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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    Day 3 on the trip and I am back out to the ranch outside Newcastle to meet my hosts to take a side trip back into the hills to the site of the Cambria Ghost Town.

    Since my overloaded DL1000 wasn't going to be able to cross the terrain to where we had to go, I had to switch conveyances. My host had a couple of ATVs lined up and ready to go. Away we went.
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    The one I was operating came with an aging herding dog that was a skilled passenger - even on rough terrain. He knew just how to use his body weight against mine to maintain some stability.
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    It took a while to work our way back to there.
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    Pretty soon we started to encounter some old structures.
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    As the railroad pushed westward, they needed a source of coal to fuel their endeavor. They found coal, here in this valley a few miles north of the mainline that goes through Newcastle. They found the coal in 1887 and then went to work building the mine, two churches, a school, a lodge hall, a three story hotel, a recreation hall, a bank, a courthouse, company offices and 150 miner's homes. The place was ready to rock by 1889.
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    This is what is left of the weigh house used to weigh the coal being shipped via the train.
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    The town had a big commissary that people from all over the area used to shop at.
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    Water was a very serious issue in this area. I guess it still is. The railroad was able to put in a 2345 foot well here (back in the 1880s!). They also had to build a reservoir. Most mines had a reservoir or water tank for industrial and fire fighting uses. In 1904 this town had a population of 1400 with about 550 of those being employees.
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    There were miners here from 23 countries. No liquor was allowed in the town.
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    There were coke ovens here. There is a big ash pile that turned into a great ATV play area for the grandkids. Cambria used to sell coke to the Homestead Mine over in Deadwood. I think in 1928 they were being paid a bonus of $5.60 per ton on top of the price of the coke because it contained gold and silver.

    This leads to a mine opening. By the way, they followed the coal seams wherever they went. When one punched out the other side of one of these hills into a valley, they trestled across to the next hill and continued to mine.
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    High trestles running through town can be a prescription for disaster. One of the trains jumped the track on one of these trestles and took out the pharmacy, pharmacist, and a couple of others.
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    The coal started to run out in 1928. Eventually the mine announced that they would close on a certain day. At noon, they blew the whistle and that was it. People hustled away to try to beat the rush to get jobs somewhere else. They left many of their belonging in their homes as they couldn't take it all with them. Someone said that they left the sprinkler on at the courthouse and it ran until the reservior was empty - just a good story I think.
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    This is the railbed of the spur that snaked up here from Newcastle.
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    What usually happens when they close these towns up is that the company sells the mining equipment and salvages the good timbers and the like. Many of the houses (or wood from the houses) probably ended up in Newcastle. During WWII there was a big effort to get stuff from here.
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    This place supplied high grade anthracite coal.

    This present day view . . .
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    . . . aligns with this view from the mining days.
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    Quite interesting to poke around down there looking at things and comparing to the old pictures.
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    This was a model town with eledctricity, water, and many modern conveniences. A lot of overhead just to supply coal to the railroad.
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    Trees and brush have filled in the clean streets from years ago.
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    These steep valleys are great mountain lion habitat. Lots of deer around, channelized game trails, enough visibility to see prey but enough cover to stalk or ambush.
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    This is a nice picture of a lion that turned up in Wisconsin this winter. It is believed that the lions that turn up in the midwest are from this region.
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    I guess if you are knocking around alone out here, or are with small children, it is a good idea to remember that this is lion country. Although sightings are rare, and attacks are even rarer, it is good to remain aware. There is a great page on lion language that the SD DNR has out. The pictures and circumstances they show give you an idea if you are about to have a problem or not. :lol3 http://www.sdgfp.info/Wildlife/MountainLions/Language.htm

    Well, back to the bike so I can continue on with my exploring. Many, many thanks to my generous hosts!
    #61
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  2. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    There is an interesting loop to ride with a lot of historical sites on it. Newcastle is a hop, skip, and a jump away from Custer so it is an easy side trip.

    Stop in at the visitor's center.
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    Newcastle used to be hurting badly for water. When the town was founded, they used to bring water in barrels from a spring three miles away or a creek that was six miles away. It cost 50 cents for 5 gallons at the time. Now they have a 2700 foot well with water that comes to the surface at 120 pounds pressure. The water comes from the Bighorn Mountains 150 miles away and has been carbon dated as being 2500 years old. The annual rainfall in the area is 12-15". Keep in mind that a desert is defined at 12".

    Some people in the area have water and some have none. My new friends nearby used to haul 1,000 gallons a day before they were able to connect to a rural water district. They are right on the edge of that district. This means there are others that are still hauling. Keep in mind that cattle can use between 6 and 17 gallons per day per head, plus household use at the ranch. You see a lot of these water hauling tanks around.
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    It seems that the west was pretty violent back in the day. Seems like most towns have their stories.
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    Sheriff Billy Miller was a pretty decent guy. He used to deliver milk to Cambria miners at 5 cents a quart. He replaced a Sheriff that the towns people thought was a bit too violent (killed a lot of people). When Billy was Sheriff he led a posse out to intercept some Indians that were poaching. He tried to resolve the matter without violence, but an Indian shot him in the thigh setting off a gun fight. Billy bled out and died, and his deputy was killed as well. This was the last Indian battle around here. The towns people opted to return the violent Sheriff back to office after this event. This was in 1903. Miller and his Deputy are remembered in the WY Officer Down Memorial.
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    I think I mentioned that a BNSF main line comes through here. When production is high, these is a coal train about every 20 minutes. 115 cars with 14,500 tons of coal.

    The WPA built this National Guard horse stable in the 1930s. It is now the Anna Miller museum. Anna Miller was the widow of Sheriff Miller. It is a great local museum.
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    This is the site of Tubb Town. This place was sin city. It also had no drinking water as the creek was salt and alkali water. The railroad by-passed the town so they were done. The saloon owner put his bar on a wagon and headed for Newcastle to start over. He served drinks from the bar on the wagon all along the way to his new location. When he got to Newcastle, they put the bar on the ground and built a new saloon around it. This town had oil sands and seeps. You could skim it, filter it through cheesecloth, mix it with flour, and use it for axle grease and for treating animal wounds. When a newcomer came to Tubb Town the initiation was that he had to buy drinks for everyone else in town.
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    #62
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  3. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Speaking of oil, in 1966 a guy managed to come up with the world's only producing hand dug oil well. Some people that have tried to hand dig oil wells have died from the natural gas that is in the formation. This guy went down 21 feet with a pick and shovel. He had to use a little dynamite to get it down to 24 feet. It is four feet square. When he was digging this, he rigged an old Maytag washing machine motor to pulley out the rocks. The well now steadily produces 1/2 - 1 barrel of oil a day. The oil contains no natural gas, distillates, or top ends. It is pure oil with a small amount of graphite making it great lube for chains and gears. The guy died at age 90 in 2005.
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    The Jenny Stockade was a stage stop that evolved after a military stockade was built here in 1875. Because of the robberies, the cavalry often escorted stages carrying gold. This is an original cabin from the stockade.
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    Going back to the water problem, this very small lake is pretty big doings in the area. It is on a private ranch but is a WY DNR recreation site.
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    About half of this loop is paved. The gravel part going up this valley is a nice winding ride in many spots.
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    Site of an old grist mill.
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    It is hard to understand the water situation around here. In one spot in this valley there was enough water flowing to support a fish hatchery. In another spot a surface stream would disappear, only to reappear further down the line. The line on the ridge in this picture is an old wooden water line carrying water to Newcastle from someplace quite a distance away. Newcastle did not give up the water rights to this old wooden line until the 1970s, an then only after much deliberation. Seems like all water is accounted for around here somehow.
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    Two brothers railed it to Deadwood in 1886 and then drove their livestock here to homestead. They almost didn't make it the first winter. The winter was so bad that one cattle company on the open plains lost 93,000 head that winter. These guys managed to live on turnips and wild game until March when one of them finally made a break for it. He made a two wheel cart with the axle of a wagon and managed a 120 mile round trip though the snow to Buffalo Gap for supplies. Tough bastards for sure. Eventually they made a go of it and sold food to the Cambria mine community.
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    Hank Mason and his wife were in this canyon when a couple of inches of snow fell in May 1898. When he got up he saw bear tracks. He grabbed his rifle and told his wife he was going after his 22d bear. When he didn't come back, his wife went looking for him the next day. She tracked him for three miles and found he had been killed by the bear. She then walked six miles for help. An early version of CSI-Newcastle came to the scene and analyzed the blood and tracks. They figured that the bear was bedded under a large spruce. When the bear came out Hank shot him in the shoulder doing no serious damage. Hank used to reload his own ammunition and the next cartridge he tried to insert in his weapon was too long to fit so there was no second shot. Hank tried to climb a tree and the bear pulled him out. Hank was holding onto the tree so tight that his fingers scraped the bark away. Once on the ground there was a hell of a fight with Hank using his knife. The bear must have figured Hank was dead because he moseyed over to a stream to get a drink. Hank couldn't walk, so he began crawling for home. The bear tracked him about 100 yards and finished him off. Hank had 32 wounds. The locals went after the bear with dogs and it took eight shots to kill the bear. A taxidermist mounted the bear and people had their picture taken with it in Newcastle.
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    #63
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  4. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    It started snowing a bit. Not too bad, but the cross wind was terrible.
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    Back in the day, there was a log building here that was built to house US and Soviet scientists during the cold war. The log house burned down and this is the rebuilt version. The Soviets came here to the boonies to monitor weapons tests from a seismic facility just up the road. The WPA built some other buildings on this site in the 1930s. It is now a Weston County recreation site. It is all deep down in a valley.
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    At least being down in the valley kept me out of the wind. Nice riding.
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    A peaceful spot to take a break.
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    The Canyon Springs stage robbery took place here. Road agents were always after gold in the area so the stage company bought a 16 X 30 inch iron safe lined with chilled steel. The manufacturer claimed it would take six days to break into it. This discouraged the robbers for a while who instead went for registered mail and passengers.

    Eventually the stage company built an armored stage lined with 5/16th inch steel that had firing ports. The safe was bolted to the floor.

    Five guys showed up one day and took over this stage station. They removed the chinking between the logs and waited for the stage. When the stage pulled up in front of them, the robbers sprang the ambush. One guard got away into the woods and went for help. The robbers got into the safe within two hours. Over the period of six weeks, most of the gold was recovered. Somewhere around there the missing portion of the loot is buried. It is now worth $2M.

    By the way, the mines tried to put gold into ingots too big for a single horse to carry.
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    Sheltered areas were nice.
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    I stopped to nose around this old cemetery and had to park the bike so that the wind wouldn't blow it over. A close look at this picture reveals that the wind is blowing the snow nearly parallel with the ground. Also notice how it is sticking to the sides of the metal fence and not the top. When I was riding on the highway I had two bad blasts that took me onto the runoff strip on the shoulder outside the traffic lane. I was in a pretty good lean most of the time.
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    This Four Corners gas station from the past had it's own refinery. Oil hauled from the Osage oil field was refined to gasoline and kerosene on site. This was pretty common before the days we had big distribution systems. Back in the old days, if you had a car, you put it away for the winter and traveled by sleigh instead. Most towns in this region had their own small refinery as well. By the way, water was piped from way up here to Cambria and Newcastle. Much of it was used to water the big guzzling railroad engines.
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    Current (more large scale) refinery in Newcastle.
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    This round house was built in 1932 and was a big dance and social center for the area. It had hard wood dance floors and benches on the walls all around.
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    Here is another water mystery. Prospectors found more than 70 salt springs in the area in 1877. They yielded 3/4 pound of salt per gallon of water. The prospectors went into the salt business and did well selling it for table and livestock use. Eventually the whole thing went under - perhaps related to some livestock that died after drinking from a contaminated creek. The springs are not nearly as salty anymore.
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    This is the Flying V - Cambria Inn. It was built by the mining company as a resort for their employees. It had two swimming pools: one with salt water and one with fresh water. There was even a golf course here. Now there is camping and bed and breakfast type stuff.
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    There used to be a saloon down in this valley (don't forget that Cambria was dry). This turned out to be a treacherous area with missing persons, rumored graves, and other nasty things.
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    This road wasn't initially on my route . . . but it is now. :evil
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    I think this is the butte where the Buck Hanby gang used to hole up. There were wanted for robberies and murders from Mexico to Wyoming. In 1889 Sheriff's Deputies capped Buck and broke up the gang. There were some stills around this butte during prohibition as well.
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    #64
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  5. MeefZah

    MeefZah Curmudgeonly Supporter

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    I'm a CannonFan!

    Excellent, Epic, as always! :clap
    #65
  6. RedBean25

    RedBean25 Been here awhile

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    This is one of the best ride reports ever. I remember my time in the black hills last summer. It was definitely one of the better riding regions I have been to. I can't wait to go back.
    #66
  7. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Thanks guys! I'm glad you find the notion of riding to not only enjoy the ride but also to explore history appealing. :D
    #67
  8. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    You Black Hills purists might be happy to find that I am FINALLY entering the main body of the Black Hills. :lol3 I'm coming in from the Wyoming side up in the northwest corner where there is a little elevation.
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    I had a nice route planned up here to take in some great scenery and ghost towns.
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    As I tried to get into the hills, I found that some roads had been abandoned and were now on private land.
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    No problemmo. Whenever I do a map recon, I recognize that things may not go as planned. So I am prepared to make some on the ground adjustments. Well, I don't think I'll be adjusting onto this muddy path today . . . at least not on a DL1000 with Trail Wings.
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    I had planned to ride up the Grand Canyon - a winding road with spectacular scenery. I knew that it wasn't going to happen. In fact, I resolved last week that since some of the Hills got over 200" of snow at elevation (much of it in three big dumps later in the season) that this region was still going to be snowed in. But, I had to look anyway.
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    Time to abandon this particular aspect of the mission. Can't be done.
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    I have to tell you that despite wind, snow, and cold weather I was having a blast. I wasn't too uncomfortable at all. I was wearing my British Motorcycle Gear coat with liner over a long underwear top. I really like the BMG jacket except it has so many pockets I lose track of where I stash stuff. :lol3 I'm sure the armor panels offered good insulation as well. I had a neck gaiter - the most important piece of clothing I had to keep comfortable on this day anyway. I had Aerostich AD1 gore-tex riding pants over long underwear bottoms. Only cold spot was on the tops of my thighs when I was at speed. I wore gore-tex/thinsulate leather hunting gloves that were complimented by a little grip heat so I had no hand problems. I was wearing gore-tex/insulated Matterhorn boots (Army type stuff) over standard socks and enjoyed warm and dry feet the whole time.
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    OK, I had to by-pass this segment, so I'm asking for a little help here. Maybe someone can take a spin up this way this summer to catch some of the spots I missed and add a few photos to this thread to "complete the record" so to speak. :lol3
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    Here is the info on the places I skipped:

    Take a ride up the Grand Canyon and get some spectacular scenery shots. This is a good gravel road that can be taken by a big bike. A map recon will show it it is a great ride!
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    Moskee ghost town. Was an early 1900s lumber and sawmill town. It quit in 1907 until 1921 when the Homestake Mine opened it to cut mine timbers. It had a population of about 200 in the 1930s. It closed during WWII and never reopened. Homestake flattened it since then.

    Tinton ghost town. This probably has the most buildings and houses of any ghost town in the hills. It may also be posted right now as another mining company has taken it over to mine some obscure metal. Don't tresspass.
    This was a tin mine and the company provided the usual buildings (hotel, rooming house, bunk house, assembly hall, post office, bank, weekly paper, cottages).

    Oh, by the way, some of the roads in this area are closed seasonally so it is important to check the USFS Motor Vehicle Use Map for this area. The map is on the web and a paper copy is available at most visitor's centers.

    Back in the day, some blacks came to the area to prospect. Some whites gave them bogus info to come to this area to prospect thinking it was really worthless. The blacks got the last laugh because it turned out they made a killing in gold. When they left they avoided Deadwood and got a cavalry escort back to civilization. Some old maps and references still use the N-word to describe landmarks in the area. Newer maps use "Negro" instead.

    Iron Creek Lake is a WPA project from the 1930s to provide a recreation spot for the county. There is camping there now.

    Bear Gulch is an early mining camp (where the blacks made it big). By 1880 the town was estimated to have a population of 1,000. By 1887 it shrunk to 200 with people that were largely involved in the tin and lumber business. By 1900 it was down to 100 and then fizzled away from there.

    I think all that is left in Welcome is a two story log house. The sheet metal building and the concrete dam had something to do with the tin operation there. There was a gold mine and a 20 hammer stamp nearby working some gold veins as well.

    Mineral Hill is a 1/2 west of Welcome and has some cabins left over that are being used today. A stamp mill there is still standing and might even get occasional use from time to time. (Stamp mills are hammers that smash the ore into sand like stuff so it can be processed.)

    You might also take in the Cement Ridge Lookout since you are in the area.

    Some stuff on the bike. I rigged my XM, iPod, and GPS through a multiplexor. Worked great. The voltage meter is handy. The Spot is great - but don't always bank on it. I ran tracks and topos on the 60cx and routes on the 2610. The cold caused the 3M dual lock to let go on my custom oversized shade I had on the 2610. I think some of that spreadsheet of points of interest with clickable links is visible in my map case. I will share that and my GPS file with anyone that wants it.
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    Notice my outrigger boot prints in the snow as I was trying to slide along while keeping the wings level. :lol3
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    Whever I broke out from cover, the wind was still pretty wicked.
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    I am thinking I might have to come back on my DRZ later this season. Might be interesting to see if there are a few folks that want to meet up out here to check some more stuff out.
    #68
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  9. MsSuzieQ

    MsSuzieQ Adventure sister

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    The boyfriend and I are headed in that direction for our annual run this year and your story only serves to confirm why I love to ride... Ours will be more on the beaten path, he is a harley guy, no offroads this go. Gotta get a dual, damnit....

    Great writing, thank you!
    #69
  10. RedBean25

    RedBean25 Been here awhile

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    How do you know where all these little dirt roads are and where they go? Do they actually show up on GPS? I have got to see one of these little devices in action. All I ever have is a state map, or a Gazateer (which is too damn big). I would get completely lost if I went exploring like that.
    #70
  11. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    There are a lot of roads and trails on the GPS maps, but it doesn't always mean they are open for public use. But, for knocking around in the back country a GPS with appropriate maps is invaluable. I use a combination of maps (paper and electronic) and sometimes even use aerial or satellite imagery (readily available on the web) in my planning to get the best info I can if things aren't otherwise clear.
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    #71
  12. no

    no dreaming adventurer Supporter

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    This is great stuff, Bryan. :lurk
    #72
  13. RedBean25

    RedBean25 Been here awhile

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    Nice. I'll have to look into using something other than the old school stuff sometime.

    Negro Hill and Negro Gulch? Really? Is that where the "blacks" were mining? Crazy how times have changed.
    #73
  14. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    These are the more modern and respectful references than what you find in older sources. Also keep in mind that over time the KKK became prominent enough in this region that they routinely posted information about their (less criminal) activities in local newspapers. I think I remember one story where the Klan suffered a setback after they killed a Catholic priest that pissed off some of the locals in the area. The Klan quickly tried to shift responsibility to some other group when they saw the murder wasn't a popular move. History is remarkable sometimes.
    #74
  15. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Thanks, and I should mention that later on I will be posting some routes (with points of interest) that are paved and well suited for both street and dual sport bikes.
    #75
  16. AdvRonski

    AdvRonski They call me......Ronski

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    Grand Canyon is a very pleasant ride, even on my BMW R1100RS. Too bad about the road to Moskee being gated, I was hoping to head through there in July. There's been a lot of changes in Travel Management Plans around Tinton. Here's the latest Forest Map I have:

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    As shown here, Tinton is in a "G" zone, Non-Motorized Recreation only. The orange routes are the only exceptions, so maybe you could hike in from the nearest road. It looks like you can't even ride to the Iron Creek trailhead anymore. Sheesh!
    I'm lovin' the historical info, thanks for sharing it with us.
    #76
  17. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Just so we don't casually introduce any confusion here, the gated and abandoned road I photographed is the one that goes along Cold Springs Creek. The road that is signed as "Moskee Road" (Grand Canyon run) is a good road that is open to travel but was still snowed in.

    Tinton, and some of the other ghost towns in the area, are not on forest property - although some maps will show them inside a zone listed on a less specific map. The current Motor Vehicle Use Map, which expires 30 Sep 09 will give you the best information on allowable travel and is pretty clear about private versus public property.

    The Black Hills National Forest Map from 2001 that many of us use for general navigation is what Ron refers to.

    The big issue with Tinton (and perhaps some other places) is whether the site is posted or visitors are otherwise discouraged.
    #77
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  18. Klasjm

    Klasjm R100gs

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    Very nice report!

    Like the history.​
    #78
  19. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Thanks Jim, but I wish I could take pictures like you do!
    #79
  20. F15 Freak

    F15 Freak Adventurer

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    Great RR...I have to work on a ride to Black Hills in the near future!

    Freak
    #80