the imposing faces and time to stroll the presidential trail and take it all in.
Built between the years of 1927 and 1941, sculptor Gutzon Borglum and his 400 strong workforce brought to life the monolithic facial carvings of Presidents Jefferson, Roosevelt, Washington and Lincoln.
Whilst staying in Keystone we also ventured out to Custer State Park. Like storm chasers we were in search of the big boys. Those who have roamed these hills and plains for thousands of years. Tatanka, Bison, North American Buffalo, call them what you will, that’s who we were looking for.
The park has a heard of around 1300 so we figured that a photo op was pretty much on the cards. Stopping at the ranger station and were told that the herd were down a few dirt roads and just over that hill. They did say the best time to see them was early morning, well clearly we’d missed that, or in the early evening. By the time we got to where they had been sighted earlier they had moved way, way over the hill.and were pretty much just dots. Alas there was no up close and personal stuff this time, so we continued on our merry way taking in the sights of some of the other park residents.
The views throughout the park were breathtaking. The roads snaked around valleys and gorges, up pine clad mountains, past the geological marvels known as the “Needles” and followed babbling brooks and pretty lakes. Stopping for coffee breaks and lunch as well as sharing the two laned roads with an unending procession of slow moving bikers made for a long day.
With the light fading we decided to head back to tatanka territory once again. Maybe this time we’d get lucky. It was a good 50 min drive back to the park but once we got there we sure got our bison fix. The magnificent beasts were out and about and on the move. Some just sauntered along the roadside while the more frisky males bolted after the cow of their choice, not giving a second glance to anything that was in their way, including the cars. These guys owned the road, that was clear. We could hear them, smell them and if we’d reached out the window touched them as well. Following along with the herd until it was dark had to be one of the best moments of our trip so far.
Leaving the Black Hills area our route took us through Deadwood and then on through Sturgis where we really got to see what the Sturgis rally was all about.
There were bikers and bikes everywhere they had come from all over the USA as well as Canada and Europe. We sure were glad we were only passing through and not staying.
North Dakota was next on our list of states to visit. Again the roads were mostly dead straight, the countryside covered in wheat fields, the terrain as flat as a pancake. Surprisingly North Dakota is rich in oil. It’s the second largest provider of oil in the US after Texas. You learn something new everyday.
Intent on spotting more bison we headed even further north to Theodore Roosevelt National Park where we spent a day and a half driving the wildlife loop, yep we drove the loop twice. High up on the rim overlooking Painted Canyon and the park we gazed down over the inhospitable landscape searching for those little brown specs of animals. It was a cold drizzly day and as we drove the 36 mile loop the first time we should have realised that these critters were way smarter than us. They were all hunkered down somewhere warm out of the rain and also out of camera and eyesight range. Needless to say we returned to our abode at the Cowboy Inn, rather disappointed. We’d go out and give it another shot tomorrow. After another futile expedition into the park next morning we gave up on our quest and turned the Ford Explorer southwest towards Montana and Wyoming. Over the next few days we took in all the sights with the name “Bighorn “in it and the first cab off the rank was the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.
Now who hasn’t heard of General George Armstrong Custer and his last stand? Yep, we all have and for good reason…for once the Indians won! Rather than boring you with too much history, suffice to say Custer and his troops, carrying out orders to remove the Indians by force from their nomadic lifestyle to the Dakota Territorys reservation area, figured on an easy victory once they had established the location of the Indian camp. Custers’ reconnaissance teams led him to believe that all the warrior braves were away on a war party. He figured that he would only have to deal with the women and children in the camp…big mistake there George. Having split his regiment into three battalions, one group’s orders was to push the tribe from the camp into the waiting rifle sights of Custer’s regiment.
Forced to back-pedal big time, Custer and his men stood their ground on a small rise and attempted to shoot it out, but failed totally. Such was their panic on seeing the warrior braves emerging from the camp some of his soldiers actually sought shelter behind fallen horses, but obviously to no avail. So history now records the defeat and death of over 260 soldiers at the hands of several thousand Lakota and Cheyenne warriors on two hot days in June of 1876. Many of the Indians also perished.
Many of the monuments erected at Little Bighorn are inscribed with hundreds of names from both sides. They make for fascinating reading. Warriors named “Fine Weather”, “Young Rabbit”, “Big Ankles”, “Good Weasel”, “Yells at Daybreak” and “Don’t Paint his Face” are among those recorded as casualties.
Retribution for soldier deaths from the US Government was swift and uncompromising. Those who remained were either killed or relocated to reservations and within a short space of time this included pretty much the entire native American population.The era of freedom for those proud and noble people was well and truly over forever. At the battlefield there is an excellent visitors centre with short films and comprehensive talks from the rangers who certainly know their stuff. We came away with a good understanding and appreciation of the events that took place here all those years ago. For us Little Bighorn Battlefield was certainly worth the visit.
Following a night spent in the town of Sheridan we drove up and up, traversing the Bighorn Mountains. This is a major summer and winter playground with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. The road, which is not for the faint hearted, wends its way up steep conifer clad mountains to the tranquil wildflower meadows on the top. Hiking trails and numerous streams rippling with trout beckon the outward bounders at this time of year. We sure wished we’d had some fishing gear!
Leaving the dizzy heights of the Bighorns the road drops steeply and quickly to the Wyoming plains below. Numerous signs posted along the roadside to “check your brakes” attest to the steep grades on the decent and believe me they weren’t kidding. Last up on our Bighorn tour was the Bighorn Canyon Gorge which spans the Montana / Wyoming border. Somewhat of a mini Grand Canyon it was also a sight to see.The Devil Canyon Overlook gave us the best view and way in the distance we even caught a glimpse of a couple of Bighorn sheep for which the mountains and gorge are named after.
From the Canyon we headed to the town of Greybull where we spent two wonderful nights in the family run Greybull Motel. This is one motel we would highly recommend to anyone travelling this way. The room we stayed in was big, it had 2 bedrooms actually, both with his and hers flat screen TV’s and an outdoor BBQ and seating area. What else did we need for our two day chill-out session? Oh, did I mention the golf course just up the road ? Well that just put the icing on the cake. Relaxation and exercise. Aahh.
Keystone SD: The Roosevelt inn. Great location for visiting Mt Rushmore, Custer State Park and the Black Hills Area. Reasonable rates, variety of rooms, clean & comfortable, B’fast included in rate.
Lemmon SD: Lemmon Country Inn: Clean and comfortable, very cheap rate, b’fast included but recommend going else where to eat.
Belfield ND: Cowboy Inn: Clean and comfortable, good rates, no B’fast, but do have gas BBQ’S for guest use.
Foryseth MT: Rails Inn. Room was ok, noisy a/c, b’fast included in rate. Would go downtown to eat next time.
Sheridan MT: Day’s Inn. Poor presentation, though room was big and comfortable. B’fast included in rate.
Greybull WY: Greybull Motel: Excellent presentation, very comfortable rooms, b’fast included, gas BBQ for guest use. Small refrigerator & microwave in room.