Rapid City weather on day 6 was bright and sunny and our riders saddled up for a day trip to the Badlands, Wall Drug and Sturgis. Gary Smith, our Canadian member of CA-1 joined us for the ride and would be with us until the convention at Billings. Group 1 pulled out on time, as usual, and headed out Highway 44 to the town of Interior and the south entrance to the Badlands, nearly 80 miles away. Group 2 was to follow about 10 minutes behind us and Group 3 wanted to ride Iron Mountain Road, since they had to detour through Hill City to avoid the storm the previous day. We arrived at the Ben Reifel Visitors Center and took in the movie and exhibits.
Well, we waited at the visitor center for about 45 minutes and Group 2 never showed up.
We decided to take the Loop Road for our Badlands scenic tour on an individual basis, meeting at th NW gate in about 1-1/4 hours. About 15 minutes after most of Group 1 arrived at the gate, here came Group 2. It seems that Karl took a wrong turn and ended up on the Ogala Souix Reservation up in the Black Hills adding about 60 miles to the trip.
We picked up Lu, our tail gunner, coming out the gate and headed for Wall Drug for lunch a few minutes behind Group 2. Wall Drug is a South Dakota landmark and is a must see for anyone in the area.
The store encompasses an entire city block and is replete with gift shops, a cafeteria, and museums. }Following our stop at Wall Drug, we made a short jaunt to Sturgis, also known as bikers’ Mecca. After a little shopping an photo ops at Sturgis Harley Davidson and a walkabout in downtown Sturgis, we regrouped at the Best Western for our visit to the Mount Rushmore Memorial for the evening lighting ceremony. The park rangers put on a patriotic show, to include an assembly of all the military veterans who were present in the audience.
The next day, it was on to Deadwoodwhere we toured various establishments on the main street, including the Midnight Star Casino, were you can find a display of all the costumes worn by Kevin Costner in his movies (the casino is owned by Costner’s brother), old Saloon No.10 , where Wild Bill Hickok was shot in the back by Jack McCall, and the historic Franklin Hotel. Deadwood was celebrating its Days of ’76 with a parade that morning and folks were lining up along the street. Unfortunately, they had a late start and we had to leave before the parade began.
Next on the itinerary was a ride through scenic Spearfish canyon. If you are ever on a ride to the Black Hills, be sure to take this 30 mile ride through the canyon between Hill City and the town of Spearfish. It is well worth the time.
Our next stop, after refueling in Sundance, WY, was Devil’s Tower. This is a natural monolith that rises a dramatic 1267 feet above the Belle Fourche River in northeastern Wyoming. It was made famous in 1977 when it became the centerpiece of Steven Spielberg’s film, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and is the first site to be declared a national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. While at Devil’s Tower, the group enjoyed a great lunch at the KOA Café near the base of the tower. This was the only time during the trip that we were able to get a group photo of everyone who was on the ride.
We ended the day a little early in Hulett, Wyoming, at the Best Western. The Devil’s Tower Best Western is a 40 unit log style hotel which just a little over a year old with amenities like a heated pool and hot tub and a fitness center. The staff was very gracious and allowed us use their breakfast room for our evening hospitality hour.
Dinner was at the Ponderosa Café, where we feasted on arguably one best meals of the trip. When asked why the food was so good, we were told that the chef, in a previous life, taught at a culinary academy in New York City and one day decided he wanted to cook for a little café in a small town. Luckily for us, he chose Hulett, Wyoming.
Day 8 was a full ride day with an early arrival in Billings. Just outside Broadus, Montana, on US 212, we encountered about 9 miles of road construction. A sign at the entrance to the construction zone warned motorcyclists to take an alternate route, Hwy 59, which would take us north to Miles City. Groups 1 & 2 chose to continue on US 212 which we found that the road wasn’t as bad as the warning would lead us to believe. Group 3, however, decided to heed the advisory and took the alternate route which we later discovered when their group leader, Bob Trout, contacted us via cell phone. It seemed that three of the riders had just changed their air cleaners prior to leaving on the trip and didn’t want to deal with a dusty construction zone.
After lunch in Hardin, we said farewell to the two non Blue Knight members of Group 1, Jim Hutton and John Gunter, who left us to go tour Little Bighorn Battlefield a few miles a way. They would be leaving for home the next morning and didn’t want to leave without touring the historic site. Three members of Group 3, Harold Graves, Stu Fisher and Bob Casselberry, would be departing from also to continue their ride to other points west.
Groups 1 and 2 continued on to Billings arriving at the Holiday Inn Grand-Montana Hotel, site of the 2008 West Coast Conference where we located Group 3. Arriving in early afternoon, everyone was ready for a quick check-in, a shower and maybe even a swim in the pool, followed by some libations in the hospitality room. Not so fast Red Rider. There was a major snafu going on at the hotel registration desk. None of our rooms were ready. It seems that nearly all the housekeeping staff failed to show up for work coupled by a computer problem in the hotel’s registration system that wouldn’t allow the desk clerks to access rooms which had been reserved for another convention arriving in two days. The result: a long line of angry travelers who couldn’t get their rooms. To make a long story short, I didn’t get a room until after 7:00 p.m., 4 ½ hours after I arrived, and there was still a long line behind me. Oh yeah, I nearly forgot, the hotel management picked this time to resurface their parking lot forcing everyone to park in front of the hotel. I almost had to pack a lunch for the trek to my room somewhere on the opposite side of the hotel. Attempting to negotiate the maze of hallways, I was sure I passed the same intersection twice before. There seemed to be little or no rhyme or reason to the room numbering system. The building diagram I was given when I registered left me even more confused. Maybe I’ve become too dependent on my new GPS which I left in the bike. I began to feel like Charlie on the MTA in the Kingston Trio song. As I searched for my room, I remember thinking of the lyrics, “. . . he never returned and his fate is still unlearned . . . Strike this Holiday Inn off my favorite places to stay.
More on the WCC Convention in Part 3.