Sturgis 2009, Day Five: The Heads, the Indian and the Twisties

by on August 15, 2009
in Sturgis 2009

We could hear the traffic heading to Devil’s Tower along highway 34 right outside our motel door from the moment we woke up on Wednesday morning. We commenced with smugly superior hand-wringing a la Snidely Whiplash, knowing we had beat that system and were instead headed to Mount Rushmore and some amazingly challenging roads – Iron Mountain Road and the Needles Highway.

We’d taken this ride in 2006 and riding those two roads was a real highlight of the trip. Other roads connect the two highways and form the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, a route that showcases the beauty of the bluffs, hills and rockfaces of the region. (The route is named for former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck, who planned, surveyed and laid it all out back in the early part of the 20th century. Norbeck was also instrumental in launching the carving of Mt. Rushmore and in establishing Custer State Park.)

In 2006 we had taken a detour through Custer State Park called the “wildlife loop,” but not having seen much in the way of wildlife I had decided to skip it this year and just connect the two highways with the road that runs along the north end of the park. The group for this ride only included Steve, Garry, Kristin and I – Chuck would soon be returning from his early morning ride, and his plan was to go with Shirley and Nancy down to Deadwood for a day of stimulating the local economy via the many casinos.

We left Belle Fourche and traveled a few miles south to pick up I-90, traveled east to the Deadwood exit, and shot through Deadwood (thankfully by-passing the main street, which was an impassable clot of traffic and people), coming out the other side on Highway 385 South. A short time later we stopped for a break at Pactola Reservoir, then passed through Hill City, and just past that we picked up Highway 244 East to Mt. Rushmore. These are all very scenic roads in their own right and because so much of the day’s traffic was diverted to Devil’s Tower we were able to enjoy the surroundings more thoroughly than on our last trip.

Sad to say that the “awe” factor of visiting Rushmore wasn’t as strong this time around – it is still a beautiful memorial, but the downside of taking the same vacation you took three years ago is that the novelty of the attractions can wear off. Still, it was a lovely stop. While here, we discussed a change in our itinerary for the day. Garry and Steve were very interested to see the Crazy Horse Monument – a rock carving similar to Rushmore that is still under construction a few miles away after several decades of work, honoring Lakota Sioux Chief Crazy Horse. After consulting our handy-dandy map of the Black Hills, I determined that the most logical way to add this to our itinerary was to eliminate the Needles Highway from the day’s ride. Since it was so similar to Iron Mountain Road, I wasn’t overly disappointed to make this change, and the group was amenable.

We left Rushmore and topped off our gas in Keystone, then headed south again along U.S. 16A – the Iron Mountain Road. As I noted in my 2006 report on this ride, IMR on the map looks like a thrill-ride of twists, turns, tunnels and switchbacks. And it is that, except you also have the “topography factor” at work – you can be going around a hairpin curve on an incline, and when you come around the curve itself you’re suddenly going downhill, approaching a one-lane tunnel on a blind curve.  For me, this road is sheer delight – my bike is among the most nimble in the HD line, and it’s quite simply joy to set your line for a curve, ride it through, then right yourself and immediately set for the next curve. Managing your speed, lean, and counter-steer flawlessly makes you understand what it means to be “one with the machine” – at this point you are not just riding the bike, you are part of it. The ABATE of South Dakota Foundation publishes a map ranking Black Hills Roads according to level of difficulty, and IMR and Needles Highway are two out of only three on the map that are marked as the most difficult. I’m proud to say I’ve ridden both with no problems.

(The photo above, by the way, is from and shows the “pigtail bridges” that lead into the three tunnels along IMR.)

Along the twists and turns of IMR we took a few minutes to stop at an overlook area, and also rode past the folks from, who were snapping photos of individual bikes as they came around one of the curves. (Here’s the page that links to the pictures of the folks in our little group – look for the pink helmet, and see if you can find me!)

16A takes a right turn at the end of IMR, and we soon found ourselves at the entrance to Custer State Park. They wanted to collect another $10 per bike to enter the park, but I chatted with the Ranger who approached us and explained that we only wanted to get across to 385 so we could go visit Crazy Horse. He was a good-humored (and rather good-looking) young man named Mark, and told us to go on through without paying, but instructed us not to stop along the way, use any of the Park facilities, or take the Needles Highway. I gladly led the group across the north end of Custer State Park following his instructions, not sure whether I had actually sweet-talked him or whether they routinely make this exception for those not using the wildlife loop. At any rate, we soon found the Crazy Horse Monument along US 385, and pulled in to explore.

Because so little of the actual monument is finished at this point, the Visitor’s Center offers the most in terms of education and appreciation for the work to be completed. There are numerous actual photographs of chiefs from the various Sioux clans, a scale model of the planned monument, and an extensive exhibit of Sioux historical and cultural artifacts. What you get by visiting this monument (and other similar landmarks in the Black Hills region) is a sense that the romantic stories of the “American West” really should be off-set by a more thorough understanding of just how violent and unjust the taking of this land was. I don’t pretend to be educated on that topic, but suffice to say that a visit to the Crazy Horse monument leaves one impressed, but vaguely uneasy.

The last leg of the day’s trip took us back up 385 to the north, again through Deadwood, and back up to Belle Fourche via I-90 and 85. Had I known what the next day would bring, I would’ve taken this opportunity to lead the group through Spearfish Canyon instead.

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2 Responses to “Sturgis 2009, Day Five: The Heads, the Indian and the Twisties”
  1. B.B. says:

    I’ve been enjoying your Sturgis posts. Thanks so much for sharing, it’s almost as good as being there, well….okay, not really, but they have been great! The pics are awesome!

  2. Janet says:

    Hey thank you, sure appreciate you taking time to read all this stuff!

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