Devils Tower a.k.a. Bear’s Lodge

I should be more familiar with the geography of South Dakota since I grew up in the far northwest corner of Iowa, but I rarely crossed the Missouri River except for a few plane trips to the west coast, Colorado, and Vegas. There are pictures of me visiting the Black Hills as a child but the only thing I can recall are sepia-tinted memories of Jellystone Park and catching guppies in a stream near our campsite. On this most recent visit I saw how close Sturgis and the Black Hills were to Wyoming, and during the planning stages of our trip it was decided that our last full day was to be spent exploring Devils Tower National Monument. I was excited because after a few days of heavy drinking amidst the leather clad throng it was time to get away from the high-octane exhaust and see a bit of God’s Country ©.

God's Country

God’s Country from the window of a country Cadillac.

We awoke and performed our morning ablutions then grabbed the dog, filled the cooler, and took to the road. About 500 yards from the campsite R realised that he had forgotten part of his chewing apparatus so i figured we would be turning back but he said to hell with it along with something else about eating soft foods for the rest of the day – real men don’t turn back. So there we were, four people and one dog, minus 1/10th of our teeth, barreling down the road in R’s souped up Chevy Denali pick-up to our first destination – Deadwood, SD for breakfast.

Deadwood was settled illegally in the 1870s by men seeking out gold in the Black Hills, which was then part of the Lakota indian territory and therefore off-limits to settlement by the white man. Originally it was just a mining camp but soon after it started to boom a few enterprising young men brought to the town the most important trappings of modern life at the time – gambling and prostitutes. It was during these years that Deadwood achieved its reputation of being a lawless town full of thieves and murderers and whores and interestingly enough it is the time we most enjoy hearing about. That says a lot about our collective interests, doesn’t it? Today, Deadwood’s population is around 1,270 people down from 5,000+ during its heydey and would be considered by today’s standards to be downright Rotarian. During the Sturgis Rally it serves as an overflow for bikers as well as a picturesque destination for a ride around the countryside; during the rest of the year it is a vacation destination for those seeking to explore the natural beauty of the Black Hills. Gambling is still allowed in Deadwood and the cafe that we ate at during our visit was also a casino but it was undergoing renovations so I was unable to pull the one-armed bandit while waiting for my breakfast burger. Sadly, the last prostitutes were run out of town during a raid in 1980 ending a proud Deadwood tradition that stretched for over a hundred years. I didn’t get a good enough photo to show here because during the early morning hours Deadwood sort of looks like the Western Town at your local Six Flags so here is one I found online to give you an idea of what it looks like when it is all lit up and glorious.

This is what Deadwood looks like on a busy night. Thank you South Dakota Travel for the pic.

This is what Deadwood looks like on a busy night. Thank you Enjoying South Dakota for the pic.

Once we finished our breakfast and walked the dog we girded our loins for the drive into Wyoming. R’s truck, formerly used as an escort vehicle for wide-loads, is outfitted to the nines with all manner of (GPS/CB-Radio/Laptop) equipment so sitting in the passenger seat is a very crowded affair, but the worst part of all is that this stuff serves to constantly distract the driver. R is a professional truck driver and has been for decades but if he’s not messing with the GPS or climate controls he is turning to look at us when he talks or petting the dog, who can’t seem to sit still nor can she realize that what she is doing is giving me and Blondie a collective heart attack. The relaxing drive I imagined where I could point the camera out the window was spent rather with one hand on the Oh-Shit handle and an eye on the road looking out for our forthcoming doom. The only person other than the dog who wasn’t worried about veering into oncoming traffic was K, who has ridden shotgun with R for thirty years and has either trust in his ability to avoid calamity or developed the greatest poker face known to man. Eventually the dog settled into her niche, we got the temperature just right, and the road straightened out so we could relax and look at the countryside. (NOTE – the drive back at the end of the day was a relaxed affair so I believe that my initial nervousness was from rarely riding long distances with R rather than him being a crazy man behind the wheel – I trust his skills completely)

Get your motor runnin', head out on the highway, lookin' for adventure.

Get your motor runnin’, head out on the highway, lookin’ for adventure…

The rugged landscape of the Black Hills slowly gives way to the high plains allowing for stunning vistas in all directions. One only has to squint and look away from the road to see what it must have looked like when the main mode of transportation was the horse or a long and lonely walk. It doesn’t take a genius to see why the original inhabitants of this land fought so hard to keep it.

There's something I like about this tree.

There’s something I like about this tree.

Once off the interstate the winding road leading to Devils Tower offered occasional glimpses of the monolith and my first impression was that it looked like something that belonged on Frankenstein’s neck. There are varying theories regarding its formation and I will spare you a long thesis on the subject because it would bore you as much as my discussion about red-beds bored my fellow travellers during the drive out. Let’s just say that it was possibly an underground tube of cooled magma that remained while the softer materials surrounding it eroded over the millennia.

There it is folks. Ain't she grand?

There it is folks. Ain’t she grand?

An excellent shot by Blondie.

An excellent shot by Blondie.

If one were to ask the native peoples what the name of the butte was they would probably call it Bear’s Lodge, Bear’s Tipi, Bear’s Lodge Butte, or any number of other things that most certainly are not Devils Tower. It was called that because an interpreter on an 1875 expedition to the area misinterpreted the local name for it and it stuck in the imagination of the American public; then when it was declared the first United States National Monument by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 it was all but permanent – what Teddy says most certainly goes. There have been many attempts to change the name back to it’s more meaningful moniker but locals say that the change would hurt tourist revenue. Personally I like the name Bear’s Lodge and I do not think that it would take away any of the majesty from the tower but once the legend is written it is hard to unwrite. The name of the tower isn’t the only source of smouldering anger. For years native peoples were trying to get the US government to halt climbing on the tower because to them it is a sacred place and every time someone pounds a bolt into the granite they are desecrating holy ground. Some compromise has been reached and the Park Service has asked that people voluntarily refrain from climbing the tower during the month of June when local tribes are performing rituals around the tower, but there are always the contrarians that say they have a right to climb it at any time because it is on federal land and that any prohibition would constitute a violation of the separation of church and state. One can see the logic in both arguments but during our visit to the park there were quite a few people scaling the walls so it isn’t weighing too heavily on the public’s mind.

Probably the millionth photo taken from this spot but who cares - it is awe inspiring.

Probably the millionth photo taken from this spot but who cares – it is awe inspiring.

There were quite a few people at the park during our visit and most of them rode over from Sturgis so the normal peaceful quiet was shattered by the sounds of loud exhausts, barking dogs, and even a fat guy who was blasting Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA at top volume while driving and eating Triscuits from the box – it was a sight that made my head turn like an inquisitive dog. Luckily for us many of these people are also very lazy so they take their pictures near the ranger station, get atop their motorcycles, and ride off to the Trading Post to buy their Close Encounters of the Third Kind trinkets. This leaves the trail around the tower virtually empty. Blondie, K, and I circumnavigated the tower like sneaker shod Magellans and once we got to the far side we were treated to beautiful views of the tower, the pine-dotted valley to the east, and a deer that didn’t give a shit.

If this deer had a dollar for every shit he didn't give he would be very rich. Thankfully deer operate in the barter system.

If this deer had a dollar for every shit it didn’t give it would be very rich. Thankfully deer operate in the barter system.

Somewhere in this picture are a few climbers.

Somewhere in this picture are a few climbers…I think.

Once we finished our circuit around the tower we met up with our chauffeur, who stayed behind with the dog, and made our way to the exit. Anyone who has ever visited Devils Tower will tell you that you haven’t completed your trek until you have taken pictures of the prairie dogs and their city near the entrance to the park. I am dead serious when I say that they live in a little city – there must have been at least a few thousand of the critters popping in and out of burrows and from what I could tell they had very little fear of man. Many signs were posted warning people not to feed the prairie dogs but from the shape of them I can guarantee that someone is providing them with a steady supply of junk food.

This guy didn't move the entire time we were there. I suspect a food coma is to blame.

This guy didn’t move the entire time we were there. I suspect a food coma is to blame.

Some of the neighbors.

Some of the neighbors.

Prairie dog town. Each little hump is home to a cute little varmint.

Nice neighborhood. Each little hump is home to a cute little varmint.

Our last stop before heading home was the Devils Tower Trading Post near the entrance to the park. There you could buy all manner of junk, take pictures of a few scruffy buffalo, get you last pics of the tower, and of course purchase ice cream, which was what we were there for – remember soft foods were the order of the day.

Those are our adventure faces.

Those are our adventure faces.

Pic by Blondie

Pic by Blondie.

Even the dumpsters have a good view.

Even the dumpsters have a good view. Cell pic.

Cell phone grab from the picnic area.

Cell phone grab from the picnic area.

Glamour pets.

Glamour pets. Pic by Blondie

The trip to Devils Tower was one we won’t soon forget and someday I would like to return and spend a lot more time hiking the land and getting to know the Black Hills area better. After packing all of the gear the next morning Blondie and I took the long way to the airport in Rapid City via Vanocker Canyon Road south of Sturgis. It was a beautiful drive that left a lasting impression on both of us due to a surprise appearance by one of the local residents. I could see that something brown was going to come bounding out of the ditch about fifty yards ahead of us so I slowed down expecting a deer to run across the road, but what we were treated to was a gigantic mountain lion at a full run right there in front of us. It was gone as quickly as it appeared and neither of us was able to speak for a few seconds until I screamed out YEAH, THAT WAS A F__KING MOUNTAIN LION! It was a great end to an adventure.

We are off to Iceland for another ten-day adventure tomorrow so check back in a few weeks for the whole story. If you want to follow along with our trip via social media you can find us on Instagram @THE_REAL_PMO and @blondie_enm and on Twitter @The_Real_PMO (see a pattern there?) We will use the tag #IcelandAfield2013 on both platforms.

The 73rd Annual Sturgis Rally

The turbulent descent into Rapid City, South Dakota on the night of August the 8th was only the beginning of our trip into the soul of American motorcycle culture. Prior to the trip I primed my imagination by reading Hell’s Angels and watching The Wild One, Easy Rider, and a number of documentaries about outlaw motorcycle culture. I was prepared to see scenes of decadence and depravation and the stormy landing and subsequent drive through the darkness to our campsite west of Sturgis was only adding to the ominous feeling I had about being in the midst of all of this chrome, leather, and alcohol. The only light on the drive was from hundreds of bikes going up and down I-90 as well as the occasional lightning flash that would illuminate the profiles of the tree-topped Black Hills. We met our contacts at the bottom of Exit 34 and followed them down a side road to our berth at Suzie’s Campground, a horse pasture turned campsite during the week of the rally. Our contacts, R & K, are long time Harley riders who are visiting Sturgis for the first time since the early nineties. They arrived the weekend before and were quite glad to see us – oh, and by the way, they are also my in-laws. After unloading our gear and having the first of many cold beers we settled into our loft space in the pull-behind camper and passed out after a long day of travel.

Sturgis, South Dakota - Main Street - 10am

Sturgis, South Dakota – Main Street – 10am

The next morning we awoke to the smell of fresh brewed coffee and the jingling of the tags hanging around the neck of R&K’s rat terrier, Bella. That morning’s ride into Sturgis was the first time I had been on the back of a motorcycle in over twenty years and by the time we parked it fifteen minutes later I was convinced that I must have one of my own. The wind and the noise and the thought that one mistake would spell the end of you makes for an excitement that I haven’t felt since my first days bombing hills on a skateboard – it’s the natural next step for a person who has an appetite for adventure and a love of the open endless road.

Main Street Sturgis is the beating heart of the rally. Bikes are parked in a double row down the center and a single row on each curb. People roam the two sides of Main looking at the circus rumbling in and out of narrow parking spots and occasionally duck into one of the numerous t-shirt shops to assess this year’s batch of shirts, leather, and lingerie. Besides drinking and riding it seemed that the most important task was to find that perfect shirt or vest patch that would show everyone in your hometown that you were indeed in Sturgis during the Holy Week and that you survived. I kept my eye out for the shirt that would suit my minimalist style but left town empty-handed. Perhaps my standards are too high.

I dig their style.

I dig their style.

I spent this first day walking around with the family making photos and exploring the scene. My steady diet of outlaw literature convinced me that I was going to witness some general badassery but after a few hours on the streets I was convinced otherwise. Everyone is so damn happy to be in Sturgis and they are ready to talk about what you ride and what they ride and where you’re from – it’s almost like a gigantic family reunion where even the weird cousins from down south show up and turn out to be stand up people who just happen to like walking around topless. We sat down at a picnic table in The Knuckle (a bar) and I struck up a conversation with a guy who rode up from Nebraska. He asked if we were first timers – it must be obvious – and then showed me a tattoo on his arm listing all of the years he attended the rally since 1988 – only missing it once in 2010 next to which was inked JAILED.

The Bouncer at the Dungeon Bar

The Bouncer at the Dungeon Bar

I was nervous about taking photos of people on the street so I decided to sacrifice some spontaneity and ask permission rather than risk getting four rings and a fist to the face. When I asked the bouncer at the Dungeon Bar if I could snap a quick picture he smiled and said go right ahead then as soon as I had the lens on him he gave me a gaze that he must use to scare the rebellion out of rowdy customers – I appreciated the gesture and was quite fond of his ability to pull off that hat.

This guy has got that Chino from The Wild One vibe down pat.

This guy has got that Chino from The Wild One vibe down pat.

Blondie and R after a cruise down Main Street. I like my family.

Blondie and R after a cruise down Main Street. I like my family.

At around 5pm the town settles a little bit while everyone grabs a bite to eat and prepares their livers for a long night. We had some steaks on the grill and a quick bone-chilling shower then returned to town where we occupied a rare empty table on the third-floor balcony of the Easyriders Saloon. The saloon is owned by Easyriders magazine, covers an entire city block, has four bars, three music venues and enough scantily dressed waitresses and bartenders to make a monk change his mind.

We had a superb view of Junction Ave and Lazelle Streets. Bikes and the cops who hate them were on display all night.

We had a superb view of Junction Ave and Lazelle Streets. Bikes and the cops who hate them were on display all night.

After we drank the third-floor bar out of Tanqueray we walked over to the Loud American Roadhouse to see what the bands were like.  The outdoor tent was featuring country acts so we have no idea what went on in there. Inside the main building a reasonably entertaining cover band called Dirty Word was finishing up their finale medley that started with Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines and ended with something by Led Zeppelin but I can’t read my notes so the actual song will remain a mystery. The next band, Judd Hoos, was just terrible but it started to rain hard outside so we had to stay to wait it out. At one point he sang a country version of 99 Problems – my status from Facebook that evening summed it up well – Imagine a cover band fronted by Geddy Lee singing Smells Like Teen Spirit then switching to a country version of 99 Problems. Once the weather let up we finished our drinks and made a beeline for the truck and spent the rest of the night listening to the rain.

A beautiful day for racing.

A beautiful day for racing.

Friday was the day of the Jackpine Gypsies Pro Hillclimb so R and I climbed on the bike and headed over while the ladies went for a drive into the country to see Spearfish Canyon.

A lovely view of Spearfish Canyon by Blondie. She's a natural.

A lovely view of Spearfish Canyon by Blondie. She’s a natural.

The Jackpine Gypsies MC started the rally way back in 1938 and still own the racetrack and hillclimb and by the looks of it they haven’t renovated it since then. The spectator area at the bottom of the hill consisted of a few rows of bleachers and some room for tents and lawn chairs – I was a little put off by this lack of seating at first until I realized that spectators are allowed to line the track all the way to the top and can sit anywhere there is room on the hillside.

Wide-angle view of the track. The start is in the lower left and the finish is the very top flag on the right.

Wide-angle view of the track. The start is in the lower left and the finish is the very top flag on the right.

When I was growing up in small town Iowa the city would host Go-Kart races that used the city streets as the track with little more than hay bales to keep the riders from hurtling into people’s yards. After awhile insurance got to be an issue so events like that all over the US began to fade away. The hillclimb at Sturgis must be one of the few remaining events where you have such close access to the track as well as the riders and their equipment. More than a few times while taking photos I had to turn away from a rooster tail of red clay and large stones, one of which struck me square between the shoulder blades. Even though it hurt a little I was totally jazzed to be so close.

For those of you who have never seen a hillclimb it is very simple – go like hell and make it over the top in the quickest time possible. Here are a few photos from the bottom up.

The Starting line - that flimsy plywood keeps the spray from hitting the crowd.

The Starting line – that flimsy plywood keeps the spray from hitting the crowd.

A nice bit of air.

A nice bit of air.

The easy part is over - a second later this guy lawn darted that bike into the steep part of the hill.

The easy part is over – a second later this guy lawn darted that bike into the steep part of the hill.

Almost to the top. Taken from the opposite side.

Almost to the top. Taken from the opposite side.

A second later this guy and the two fellas in yellow were all rolling down the hill together. It was like a dust cloud of violence from an old comic.

A second later this guy and the two fellas in yellow were all rolling down the hill together. It was like a dust cloud of violence from an old comic.

This is what the finish line looks like. No cheering throngs or women - just some dudes drinking beer on  a hilltop. Stellar view though.

This is what the finish line looks like. No cheering throngs or women with champagne – just some dudes drinking beer on a hilltop. Stellar view though.

I never did find out who won the damned thing because I could not hear the announcer from my position but it really didn’t matter. Each rider was insane to a certain degree and threw themselves and their machines up the mountain with an admirable zeal.

Our final night on the town was spent again at the Easyriders Saloon but this time in the main pavilion where we saw Great White, but not the original Great White – Apparently they broke up at some point in the last few years so this version was the one with the singer. I would say that Jack Russel (yes, that’s his name) was medicated to a certain degree based on his ramblings about love and loved ones but his singing voice sounded as it should. They played a lot of new songs that we had very little interest in so the night was spent drinking gin with weird tasting tonic until we were again saved by a fast moving rain storm – Also, they never played Once Bitten, Twice Shy, which was a total rip off!

The next few days we explored the Black Hills and Devil’s Tower, which I will save for another post, so the Great White show was the nostalgic exclamation point at the end of our Sturgis sentence. What I thought was going to be a quick look into the rowdy inner workings of motorcycle culture really turned into more of an introduction to and invitation into the family. Although there were fights and evil happenings throughout the rally it was predominantly a peaceful (though not quiet) gathering of a lot of very like minded individuals who are normally on the outside looking in. It was an experience we won’t soon forget.

Want to see more bikes and stuff? Well here you go.

Campsite rainbow.

Campsite rainbow.

Bad pic of a guy who is really into Jesus.

Bad pic of a guy who is really into Jesus.

I imagine a lot of people fall off the wagon so it's nice to see they have a place to go when the weakness comes.

I imagine a lot of people fall off the wagon so it’s nice to see they have a place to go when the weakness comes.

Blur

I like this picture for some reason.

Ghostly

Ghostly

I wish I could've seen this guy backing this in. That is an epic bike.

I wish I could’ve seen this guy backing this in. That is an epic bike.

This machine made the most unbelievable noise.

This machine made the most unbelievable noise.

This bike has an air-ride suspension so there is no kickstand needed - It was sold at the rally for $110,000.

This bike has an air-ride suspension so there is no kickstand needed – It was sold at the rally for $110,000.

Bad view of a classic ride.

Bad view of a classic ride.

NSFW

NSFW

That’s all for now. Keep it between the lines and check back soon for a post about Devil’s Tower and how we saw a mountain lion but we don’t have any proof.