With Tantor back in running condition we were ready to cover some miles. I had a few more places I wanted to see in Wyoming and South Dakota, but then my sights were set on the Midwest. We left Buffalo, WY in the afternoon and wheeled across the Wyoming landscape, heading to Devil’s Tower.
A few weeks prior I was listening to the Dirtbag Diaries podcast and heard an interview of Frank Sanders at Devil’s Tower Lodge. Around the same time my friends riding bicycles across the United States dropped in and spent some time with Frank. I decided I needed to add Devil’s Tower to my list of places to visit.
I was in a bit of a race against the sun, or rather, the sunset. I drove on, rounding corners and scanning the landscape for the 1,200 foot pillar of rock jutting above the gentle rolling hills. Finally, I made a turn, and there it was. I entered the park and drove to the base, looking up the lines, wondering what it would be like to climb to the top and stand on the summit. Next year…
From Devil’s Tower I left Wyoming and entered South Dakota. I don’t own a motorcycle, but I still wanted to see Sturgis. Although I drove through just after sunrise, sans bike, I could feel the two wheeled energy. I left town and headed into the Black Hills following the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, past Bridal Vail Falls, and along jagged rock walls.
Throughout the day I checked off several ‘must visit’ spots in the Black Hills. First, I passed Mount Rushmore and didn’t plan to stop and pay $11 to park, but I found a turnout a mile down the road just big enough for Tantor. I parked, grabbed my camera, and hoofed it back to the monument, dirtbagging my entrance fee and saving $11.
I traveled south to see the Crazy Horse Memorial Monument, a large stone carving of a Native American riding a horse. This monument is not yet completed, so visiting means that you actually get to see the work of art in progress. This entrance looked more official than Mount Rushmore, read as ‘I couldn’t sneak in for free’, so to save the admission fees I snapped a few photos from the road and continued on.
I had also heard about the Needles Highway, a narrow mountain road cut into cliffs with a few very, very narrow tunnel passages. I wanted to take Tantor through the passages so I had to pony up and pay the $10 to get into the state park. It was worth the fee and I enjoyed seeing the unique needle-like rock formations, autumn colors, and tunnels.
My last stop in South Dakota was the Badlands. I waited in line to get into the National Park while prairie dogs popped out of their mounds along the road, darting back and forth like a real life Chuck E. Cheese game. If only I just had a giant puffy brown hammer I probably could have won enough tickets to get a huge snow cone!
I followed a dirt road along the rim of the badlands, in awe of the otherworldy formations and vibrantly colored strata. I spotted a few buffalo roaming through the valleys below and wished I had more time to lace up my shoes and take off exploring.
A few hours later I left the park, meandering along winding roads, watching the setting sun change the colors of the landscape.
With that, the western leg of my summer vagabond was complete. I had nothing else that I wanted to see or do until Chicago, well, except for the Corn Palace, which I drove past in the wee hours of the morning. I turned the van east and pushed the throttle. In less than a day and a half I planned to be sitting in Chicago having a cold beer with my buddy JD. I just hoped Tantor could keep up!
Night drew in around me and a thunderstorm moved across the plains, blowing rain horizontal into my windshield. The headwind was so intense I could practically see my gas gauge dropping in real time. The large flat sides of the van acted as wind sails and I buffeted back and forth between the lines of my lane. I spent most of the night white knuckled, driving 45 miles per hour, squinting through the rain, trying to stay the road.
I slept 4 or 5 hours in a truck stop and pushed on the next day. Thursday evening, around 6:00 PM, I finally rolled into Chicago and parked Tantor in front of JD’s condo. I was excited, almost giddy, like a kid on Christmas Eve. Life on the road was great, but after traveling solo for several weeks I was looking forward to spending time with some familiar faces!