Big Bike Solo in the Black Hills

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Cannonshot, May 18, 2009.

  1. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Headed up toward Belle Fourche (pronounced "Belle Foosh") to take a look around.

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    Stopped in St. Onge, a worn out shell of a town that is one of the very oldest communities in the region. Some dates carved on beams in the buildings go back to the 1830s. The town was founded by French fur traders. There are some vacant stone buildings on the main street.
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    This 1890s house is for sale for around $38K. 4 lots, a garage, a well, city water and mobile home hook-ups. May say something about the potential of the community.
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    A little further up the road is the site of the former town of Minnesela.
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    About the time of the 1876 gold rush, this is one of the first cabins in the area. Over the next five years other homesteaders moved into the area and in 1882 a town was staked out.
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    In no time this town became pretty prosperous with a flour mill, bank, hotel, church, school, several stores, and two newspapers. This was essentially the only town on the prairies north of the Hills at the time.

    Seth Bullock, a Canadian who once was the Sheriff of Deadwood (and later became the first Superintendent of the Black Hills Reserve) had a ranch a few miles away at the meeting some branches of the Belle Fourche river.

    Like so many towns in the area, Minnesela's future depended on getting the railroad to come through. In 1890 one railroad began laying tracks north. Minnesela residents were elated and in their greed decided to expand the size of the town to try to make money thinking the railroad would pay well for yard and depot sites in the town.

    At a meeting with railroad officials, Minnesela residents learned that the RR expected the town to donate the land. Sometime during the negotiations a RR representative must have let it slip that they were looking at an unclaimed 80 acre tract nearby to set up their operations for free. One of the people there slipped out of the meeting and raced to the land office in Rapid City to make a claim. Immediately after the meeting the RR guy figured out what was going on and commandeered an engine and chugged down to Rapid to try to get there first. When he arrived he met the horse rider who already claimed the land coming out of the land office. The RR offered $500 for it but the rider said the price was $5,000 (which later went to $10,000).

    So, the railroad said screw the whole thing, by-passed Minnesela, and set up in present day Belle Fourche on land donated by Bullock.

    Thus began the exodus from Minnesela. Some buildings were sold. Free lots in Belle Fourche were given to any business moving from Minnesela. After a suspicious fire burned a bunch of stuff in Belle Fourche, what remained of Minnesela was relocated to BF.

    A typical story of a small town that initially flourished and then died of greed after only 12 short years.
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    #41
  2. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Bell Fourche (French for "beautiful fork") is a town of about 4,500. The location was named when the French still owned the area. BF was a fur trading spot up until the mid 1880s. With the 1876 gold rush, a bunch of farmers moved in growing stuff needed by the miners and their animals. At the same time the Texas and Kansas cattle herds worked the ranges around the area. The town became a shipping point for cattle and by 1895 they were shipping about 2500 carloads of cattle a month.

    This mural painted by school kids tells a lot about the area.
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    Wool production is big in the area.
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    In 1897, Kid Currey of the Butch Cassidy - Sundance Hole in the Wall Gang botched a $97 bank robbery in town at the site of the present Norwest Bank. When the robbers came out of the bank, the towns people were on them. They captured one and Kid Currey and some others got away. Later, the posse caught up with the robbers and shot Currey in the wrist and captured him. Currey was kept in the Deadwood jail until he and some others overpowered a guard, escaped, and continued his life of crime. Kid Currey was the wildest of "The Wild Bunch". He killed nine cops in five shootouts. The Hole in the Wall hideout is further west.

    Today wool, cattle, and bentonite (absorbant weathered volcanic ash) are the big industries in the area. The wool shipping warehouses are the largest in the US.
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    BF is the geographic center of the nation. It used to be in Kansas, but the large land mass of Alaska moved it to SD. When we got Hawaii, it didn't shift it much. BF claims it (within a 10 mile radius).
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    Turns out I could have used this later on. :lol3
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    #42
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  3. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Still skirting the north end of the Hills. Some nice riding on gravel roads.
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    Per my usual routine, I would post a CannonCard at places where I stopped for gas or to get something to eat. It is fun to get a PM from someone that finds one of these.
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    Right next to the interstate is the Vore Buffalo Jump.
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    More poison ivy and rattlesnakes . . .
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    It is pretty neat to look around at the surrounding terrain and imagine the Indians stampeding buffalo (or bison maybe) into this hole. Just routine business for them I guess.
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    Once they had the mobility that horses provided, other efficient means of harvesting buffalo were available to them.

    This is the excavation hole that students are using. Looks like one side of the pit was graded away with the construction of the interstate (when they first found this thing).
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    This is what the excavation looks like. Lots of layers of bones.
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    #43
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  4. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    There is another portion of the Black Hills National Forest that is northwest of the main portion and is sometimes overlooked.

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    We start in this area by visiting Sundance, WY. There is a WY visitor information center at the wayside there if you need maps, etc. There is also a marker where the 1874 Custer Expedition came through.
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    A sun dance is a very important native ritual practiced by some of the plains tribes. Some tribes discouraged the practice likening it to some kind of quackery. Sundance is named after this ritual.

    The Sundance jail.
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    Note it was used until 1964.
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    The Sundance Kid also takes his name from Sundance. His Hole in the Wall Gang hid out nearby. He got his start in crime here when he did some time for stealing a horse in the 1880s. After that he hooked up with Butch Cassidy and The Wild Bunch.
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    There is a County Museum in the basement of the Courthouse.
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    #44
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  5. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    There is a six mile paved and curvy road climbing up into the Bearlodge Mountains to get to Warren Peak.
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    #45
  6. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    On the next peak over from the tower is the site of the old Sundance Air Force Station. This was one of 143 radar installations that were put in across the northern US to watch for Soviet bombers coming over the pole. They could direct fighters (like that Delta Dart I was sitting in) from nearby bases to engage the bombers and destroy them.
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    The unique thing about this station is that they had their own nuclear reactor to power it. Electricity was not otherwise available up here. To put this in perspective, the Navy had a reactor at McMurdo in Antarctica, the Army had one in Greenland, and the Air Force had one in the Black Hills.
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    The reactor was a "portable" medium power job that cost about $3.5M. It was powered by about 20 lbs of U-235 which would run it for about two years at a time. The 20 lbs of U-235 was equivalent to about 4.5 million barrels of oil. The actual core of the reactor was about the size of a 55 gallon drum. When operating, the surrounding water glowed purple.
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    Apparently there were "contests" between the services to see who could keep their reactor running for the longest period of time without shutting down. Because of this, the local crew did some repairs with the reactor running that probably wouldn't fly today. When one steam line leaked, they welded the end of a pipe around the hole and then installed a valve on the other end of the pipe closing it to "stop" the leak.

    Safety really was a big concern and every month the AF collected soil samples from 37 sites in a 50 mile radius of the installation. Obviously they had a crew that monitored workers and worker protection.

    They also had some back up diesel generators in case they had to shut down the reactor. These were big and old (from the 1930s) and had a 14" bore and 36" stroke. Sounds like some railroad engine stuff to me.

    I rode over there to see if anything was still glowing. :lol3
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    Not much there now except some FAA navaid stuff.
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    Remarkably they had an open house for the locals. Despite a snowstorm, 1,000 people trekked to the site to see the radars and the reactor. Visitors were given a certificate that had a drawing of a radar atop a snow covered mountain with a nuclear halo. The certificate read: "Be it known that ____, having braved the dangers of winding mountain roads, wandering deer and porcupine, has been admitted to the mysterious interior of the PM-1 Nuclear Power Plant, having therein been exposed to neurotic neutrons, galloping gamma rays, and scrutinous shift supervisors; has been given a glimpse of the nasty tank and has been bathed in blue light from the reactor core and shall henceforth and always belong to the Order of the Nervous Neutron."

    Never would even come close to happening today.
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    I had a nice gravel route planned to Devil's Tower, but I found that between snow and stuck vehicles that wasn't going to happen. I rode back down the mountain on pavement and took a scenic paved highway instead.
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    #46
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  7. Powershouse

    Powershouse Flower Sniffer Supporter

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    Planning a trip out that way in July, so this is very timely!
    #47
  8. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    If you are planning to take the missile tour, better call NOW for reservations. :D
    #48
  9. GallopinTICO

    GallopinTICO Been here awhile

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    WOW:ear more please
    #49
  10. judjonzz

    judjonzz Beastly

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    That bentonite is sticky stuff. they use it to patch the bottoms of swimming pools with the water still in them. If you ride through it, hose off your bike before that first beer.
    #50
  11. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Devils Tower is another sacred site for many American Indians. It rises 1267 feet above the nearby Belle Fourche River. I looks like a giant stump that is 865' high and has a 1000' diameter base.
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    The site became the first National Monument thanks to Teddy Roosevelt. A Presidential Declaration can create a National Monument whereas it takes an act of Congress to create a National Park. This was also the place where men and aliens first met in the Spielberg movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind".
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    This is a climbing mecca. It was first climbed with wooden pegs jammed into rock crevices to use as a ladder. Since the 1930s technical climbing has been in place. In October 1941 a parachutist (barely) landed on top of this thing to win a $50 bet. He couldn't climb down so they air dropped food and blankets until he could be rescued six days later.
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    This is the way this thing was formed:

    Some young Indian girls were playing in the forest when a nasty bear came after them. They ran away and climbed up on a small rock. As the bear approached, the girls pleaded for the rock to save them. The rock obliged by extending further and further into the sky. The bear clawed at the rock making the markings that are still visible today. The girls are still up there, now as stars in the constellation that make up the Big Dipper.

    Another version says that the girls were carried away to safety from the top of this thing by an eagle. Between you and I, it seems like the eagle story might be stretching things a bit. I have never seen an eagle that could fly away carrying a young girl. :rolleyes
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    Or it could be that this was formed by magma forced up through some rock or into a volcano that never erupted. When the magma cooled it neatly split into columns. Evenutally the surrounding soil and rock eroded away exposing this thing that does not fit the definition of a loccolith like Bear Butte is. (Whew! I almost said "lava" which would have brought on a dressing down from some geologist who would have pointed out that it only becomes lava when it makes it to the surface. :lol3 )

    Stopped by to look at some Prairie Dogs. These are essentially ground squirrels of a sort. They mow down the grass all around their burrows which improves their defensive visibility. These towns also draw rattlers that slither into the burrows and eat pups. The holes in the prairie can cause problems for cattle (stepping into holes). The dogs also remove grass that the cattle might otherwise graze on. These dogs are more tame than the wild prairie dog towns I went through in Wyoming. One colony even had a hole right in the middle of a gravel road. Sometimes I would stop to take a picture of something not realizing there were dogs behind me. When I heard them chirping, I would turn around and see them scurrying like rats in response to the chirping alarm. Lots of little pups around too.
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    #51
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  12. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Headed down to Moorcroft. This is a town of about 800 that was once the largest cattle shipping point in the country.
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    These small towns often have local museums or historical societies that display some interesting stuff. What is particularly amusing about them is that local people bring in the items and they can share some great stories or history about them.

    This saddle was actually ridden on the Texas Trail cattle drives. How would you like to ride up from Texas on that?
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    #52
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  13. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Took a ride over to Gillette, WY. I wanted to take a tour of a coal mine. I checked with Barb at the Black Thunder Mine. The Black Thunder used to be the biggest coal mine in the US. Now it is 2d biggest. Barb told me that the downturn in the economy led them to dump hiring their usual college student tour guides. Wow, 2d biggest coal mine in the US cutting back! When I talked to locals around that area, they told me that since manufacturing was down, so was coal consumption.
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    Shortly before you come in to Gillette from the east on the interstate, you can get a quick glance of this coal operation. Notice the big shovels are removing the top layer to get to the coal.
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    Stopped in Gillette at the Rockpile Museum. Remember that sheep business? This is one of the wagons the herders live in.
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    Oh, sweet simplicity! I wish my bikes were this easy to work on.
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    I called Cecelia at Foundation Coal because I heard they were still giving tours. The tour season hadn't started yet. :bluduh So, a guy at the museum said I could ride up to the mine and probably see them loading trains. On my way there, I could see they were loading a train . . . there was a big black cloud of coal dust in the air by the silo looking loading site. Couldn't really see that too well so I check out some other stuff from an observation area along the highway. If you get the chance, take the tour. I really wanted to get up close to the big equipment.
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    I wonder what the diesel bill is for a month.
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    Check out the cost for a tire.
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    A big shovel - maybe electric.
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    I just read that Foundation Coal bought a West Virginia based coal company for 1.3 or 1.6 billion dollars making them the biggest company now.
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    An older, smaller shovel.
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    There are more antelope in (Gillette) Campbell County than there are people. If Campbell County (and it's 16 mines) were a separate nation, they would be the 3rd biggest coal producing nation in the world. Don't think that Campbell County doesn't know that. :lol3

    Last year when I rode the Pony Express I ran along the Union Pacific route for a lot of the way. I think I mentioned that the UP alone set a record last year shipping close to 1,200 coal trains out of this small area in one month. That does not count the BNSF trains hauling out of here. That is a LOT of coal!
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    One more thing about my visit here. The winds were bad and there was a severe storm with hail threatening. I was going to go south and then east to pass the Black Thunder mine and the Thunder Basin National Grasslands. Instead I beat it back east to get to my destination for the day. With the wind and the mining, the air was filled with dust. Nice place to get away from at the time. :D
    #53
  14. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    I beat feet east with a strong wind at my back heading toward Newcastle.
    On the way, I stopped in Upton. They have an exhibit along the road. They also have a self-guided tour in the area of historic sites.
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    Is there a jail theme going here?
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    When I was doing my research prior to this ride, I took a real interest in an old mining community named Cambria.
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    I wanted to visit the site but found out it was on private land. I was able to track down the people that now owned the land and sent a letter of introduction some time ago. I followed up with a telephone call afterwards and these wonderful folks offered to take me to the site which is now on their nearly 7,000 acre ranch. When I got to Newcastle I gave them a call to set up a time. These very nice people had me come out to the house, fed me dinner, and offered to have me stay overnight with them at their ranch. The conversation was great and I picked up a lot of interesting information spending time with them. I enjoyed a great dinner, but turned down the offer to stay as I didn't want to impose on their generosity more than I already had. After setting a time to meet in the morning, I headed back to Newcastle and got a room. Very nice people. It was one of the highlights of the trip spending time with them on two different days. After two nights of camping it was motel time. Plus the wind would have made camping troublesome.
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    So, on my second full day of the tour I skirted the main body of the Hills to the north and west and was now back on the west edge. Some major stops included Belle Fourche, Sundance, Devils Tower, and Gillette finally ending up in Newcastle, WY.
    #54
  15. salute

    salute Been here awhile

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    Great trip-----haven't been there in ten years. Now I want to go back.
    #55
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  16. TouringDave

    TouringDave Tri Moto Veritas

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    Cannonshot, fantastic pics, I'm hooked. :clap :lurk

    Love the V all loaded up as well. :thumb
    #56
  17. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Thanks guys. And Dave, that bike was a handful when I got into some steep or rugged spots later on - especially with the conditions. Momentum was my friend but ground clearance was not. Always a careful balance of enough speed to be stable but not so much so as to bottom out in the more rugged areas. Being by myself, it would have been a bad situation for me to put the bike down in some of the places I was at. :D
    #57
  18. tbirdsp

    tbirdsp REMF

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    Good stuff man! I need to finsih up our report too.

    Don't know if I told you, I used to be a maintenance crew chief on the EC-135C "Looking Glass" airborne command post birds that could have launched some of those missles.
    #58
  19. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    That is neat to know you were connected with that whole airborne CP thing. All interesting stuff.

    Thanks again for the update on the conditions you were finding when you were there the week before I was. Like you, I was willing to work with whatever I got.

    Once I get all my tracks cleaned up I'll ship you a set. :thumb
    #59
  20. Dr LC8

    Dr LC8 ...soon or later

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    It is amazing how beatifull and still naive americans landscapes can be.:clap

    Thanks

    Nic
    #60