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NEEDLES – The best road of the trip

June 28, 2011

Custer State Park – South Dakota

I arrived at Custer State Park  burned to a crisp after a long day of detours, heat, frustration and confusion.  It was great to be able to setup camp for a few days and do some sightseeing.  There is so much to see in this part of South Dakota.  For starters, Mt. Rushmore, Deadwood, Crazy Horse Monument, Sturgis, Rapid City, the Black Hills, the Badlands, just to name a few. 

The night before, after I setup camp surrounded by gigantic land yachts with satellite dishes, carpeted areas to walk around on and – I shit you not – solar powered lights to illuminate the six foot path from the fire ring to their carpet.  Perhaps the only irritating thing about the fantastic state park is it’s size.  Custer State Park is HUGE.  How big – seventy-one thousand acres.  Custer is within 25 miles of Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Crazy Horse Memorial, Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument.

My campsite was located in the Blue Bell campground. In the park, there are four camping areas – Blue Bell Lodge, Legion Lake Lodge, State Game Lodge and Sylvan Lake Lodge. It takes between 30 and 50 minutes to ride out of the park to get somewhere. In my case, I had to ride over a mountain pass every time I wanted to leave.

I decided to ride into the nearby town of Custer to get supplies and have dinner.  After riding over the mountain pass again, I arrived in Custer and thought the Cattleman’s restaurant looked good.  I hit the kill switch, put the Capo on it’s side stand and walked inside.


Why, oh why, do all of these small towns who are anchored to some sort of significant national landmark feel the need to have a gift shop that has absolutely nothing to do with the dining experience NOTE – on my new HP Laptop, several keys do not function – question mark, exclamation point, the ampersand, and selected shift/key combinations – so forgive me for what appears to be sloppy writing.

I guess I’m too young to experience the joy of shopping prior to dinner for made in China “authentic” rubber tomahawks, moccasins, dream catcher ear rings, and an assortment of crap that almost certainly appeals to the RV crowd.


Much like the fashion statement of a denim shirt, and denim jacket, paired with denim pants, this place was all shiny pine and more shiny pine.


Here we go.  I ordered the “house specialty” BBQ Ribs.  This was optimistic to say the least.  I had just returned from a trip down South to the Kentucky Derby with side trips to Memphis, Nashville, and Birmingham, Alabama ^see my visit to the Barber Museum on the site^ and knew I was taking a chance.  But then again, in this part of the country, meat is what they do and I’d expect it to be done well. Especially, considering this cost 18.00 on a menu that was filled with 7.99 specials. 

To put it mildly, the meal was disgusting.  Apparently, in Custer, they prepare ribs by boiling the meat for hours until it obtains a uniform grey color.  I imagine this technique was taught to the chef when he was a semi-retarded private in the Army some decades before.  This pile of mush was slathered with what appeared to be bottom shelf BBQ sauce and served after a pass under the broiler.  I know it’s a tradition to take pictures of the excellent meals we long-riders have on our trips, but this was SO awful, and horrifying, that I had to post a picture.


I should have sent it back, but honestly, this was not that sort of place and I was really burned out from the ride that day.  So, I picked at it, took a few pictures and tried to remember all the fantastic BBQ I had sampled down south.  After dinner, I wandered into the local supermarket and stocked up on camp supplies for the next few days.

As I mentioned previously, it’s very strange to be riding a motorcycle and see wildlife all over the roads. 


Back in the campground. I recovered from the lovely meal, and settled down for the night. 


I woke up the next morning to the sound of a golf cart incessantly driving around the campsite.  Like some sort of Nuclear powered ROOMBA, the cart roamed round and round the park.  I stumbled out of my tent and sat down to breakfast.  I was settling into a lovely morning when the golf cart sped by, with the Camp Host at the wheel, checking things out.  For those of you who don’t know Camp Hosts are almost always retired folks who ABSOLUTELY ADORE the campsite they HOST.  Usually, they live in a 500k land yacht and have either a BMW or Mercedes wagon as their on-the-ground means of transportation.  The Host lives at the campground all season and is responsible for being the on-site busybody and pain in the ass.  The guy at the Blue Bell site was no exception.  Constantly speeding around in the golf cart, or, upgrading himself to Host supreme status by commandeering the official park pickup truck and careening around looking for new and un-tested people to irritate.

I did however, have a fantastic breakfast despite all the commotion.


I dropped the Moto fizz, panniers, and the top box, and delighted in the ability to ride without a massive load of gear weighing me down.  People I met over the last evening raved about how amazing the Needles road was.   I hit the Needles highway on the way to Mt. Rushmore. 


some info I borrowed from Wikipedia.

Needles Highway

After splitting from US 16A, the route is known as the Needles Highway. The highway is named after the high granite "needles" it winds among. Along this stretch lies the Black Hills Playhouse. The highway passes through two tunnels blasted through sheer granite walls—Iron Creek Tunnel at mile 25 (40 km), and Needles Eye Tunnel at mile 31 (50 km).[1] Owing to the narrow roadway, sharp turns, and low tunnels, the road has very little traffic. The vehicles that do travel this road are almost exclusively sightseers.


Trust me, its freaking awesome.  Just don’t get so distracted as to go sailing off the side or crash into the tunnels.


Needles Highway

Needles Highway

The Needles Highway is more than a 14-mile road – it’s a spectacular drive through pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen and rugged granite mountains. The road’s name comes from the needlelike granite formations which seem to pierce the horizon along the highway. The roadway was carefully planned by former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck, who marked the entire course on foot and by horseback. Construction was completed in 1922. Visitors traveling the highway pass Sylvan Lake and a unique rock formation called the Needle’s Eye, so named for the opening created by wind, rain, freezing and thawing. Winding drives throughout the park are enjoyed at a slower pace. When making plans, please allow ample time to travel at a safe speed – generally 25 miles-per-hour or slower. Expect travel time of about 45 to 60 minutes to enjoy Needles Highway.

  • Iron Mountain Road

    Iron Mountain Road

    This winding road runs between Mount Rushmore National Memorial and the junction of US 16A and SD 36. Constructed in 1933, only a portion of this road lies within the park, but it is a must-see. Along the highway, visitors will find wildfire exhibits, pigtail bridges, magnificent Black Hills scenery and tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore. Winding drives throughout the park are enjoyed at a slower pace. When making plans, please allow ample time to travel at a safe speed – generally 25 miles-per-hour or slower. Expect travel time of about 45 to 60 minutes.

  • Parked at Mt. Rushmore.



I’ve said again and again, I’m a motorcyclist, not a biker. I don’t wear motorcycle manufacturer sponsored t-shirts, have an Aprilia sticker on my car/truck and don’t park my bike on the sidewalk, incessantly blip the throttle at stop lights, pick the right pair of jeans to go with my vest, I don’t wear skull caps, or have a perfectly affected goatee. It’s a motorcycle, and I ride it, in fact, I ride the crap out of it.

This was worth a chuckle. “Assistant Platoon Leader” of what I wondered. Is assistant platoon leader higher up the food chain than “ride captain”…you have to know these things.. The platoon leaders bike, did however, have a very nice super big gulp/Slurpee cup holder and a really sweet leather and goggle clad assortment of teddy bears strapped to the back of the bike.



DSC06169Considering you were all of maybe 40, I’m not sure how you qualify for “VEEEEETfriggingNAM” vet status. Maybe it’s all the Agent Orange. I hear it has a youthful effect….. sheesh. See you two in Sturgis.


Just great views all around.



Of course, there is a nearby tourist village…….



Although, I’ve been accused relentlessly bashing Harley Davidson, that’s not really true. Unlike most folks, I actually test-ride hogs, praise HD riders, and regularly visit HD Dealers and just visited the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee.  That being said, come on, let’s be honest.  They do suck…..HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.

As I’m sure any Caponord rider knows the stock side stand, even the euro one, has a tiny footprint and leans the bike way over.  When fully loaded with gear, it’s a recipe for disaster.  I rolled into the Harley Dealer in Rapid City to see what I could find.  Like all things Harley, this was massive and huge, and for me, absolutely perfect.  It’s a great piece of gear and I plan on keeping it in my tank bag.


After, Rushmore, I rode over to Deadwood to do some touristy sightseeing.  What’s it like – it’s a dump.  Cheap Casino’s, tourist shops, and not much else. 




This, friends, is the actual Saloon Number 10 where Wild Bill Hickok was killed on August 2, 1876.  Except, that it was originally across the street, and burned to the ground, and did not have slot machines, electricity, running water, aluminum framed doors and windows,etc.  You have to love “authentic” re-creations. 


Well, I finally broke down and bought a bag chair. I had a three legged collapsible chair that I bought in Vegas a few years ago. Honestly, it was better than nothing but not by much. It just was not that comfortable. I found a Wal-Mart and grabbed this for less than seven bucks. I’ve used it a bunch since and have gotten over how goofy it looks on the bike. It’s supremely comfortable when compared to a picnic bench.


Now for something completely different.  Do you like challenging weather

One Comment leave one →
  1. B Hawkins permalink
    June 28, 2011 2:23 pm

    That’s ok, us HOG riders make fun of Italian bikes too. As for the Asst. Platoon Leader, he probably belongs to a motorcycle club that rides in honor of fallen service men and women. Like the Patriot Guard that makes sure the funerals are not interrupted by hecklers. As for being a vet Vietnam is possible, looking at his vest he rides to the Vietnam memorial wall which is in honor of the MIA/POWs that have yet to come home.

    You are right about those ribs, ICK!

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