This article appeared in the November 2000 issue of American Motorcyclist.
By Kim Barlag
After spending the night in Sturgis, S.D., I decide to hop on my Kawasaki and head southwest on twisty U.S. Alternate 14, which leads from Sturgis to the town of Deadwood.
This is an Old West town, the place where Wild Bill Hickock was gunned down by a fame-seeking drunk. But it’s also Sturgis West during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which is an AMA National Gypsy Tour and happens Aug. 2-11 this year.
In fact, its Main Street now rivals the one in Sturgis each night.
Leaving Deadwood, I continue west until I reach U.S. Route 385, where I face a decision. Do I continue on 14, which turns into the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, or turn south on 385, better known as the Black Hills Parkway.
I choose option B, and quickly find myself on a long, lazy two-lane road bordered by ancient trees and even-more-ancient hillsides. In fact, nothing but the road surface itself appears to have changed since riders passed through here in the first Black Hills Motor Classic back in 1939.
Spotting a number of bikes in the pull-off for the Black Hills National Forest Visitor Center, I find a parking place and am rewarded with a view of Pactola Lake glistening in the sun.
Continuing south on 385, it strikes me that this trip, full of great back roads and rugged scenery, is quickly turning into one of my favorite days on a motorcycle. Mother Nature clearly did some of her finest work out here, and there were only two things that kept it from perfection: excessive heat and an overabundance of bugs. But really, that’s a small price to pay for riding this good.
Little did I know that this was just the beginning.
Continuing south on 385 I came to the site of the Crazy Horse Memorial. Work began on this massive undertaking in 1948, when Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear convinced sculptor Korzak Ziolkowski to take on the project of creating a monument to native Americans that would rival nearby Mount Rushmore, which had been completed in 1941.
“My fellow chiefs and I,” Standing Bear said, “would like the white man to know the red man has heroes too.”
Ziolkowski died in 1982 after 34 years of labor on the monument, but his wife and three children continued his work. When completed, this icon won’t just rival Mount Rushmore, it will greatly exceed it. The image of Crazy Horse will stand 563 feet high and 641 feet long, dwarfing the 60-foot busts on Rushmore’s summit.
However, that completion date is clearly still a long way off. From a visitors center at the Crazy Horse Memorial, you can see the work being done. Work on the Indian leader’s face is nearing completion, but that’s just the start of a project that will eventually depict him and his horse springing out of the mountain. Still, a glimpse of that monument-in-the-making, plus a visit to the Indian Museum of North America, a sculpture museum and mountain carving displays make this a very worthwhile stop.
From there, it’s 17 miles on state Route 244 to Rushmore. As I approach it, the scenery changes dramatically. Rocky cliffs jut out from the hillside, and a mountain goat, posing on the edge, creates an instant traffic jam. I stop and look with everyone else, then continued into the park.
Having seen what one family is trying to do at the Crazy Horse Memorial, the contrast here is striking. Between 1927 and 1941, some 400 workers under the direction of Gutzon Borglum sculpted the massive countenances of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, creating one of the most distinctive images of America.
Even though Mount Rushmore was more remote then than it is today, it quickly became a major tourist attraction.
If I want to stay after sunset, I can find a seat in an open-air amphitheater for a film about the monument, followed by dramatic lighting on the monument, accompa-nied by patriotic music. But I have other roads to ride.
In fact, it was between the two monuments that I find the highlight of the ride: state Route 87, Needles Highway.
As you head southeast on this narrow two-lane, you’ll find yourself constantly climbing, descending or turning. In between, there are tunnels blasted through solid rock for your entertainment.
You can’t stop yourself from riding a road like this, yet you’d like to pause around every curve to enjoy the new view. It’s the kind of dilemma motorcyclists dream about.
Better yet, Needles Highway has a destination to match:Custer State Park. This large preserve is home to the Wildlife Loop Road that delivers on its name.
Around one curve, I encounter a pack of wild mules along the road. One seemed to be sleeping standing up, right in the middle of the pavement. I tried not to disturb it as I roll by.
The main attractions, though, are the park’s buffalo. A ranger told me where I might find some, and sure enough, I came across an entire herd feeding in the grass a short distance off the road. A mile later, I roll by just feet from another herd. I never thought I’d find myself riding so close to such large, powerful animals.
With the sun headed west, it’s time for me to turn north for the run back into Sturgis. I chose the direct route, on a multilane divided highway. It still provided lots of scenic views, along with plenty of two-wheeled company.
After a day spent in rugged back country, Sturgis seemed like a big city. Amidst all the sights and sounds, though, I find my mind wandering. I just can’t wait for morning, so I can start my curve-counting all over again.