The dry, hot plains of eastern Wyoming continued on into western South Dakota as I hit the highway for the Black Hills National Forest and surrounding attractions.
I realize now I haven’t talked much about the all the Harleys I’ve seen in the last few weeks but I’ve seen a lot. A LOT. There’s a reason. The Black Hills Motorcycle Rally is the countries biggest gathering of motorcyclists in the US. Something like 300-500,000 ‘hogs’ descend on a little town on the eastern outskirts of the Forest every year to celebrate all things on two wheels. All things on two wheels with “Harley” written on them that is.
I learned this as I joined the masses traveling along the veins of western America traveling toward this little town that is the beating heart of Harley country. At this time of year, all roads apparently lead hear. And they’re loud with the clatter of the purposely unsilenced pipes of Harleys.
It was 105 degrees as I made my way from Devil’s Tower Nat’l Monument and into the Forest, Harleys growing in number all around me like an army as we cruised the back roads through old West looking towns like Lead, Deadwood, Custer, Hill City and finally, Mecca – STURGIS, South Dakota.
Getting this many Harley riders together makes it easy to make generalizations – which is fun. People seem to be drawn to the renegade/outlaw persona (real or imagined) that seems to come with ownership of one of these bikes. This is a road gang of party-hearty hardcores. There is no helmet law in SD and they’re happy about that. About 1% of the riders here wear them. Everyone is issued similar dress – boots, jeans and a Sturgis t-shirt w/ some sort of eagle, demon or predator on it. Also standard – facial hair, bandana and sunglasses. And a slightly bad attitude. From the true hardcore Harley guys I can understand it. Hell’s Angels and all that. It looks cool on them. But from the other guys, I get more of a “Wild Hogs” feel and it makes me laugh. (Anyone see that terrible movie – Tim Allen, John Travolta etc?). This geeky BMW rider was clearly not a part of their posse- with white helmet, full safety gear and not a tattoo in sight. I had fun anyway – observing the harlicus badassicus in it’s native habitat for a few days.
From Sturgis, most riders make day trips to the many attractions in the area – Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse and the Badlands. I hit all of ’em.
The Mt. Rushmore National Monument is truly impressive as you get close to it. The heads aren’t huge (60′ each) but the level of detail is amazing. I didn’t pay the $8 for the museum and now kinda regret it. The view from the road was amazing but it woulda been nice to learn more about the process and the (Gustov Borglum?) that did it.
Next, I headed to the Crazy Horse memorial, a bit south of Rushmore. I paid to get the full deal on this one and am glad I did. A truly amazing and inspirational story. Korczak Ziolkowski, a Polish guy from Boston and an accomplished sculptor, was asked by Standing Bear, a Lakota chief, to create something that would rival Rushmore, a great tribute to the Indian people and reminder of what had happened to them. Korczak obliged, thinking it was the least he could do as a the son of Euro-immigrants himself, and spent the next 50 years of his life working toward that goal.
For the first few years, he worked by himself, hauling equipment up the mountain on stairs he built himself. He gave up his other life and dedicated himself to the project, spending all of his money in the process and living in a cabin in the woods. He eventually had a family and now 7 of his 10 (count ’em – 10) kids are carrying on his legacy. They all live and work on site, raising private funds to finish the work which could take another 50 years. They refuse gov’t funding, wanting to ensure it gets done the right way – and it is. Just a bit slower.
When it’s done, the monument will stand over 650′ – 10x larger than Rushmore. It’s hard to tell the size from this photo, but this shot was taken over a mile away. It’s big. Really big and truly impressive with the story of it’s development. That’s focus and determination for ya. Not a ton of that around these days.