August 6 – Crazy Horse Memorial, Needles Highway, and Iron Mountain Road
What a day THIS was!
Jen, Tony, Paula and I did not become famous (or infamous) for rising early in Sturgis. It didn’t seem to matter what had transpired the night before – regardless of whether the night was late or early, the morning departure on the bikes was always a late one.
Today’s ride took us down a road we hadn’t previously ridden, through Vanocker Canyon. The plan had been to ride that road down to SD 44, take 44 west to US 385 which would take us to Hill City, and then find the Needles Highway / Wildlife Loop Road / Iron Mountain Road loop. It didn’t exactly happen that way. About halfway down the Vanocker Canyon road is an intersection that I didn’t recognize (I was in charge of the map), and consequently we turned right instead of left – which took us back north, instead of continuing south. Goof Number One.
We found US 385 all right (seeing as how it was the next major road we encountered) and turned left to go south again, but we were 20 miles or so north of where I thought we were, so I got totally confused. I knew we were on the right road, but Hill City never seemed to show up! It did, of course – eventually – but then I committed Goof Number Two. I misread the map again, and thought that Needles Highway intersected US 385 *IN* Hill City. When I didn’t find the turnoff, we decided to go to the Crazy Horse Memorial instead, because we saw a sign for it. Lo and behold, down the road a couple of miles THERE was the turnoff for Needles Highway! Well, since we were already primed for Crazy Horse, we decided to go there anyway, and then catch Needles Highway (etc.) afterward.
Although we didn’t go, due to time limitations (and the cost), it’s possible to actually take a bus out to the mountain itself and walk on what will be Crazy Horse’s arm. This photo will give you an idea of the scale of the project:
This shot shows a scale model of the finished monument. You can see how much there is left to do – and the work has been underway since 1948! They’re not taking any government money, so it’s all funded by donations.
Here’s a rendering of the finished memorial superimposed on the current mountain.
There’s a lot to see at the Crazy Horse Memorial, even though the total project is immensely larger than what currently exists. In the process of playing tourist, the four of us all got separated from each other, so when I finished wandering around without finding anyone, I headed back to the bikes to wait for the others. I found Jen already there, but neither Tony nor Paula had arrived, so I was happy I wasn’t the last one.
We finally regrouped and left the Memorial about 4:30, heading back to the Needles Highway turnoff. Jen was in the lead at this point, and *she* made the next goof – when SD 87 (the Needles Highway) made a left, she stayed straight and we wandered off onto SD 89. It turned out to be a serendipitous goof, though, because we found *buffalo*!
Since this road was relatively untraveled by motorcycles while we were on it, I think most people there missed this. But we eventually turned back, found the Needles Highway, and proceeded on our way – along with about half the country’s bikers, I think. A bunch of us ended up waiting, behind a car (whose occupants were, I’m sure, VERY sorry they had come to the area during the Rally!), for the one-lane tunnel to clear from the other direction. That wasn’t going to happen any time soon, because the line on the other side, while it didn’t have any cars in it, was building on the back end faster than it was filing through the tunnel on the front end! Someone (I think) eventually stopped the oncoming traffic and some of us managed to get through the tunnel.
Here’s the actual Needle’s Eye rock formation. This is at the highest point on the Highway.
Once we got past this attraction / obstacle, things smoothed out somewhat. Nobody could pass anyone else because of the road’s design, so we all just tooled along and enjoyed the scenery. Because of the late hour (late start; Goofs One, Two and Three; Crazy Horse Memorial visit) we had to skip the Wildlife Loop Road around the southern half of Custer State Park, but we did ride the Iron Mountain Road. The commemorative patch reads “17 Miles – 314 Curves – 14 Switchbacks – 3 Pigtails – 3 Tunnels – 4 Presidents – 2 Splits”. The “Presidents,” of course, are those on Mt. Rushmore; the pigtails are 270-degree-minimum turns where the road curls around on itself; and the splits are sections of the road where each direction is physically split from the other into a single-lane road. It’s an AWESOME ride! At least one of the tunnels is oriented such that Mt. Rushmore appears directly in front of you as you exit it. (I didn’t get a shot of that.)
We finished the Iron Mountain Road as the sun was setting and then started our way back north to Sturgis. We had to stop for refreshment at one point (although I don’t remember exactly where, now), and then rode home. As we rode, and it got darker, it also got *colder*! Eventually we found a place to feed the bikes, and we all dug out our rain gear and whatever else we could find to put on to keep us warm. Jen even bought a pair of jammie bottoms to put under her jeans!
We finally got “home” around … 10? 11? Late, anyway … and climbed into our bunks to thaw out and get ready for another adventure the next day.