Editor’s Note: Due to the lentgh of the ride and the length of the story, the Ride to Big Sky Country will be published in installments.
The day which was months in the planning finally arrived, and 22 riders and passengers assembled in the parking lot of Denny’s Restaurant in Auburn along with one couple who were taking their SUV. As the clock approached 8:00 a.m., the first group saddled up for the start of the most anticipated ride of the year. Due to the number of riders involved, the ride was divided into three groups, each with its own group leader. This was the ride to the 2008 Blue Knights West Coast Conference in Billings, Montana, a total of 14 days on a route which will take the riders through northern Utah, Wyoming, the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota, Montana and Idaho.
The first day was a full riding day, mostly on US 50, aka, the Loneliest Highway in America, which was relatively uneventful, except for a light sprinkle of rain between Austin and Eureka. The highlight of the day was lunch at the International Café in Austin. Our table was waiting when we arrived and the food was tasty. The day ended in Ely, Nevada.
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Day two was another full riding day, of approximately 411 miles across the Wasatch Mountains with lunch in Mount Pleasant, Utah, at the Lunch Café. Leaving Mount Pleasant, we headed north up US 89 to US 6 eastbound, which follows a canyon to our next turn onto US 191. Taking a rest break about a half mile before the US 191 turnoff, we took in the view of the canyon and the power plant below.
Group 2, led by Karl Hutchinson, rolled into the parking area soaking wet. Apparently, they rode into a cloudburst which we had narrowly avoided. The next leg of the route was up a 44 mile stretch of great motorcycle road with lots of twists and turns, ending in Duchesne, Utah, about 65 miles from Vernal, our day’s end.
On the third day, we headed a few miles outside of Vernal to visit the Dinosaur National Monument. To our dismay, the dinosaur bone quarry was closed as the building had been declared unsafe. A new building is to be erected with completion in 2011. A few of us decided to take the hiking trail to look for fossils.
Our next stop was Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, where we (Group 1, that is) barely skirted some rain clouds and managed to get some spectacular photos of the Gorge.
Group 2, rolled into the view area parking lot a few minutes later. Group 3, led by Bob Trout, was so busy looking at the gorge that they missed the turn for the view area and lost out on the photo op. We later caught up with group 3 in the little town of Manila, taking a break. After a super pizza buffet lunch at the Pizza Hut in Green River, Wyoming (thanks to Judy, the manager, and her staff), we jumped onto Interstate 80 for about 120 miles to Rawlins. While we were taking our rest break at the rest area about half way between Green River and Rawlins, we saw Group 3 go by us missing their break again.
Once we arrived in Rawlins we embarked on a great tour of the Wyoming Frontier Prison Museum. This was the infamous Wyoming State Prison from 1901 until 1981.
At 8:00 a.m. the next day, Group 1 was rolling again and headed east on I-80 for another 20 miles before going back to the two lane highways which were the heart of the ride. We took US 287 east across high desert for a number of miles taking a break in Medicine Bow. Medicine Bow was an interesting town, whose landmark building was a three story building which was a hotel and had apparently served the railroad in its heyday. The railway station was just across the highway.
By noon we arrived in the town of Ft. Laramie, just three miles from the Ft. Laramie National Historic Site. We had reservations for lunch at the Ft. Laramie American Grill, owned and operated by Alexander (Sandy) Jankewics and his wife Donna. The Ft. Laramie American Gill sits right on the intersection of US 26 and WY 160. The café may not look like much from the outside, but once you step into the door, you will enjoy both the All American ambiance and the great food. Sandy says to order your meal by the number on the menu. If you order it by name, you won’t get it!
After lunch, all three groups rode the three miles to the Ft. Laramie National Historic Site and spent a couple of hours touring the old historic fort which started out as a trading post in 1834. By 1849, the fort received its first contingent of US Army troops who were assigned to protect the wagon trains en route to California and Oregon. Later the fort played a major role in the wars with the American Indians.
Our day ended in Lusk, Wyoming, at the Towne House Motel, a quaint little inn which didn’t look like much from the outside; however the rooms were well appointed with the amenities of more expensive places. Most important for my roommate and me was that the shower worked and worked well, which wasn’t the case at the Days Inn in Rawlins the night before.
One ritual we look forward to during these rides is the evening social hour where we sit outside our rooms and break out the beer and cigars and recap the day’s events. By this day’s end, Karl Hutchinson had come up with names for our respective groups. Group 1 was known as the “Noisy Group” as we had mostly Harleys in the group. Karl thought his group (Group 2) should be called the “Quiet Group” as they rode mostly Hondas and BMWs. I suggested they be called the “Soggy Bottoms Group” since they managed to get wet three days in a row. Karl dubbed Group 3 the “Geriatric Group” since they were old LAPD guys and were usually late or their group leader forgot to stop at the break locations.
On day 5, we left Lusk at 0800 hours and headed north on US 85. We took a rest break after the first hour at a rest area at the intersection of US 85 and US 18. At least, Groups 1 and 2 took their rest break. Group 3 turned onto US 18 and kept going. We managed to hail the second half of the group who finally turned into the rest stop. Group 1 finished its break and headed east on Hwy 18 were we met Bob coming back to find the rest of his group. About an hour later, we were at Wind Cave National Park where Groups 2 and 3 joined us for the cave tours. There we learned that the members of Group 3 had given their group leader a new nickname. Bob was now known as “KGB”, which was short for “Keep Going Bob”.
Wind Cave National Park has various species of wildlife ranging from buffalo to wild donkeys. The most interesting attraction, however, is the miles of caves which feature unique boxwork formations. Tours are available, the most popular being the “Garden of Eden Tour” which is about an hour long and the “Natural Entrance Cave Tour” which is about an hour and a quarter long. Following our cave tour, we rode to Crazy Horse Monument, a massive work in progress financed entirely by private donations. It has been 6 years since the last time I visited the Monument and it was interesting to see how far the work had progressed since then. Crazy Horse Monument’s Visitor’s Center features an auditorium where films of the work are shown, a number of gift shops, a cafeteria and a large open deck area where there are shows by Native American performers with the Monument as a backdrop.
Leaving Crazy Horse Monument, we made our way through Custer State Park and rode Iron Mountain Road, the one road that is a must do for any motorcycle rider who comes to the Black Hills. The road has innumerable twists and turns, including three 360 degree spirals, tunnels and bridges all the way to Keystone. During the ride down to Keystone, my CB radio began to crackle about an impending storm coming our way. Later I learned it was Jim Hutton who was getting a storm warning over his XM Satellite Radio. I told Jim to just “think happy thoughts” in the hope of staying ahead of the storm as I had done the previous times on the trip. Unfortunately, my luck had run out this time and we had to stop as we entered the Rushmore Memorial Highway to don our rain gear. By the time we got moving again, the rain and hail was coming down in torrents and continued for the next 12 to 13 miles until we were about three miles from our destination, the Best Western Town & Country Motel. By the time we reached the motel, most of us were soaking wet right down to our socks, and with more rain approaching, our evening ride to the Mount Rushmore lighting ceremony had to be postponed until the following day. Next time: The Badlands, Deadwood and Devil’s Tower. Check back next week for part two of our saga.