I did something prior to this trip that I hadn't done before. I marked up a regional map to show the roads that I had not been on. This turned out to be quite a helpful guide.
The general goal for this shorter one-week trip was fairly simple: ride through Daniels County and Sheridan County in Montana--the only two counties that I had not been to in that state. The second goal was to try to pick up what new roads I could between Wichita and that northeast corner of Montana. The north-south roads of eastern Colorado have always been tough ones to get, as they don't naturally lend themselves to going anywhere else. You need to go out of your way to ride them. So, that's what I would do. The route would not be direct.
There would be no new roads, here, but I've always liked Kansas-96, so that's the route I took. In fact, I would stay on that highway all the way to Eads, Colorado, before turning north to Limon.
Lyons, Kansas for lunch. Yes, that's a Pizza Hut. No, that's not what I normally look for, but I was just getting started, and I didn't leave Wichita until around 1:00 that afternoon (still had to pack and still had to mow the lawn).
Albert, Kansas is a little town off of KS-96 that doesn't even show on most regional maps. It's a pleasant little place even if it doesn't have very many businesses that are open. You'll notice that at the end of the rather wide Main Street, there is nothing but open prairie.
Ness County, Kansas is noted for its stone fence posts, although you'll see these things widely used over much of western Kansas. There are trees enough, now, but in the late 1800's there were no trees to be used for fence posts. It seems like an incredible amount of effort to go through just for a simple fence post. And, it would take hundreds, thousands of the things. Amazing.
By the way, the weather was just a little warm, but couldn't be much better.
Ness City, Kansas is best noted for its courthouse and its old bank building. Well, I've taken enough pictures of those buildings, so this is a picture of K-96 as it crosses US-283.
I'm always seeing dogs waiting in the backs of pickup trucks, so I thought I might take a few pictures during the trip. Still, it's not the sort of subject that makes you rush to grab the camera....
I'm not sure why this picture interests me. I guess it's partly that it is unusual to see an apartment building (such as it is) in any of these small towns.
Greeley County, Kansas. I'm always taking this sort of picture. When I'm riding, the view seems so striking, but I do agree that the end picture always looks about like all the other photographs of diminishing roads. But, I'll keep taking them.
Limon, Colorado. Up to this point, I was riding along roads that I've been over countless times. But, I needed to get to this point to pick up a road that I've missed for years: Colorado-71 north from Limon to Brush.
I had cleaned the motorcycle the day before leaving, and as I knew I'd be hitting a fair amount of rain, I wanted to get at least one shot of a clean bike. Incidentally, I really wanted to avoid using the saddlebags, considering that this trip was only for one week. But, the extra clothes and water made the rear trunk just a little too tight, so I broke down and attached the bags. It didn't matter; I didn't really take much, so I hardly added any weight to the motorcycle. Years ago, I didn't watch the weight so much. But, as every added pound changes the handling of the motorcycle (not dramatically, but enough to notice), I like to try to keep everything to a minimum. Light is good, and this is one of the lighter touring bikes made.
Last Chance, Colorado. Many years back I camped on the side of the road near this spot. US-36 was at one time a major route to Denver. But, when the Interstate system was built, they made the decision to follow the route of US-24, so many of the little towns along US-36 have nearly vanished. This was once a motel. I give it fifteen more years before the roof opens up, and then it won't be ten more before it collapses.
My great plan to catch CO-71 has come to an end. There are times when I don't mind riding off pavement, but when it's been raining for the past week, and when it looks likely to be raining again in about an hour, I'll look for a different route.
The next possible new road would be all the way east to CO-59, and I didn't want to backtrack that far. So I headed east as far as Anton, and then turned north along a road that I've done before (sigh).
Anton, Colorado. I was amazed at how lucky I'd been so far to avoid any rain. This luck wouldn't last much longer.
I crossed the South Platte River, not far south of Sterling, Colorado. It's pretty obvious that there had been plenty of rain all the week as the river (and nearby ponds) was very swollen.
Sidney, Nebraska. There was a bit of highway between Sterling and Sidney that needed to be ridden, so that's why I was here. It was starting to rain fairly steadily; far from a torrent, but certainly enough to wet everything down. I stopped in at Cabela's mega sporting goods store to see if I could find a good quality waterproof pouch for the PDA and maps (I'd been using Ziploc bags). Yep; not a problem, they have everything.
Chimney Rock, Nebraska. I've been to the monument many times, but have never managed to visit the state-run visitors center. To tell the truth, I probably would not have bothered if I hadn't wanted to get out of the downpour. The center is just a mile off the highway, and it has a good view of the famous Oregon Trail landmark. I did hike out to it last fall, but I'd stay inside on this trip.
I was not in any hurry to be anywhere, and I didn't really know where I was going, so I hung around the place for a couple of hours, talked with the other visitors and caught up with my reading (Anthony Trollope's "John Caldigate" if you're interested).
The National Weather Service said that it would be clearing by 3:00. So, those of us waiting it out had something of a countdown before walking out the door to our vehicles. And, no, it did not stop raining at 3:00. In any case, it's not so much the rain (it wasn't that hard) as it is the traffic on the wet roads that I don't like, and there was very little traffic on NE-92. My riding suit and gloves and boots are all waterproof.
I rode straight through Gering (south of Scottsbluff) and then on by the Scottsbluff National Monument before picking up the secondary roads that largely parallel US-26 across the state line.
Lyman, Nebraska. I needed fuel, and it was now raining particularly hard, so I stopped for a break at the Lyman general store. It looked like there was a good card game going on in the back.
The road north out of Torrington is one that I've wanted to ride for many years. It turned out to be much more interesting than I had expected; not at all straight and flat.
Goshen County, Wyoming
If you look closely at the photograph (below), you can see two white dots near the center and towards the edge of the horizon. Those are pronghorn antelope. Have you ever smelled the prairie after a thunderstorm?
The next town north of Lusk, Wyoming is Newcastle--about 80 miles on. As I didn't want to stretch the day out quite that long, I stopped at the Covered Wagon Motel in Lusk. This turned out to be quite a very nice place.
Always on my trips, I try to walk a couple of miles (at least) in the evenings. Riding a motorcycle all day gives your body something of a perpetual buzz that I find can be completely relieved by walking. My motorcycle is really very smooth, but its suspension is still vastly more stiff than a car, and after all, you're still out there in the wind and rain. I always wear earplugs, which helps considerably, but 500 miles in the saddle will take its toll.
It's always nice to see an original Carnegie Library still used for its original purpose.
Downtown Lusk. I've been through here, before, but that was on US-18 heading west, and I'd never stopped to look around.
Coal trains are nearly continuous on these tracks. I didn't need to wait long for one to come by. For much of my trip, I'd be running along perfect rails used by the coal trains on their way to power plants all across the country.
I don't know what combination of liquor laws it takes for this sort of business to make sense. You see the same thing in Texas. A drive-through hole-in-the-wall (literally) outlet for really cheap beer.
The next morning, I stayed on US-85 for more of the same. I did consider diverting east over to the Black Hills, but that would have thrown a wrench into my original plan to catch some new roads as well as to make it to northeast Montana, so I turned left into downtown Newcastle.
Newcastle, Wyoming. This was at one time a much more prosperous town, but it seems to be still doing OK. I gathered, by the very large lumber mill just outside town, that Newcastle is dependant on that industry. If so, things may not be looking so well after all--the mill looks like it might be going out of business.
The county courthouse.
The view of Main Street, looking west.
The old streamlined hotel wasn't looking too good, and the dining room in the basement has been closed for many years. However, the little café to the left is still running, and that's where I had my breakfast.
Nice place. Good food.
Leaving Newcastle in a light drizzle, I headed northwest on US-16 towards Moorcroft. This is interesting land. It's as if there was some indecision about being rolling grass covered prairie or a dense forest. I think prairie won. Come to think of it, this might be part of the story behind the probable closing of the saw mill.
Weston County, Wyoming
My favorite type of riding weather. Cool to the point of cold--but, not cold. Cloudy to the point of rain--but, not raining. Perfect.
I was looking forward to the part of the trip north of Gillette. Just about all of the stretch of US-59 from Gillette to Broadus to Miles City would be new road for me. But, it was not to be.
About 20 miles up the road, I came to some serious road construction. I've mentioned it before, but the Wyoming highway department has long been known for two things: 1) terrible signage, and 2) they will completely tear up a road for many miles. Other states carefully do one lane and then the next, or they put down temporary pavement. Not Wyoming. It's all or nothing.
I stopped the truck that you see in the photograph and talked to the driver a bit about the conditions. He said it wasn't much worse than what you see, although there were stretches of fairly deep gravel. Of course, what's difficult for a truck is different than what's difficult for a motorcycle. I could tell that all the rain was leaving plenty of deep puddles and plenty of slick looking clay. If it were dry I would have done it. As it was, I turned around. I think I've done enough dirt and mud this year.
This opened up new options. There's a cutoff road between Gillette and Sheridan that eliminates I-90. That looked good. And, once in Sheridan, I'd be able to hit a section of road north out of Sheridan that I've looked at (but never ridden) for years.
Sheridan County, Wyoming. This turned out to be a great little road of something over 100 miles. There are a few towns listed on the map (Spotted Horse, Arvada, Leiter), but you'd be advised not to count on those being much more than a couple of old buildings, and not much more.
In the photograph, below, what looks like white clouds on the horizon is actually the Big Horn Mountains.
Some really amazing open grasslands. You might almost expect to come over a hill and see an enormous herd of buffalo. Never did, though.
I didn't really need the fuel, but Clearmont seemed a good place to take a short break. And, it gave me a chance to continue my collection of dogs protecting their trucks. Incidentally, the sign says "no services for 70 miles".
The road divided at Ucross, and I turned north on US-14. Those mountains are getting closer.
The road surface wasn't always as good as it could be, but in general it was very good. Lots of swoopy but gentle turns as it followed the creeks.
I stopped for lunch in Sheridan and sorted out what I wanted to do. The goal had been to see the northeast corner of Montana, but the road construction had moved me a ways west of that general route. I could still head north, or I could continue west, up and over the Big Horn Mountains. It was a tough decision (these are my favorite mountains), but in the end I thought I'd stick with the original Great Plains Tour, and head north.
It surely looked on the map as if the road I wanted (WY-338) hooked up at the small town of Acme. So, I rode to Acme. That in itself wasn't too easy since there were no signs (see general comment on Wyoming highways, above).
Well, it turns out that Acme, Wyoming isn't really a town. It's a brick factory. A closed brick factory.
I turned around, and tried again.
I did, finally, see a sign pointing to Decker, Montana. This was my road. I'd be running parallel to coal tracks for part of this trip. There are some seriously big coal pits in this part of the country.
Big Horn County, Montana. This was a road that I've wanted to ride for a very long time. Montana-314 runs through the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, and covers the same land that Custer and his cavalry would have marched through on their way to Little Bighorn. I did give some thought to heading over to the battlefield, as the memorial to the fallen Indians has finally been completed. But I've been there several times already, and I didn't think I'd have enough time to take the couple of hours that I'd need to do more than just show up.
In this photograph, we're looking back down the road towards Wyoming. When I'm riding, I'm generally on the lookout for a good photograph, and I try not to forget that the best picture may very well be behind me. Of course, some of those "great" photographs turn out to be just another diminishing road picture...
This was a nice road. I'm almost glad the US-59 was closed to me, so that I could hit this road, instead. I'll pick up US-59 some other time.
Lame Deer, Montana is the home of the Northern Cheyenne USBIA headquarters. The town is larger than you might expect.
There were no hotels in Lame Deer (that I saw), but I knew that there'd be something in Colstrip. There was, and it was full. Amazing. Colstrip is seeing a huge economic boom due to the nearby coal mine. The mine is huge, and the associated electric power station is equally huge. It would seem that somebody has figured out that it is cheaper to ship electricity than it is to ship coal to power plants in other states. And, probably more profitable. Consequently, on a per-capita basis, I'm sure that Wyoming leads all other states in electricity production.
On to Forsyth, Montana where the vacancy signs were out. After checking in, I had a chance to walk into town.
The Hotel Howdy. When I saw this place, I wished that I hadn't already checked into the rather ordinary modern hotel ("The Railroad Inn") that I first saw on the edge of town. This one would have been much more interesting.
The county courthouse of Rosebud County, Montana. It may look bright enough in the photographs, but it was really well after 9:00.
I don't know what made me try, but I walked up to one of the side doors to the courthouse and tried it: not locked. So, I decided to take a little tour inside...
Downtown Forsyth, Montana. This is a shot looking west along Main Street. The tracks are just to the left of the road (no buildings other than the train station), and the main businesses are on the right. Every building was occupied and the place seemed to be doing just fine.
Up to this point, except for a short unavoidable section near Gillette, Wyoming, I had avoided all freeways. Now, though, I had no choice. Take a look at eastern Montana and check out the number of paved roads. There aren't many choices.
Terry, Montana and I-94. As freeways go, this is not a bad one. The route follows the Yellowstone River, and therefore also follows the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Granted, he is not guarding a pickup truck, but he is at a gas station, and I figure that's close enough. Seemed friendly enough.
At Glendive, I turned back to the northwest to head to Circle, Montana. I've been here (and on this same road) before, but that was several years back. And, in any event, this was the first time that I stopped and walked around the town. It was a little early for the library to open, so I took the time to have lunch. I generally always have whatever the day's special is. In this case, it was a chicken salad sandwich and five-bean soup. I think it came to $3.95 (I am often amazed at how cheap it is to eat at these places).
The reason I was waiting for the library to open was because I wanted to check the weather, and to check for any email. Libraries are a tremendous resource during these trips. They're air-conditioned, have Internet access, have comfortable chairs, always have restrooms, and have the most helpful people you'd ever want to meet.
McCone County, Montana. I was getting awfully close to my goal. It seemed that I had left all the trees south of me, and was now firmly in the land of the wide-open prairie. This land is not flat, by any means, and in places the road is genuinely steep.
I crossed the Missouri River near the town of Wolf Point (noted for some important dinosaur fossils). It's interesting to note the old highway bridge (below). Clearly, at some date, the decision was made to no longer treat the Missouri as a navigable river. It certainly used to be. Much further up the river I've seen pivoting bridges across the Missouri (that have probably not ever pivoted). I wonder when the last boat came up this far? I'd guess around 1930, but I don't know. Of course, Fort Peck Dam put a stop to any consideration of ever going much farther than here, anyway.
Poplar River, Montana. You don't see landscapes like this in too many places. At one time, much of Kansas looked like this, but, that was long ago. There are no trees! All the settlements and fire control and farming that brings trees with it, apparently has just not happened, here. Here we have grassland and rivers and very wide flood plains that are all unrestrained.
Scobey, Montana (Daniels County). One down, one to go.
I asked a person at the gas station where the courthouse was (I wanted photographic proof of being in Daniels County). He told me, but I still couldn't find it. Then I asked a couple of kids on their bicycles. They weren't real sure (sigh), but they thought it might be that white building over there...
So, I asked one of these painters if this was the courthouse, and they said it was. No sign, but you can trust me. It looked like an all-volunteer crew painting the place.
Scobey. I like a town with definite boundaries. We're looking north. About 15 miles on is the US-Canada border. I had first thought that I'd be taking the highway straight west out of Scobey, but the border was just too close not to run up there.
After an odd conversation with the Canadian customs official (who never saw me ride up, and didn't know where I came from--this is not a busy crossing), I was on my way into Saskatchewan. No, I don't have any guns. No, I don't have any weapons of any type. No, I don't have any food (unless you count a box of granola bars).
This is Canada. And, based on the 60 (or so) miles that I rode, I can assure you that there are no towns in Canada, and, further, there are only 4 people in the country.
I can also conclude that they don't like to bother with shoulders on their roads. Might as well take the crops all the way to the edge of the road; it's more efficient that way.
And after an hour of the full Canadian experience, it was time to turn south back into Montana.
This is Sheridan County: mission accomplished.
The crossing back into the United States went much smoother than crossing into Canada. They didn't bother calling my name in, and they didn't ask too many questions. They didn't care about any guns that I might have, but they did ask several questions about alcohol that I may have bought. I told them, with some surprise, that based on my experience there are no towns in Canada and no place to buy anything! They only chuckled and told me to have a nice day...
Plentywood, Montana. The county courthouse of Daniels County was something of a disappointment in that it had no name. At least, I'd have a better record of Sheridan County. The rather ugly building at least had the name on the front (I'd bet that the old building they tore down to build this one was far better looking).
I had a couple of choices in Plentywood. I could ride back south to Sidney, or I could head east into North Dakota. Either way, I'd be riding on new roads. In the end, I took the North Dakota option as I thought I had been in Montana long enough. It was time for a new state.
Looking ahead to some possible new Nebraska roads, I turned south on US-85 and spent the night in Williston, North Dakota.
There is a combination of state highways that runs down the backside of the two National Park units. It shows on the map as being somewhat curvy, and eventually drops down to I-94 after going through the small town of Trotters. Anyway, it looked like a good one. Unfortunately, I missed the turnoff, just south of Alexander, so I kept going to Watford City. I'll catch that other road some other day.
Watford City, North Dakota. Breakfast.
It wasn't too many years ago that I was through this area, but at that time it was raining off and on, and I didn't have as much time to spend in the park as I'd have liked.
There are two units to Theodore Roosevelt National Park: North and South. The south unit is just off I-94 and gets far more traffic. I've often read that Big Bend National Park is the least visited park. Having been to both of these parks at least twice, I find that hard to believe. Perhaps the many I-94 visitors who do a quick tour of the gift shop at the south unit makes the numbers appear much larger for the total park.
Basically, the park encompasses the breaks of the Little Missouri River. There is a nice park road that takes you to a few overlooks, but (as with any park) you really need to stop and walk to see the place.
I rode all the way to the end of the drive, and then walked the trail for about two miles to an overlook.
He didn't bother me; I didn't bother him.
The path was quite easy to follow. The total trail was many miles long and dropped down to the river level. I only walked to the edge of this meadow, and sat down to watch the river, far below.
Other than being quite windy, it was a perfect day for walking. It's worth noting that even though I stayed here for perhaps 45 minutes before walking back to the parking area, I never saw any other person on the trail. In fact, I only saw a couple of cars on the drive, and only a few more in the visitor center parking lot. If you want a scenic National Park all to yourself, this is the park for you.
I didn't see any point to stopping at the south unit, so I didn't. By this point, I'd made up my mind to head back towards the Black Hills.
Bowman, North Dakota. It took a bit of field work to find the library in this town. I've long known that local residents cannot be relied on to know anything about their town or their region, but you would think they'd know where the library was. No. The answer, always, is to find the oldest person around. Anyway, the weather for the rest of the trip looked great.
Butte County, South Dakota. US-85 is a long drop down through South Dakota through open rangeland. I kept seeing bunches (flocks?) of sheep and lambs along the road, but when I stopped to take their pictures, they scattered pretty quickly. I like that they all face to the north, although that's more likely due to the wind than any inherent knowledge of the earth's magnetic field....
The sheep were all on the west side of the highway. I didn't see any animals (except wild ones) on the east side.
You can easily see the Black Hills in the distance. That little bit of rain you see was not a concern, and I was rather hoping that I might even hit some of it. I didn't.
At Belle Fourche, the open highway ends, and you're left making your way through miles of unattractive sprawl.
Spearfish, South Dakota. I stopped here for the night, and walked into downtown to eat at the Stadium Sports Grill. I've eaten here before, and the food is great (more stalking photography).
The Black Hills are full of great roads. But, what I wanted to do with this day was to pick up some of the remaining paved roads. So, at Sturgis I turned into the hills on a new road, only to find that I had to ride through several miles of road construction....
I then turned down US-385 through Deadwood. This town has been reborn with gambling. I only stayed long enough to fix a vent that had come loose (plastic cable-tie to the rescue) and to buy a couple more bottles of water.
Crazy Horse, South Dakota.
This is what the mountain looked like when I was there in 1988.
And, this is what it looks like in 2005. The face is now complete.
There is no question, but that great progress has been made. And, considering that the sculptor's children have fully bought into his dream, it seems very likely that it will someday be finished. It will likely be the grandchildren's generation that does it, though.
The building complex was far larger than it was in 1988. I hardly recognized the place. Apart from everything else, this must be the largest gift store for Indian jewelry in the country.
Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota. Someday I will actually go to the caves for which this park is named, but this time (like all the other times) I would just be riding through.
Chadron, Nebraska. I saw this Honda shop riding into Chadron, and thought I might as well stop to change the oil. I'm generally pretty good about changing it every 2,000 miles, even when I'm on a trip (that's my riding suit draped over the wooden ramp).
This was a terrific shop, and is what all shops should be.
You want to change the oil in the parking lot? Sure, no problem, what do you need? Where've you been on this trip? Have you been on this road...?
Thanks, guys (sorry about the oil on the asphalt).
Hay Springs, Nebraska. There are not many un-ridden roads left in western Nebraska, but the road between Hay Springs and Alliance was one of them.
That sign in the center of Main Street is the listing of the day's specials for the cafe.
I had the special: Reuben sandwich and fries with cheesecake (well, the cheesecake wasn't part of the special).
Niobrara River, Sheridan County, Nebraska. Highway 87 crosses over the Niobrara River. On different trips, I've followed this river over its entire course. It begins not far from Lusk, Wyoming, and ends at the town of Niobrara on the Missouri River.
That's the cleanest, clearest water running through the Sand Hills that you'd ever want to see.
These Sand Hills are quite fragile. While the grasses look dense enough, it doesn't take much to destroy them, leaving only bare sand to just blow away.
Alliance, Nebraska. Carhenge.
I think the photograph is as much explanation as is needed.
I spent the night in Alliance, before heading into the heart of the Sand Hills the next morning.
Arthur County, Nebraska. This is my second time through this area and I do like it. If you didn't look too closely, you might think you were driving through Scotland. Of course, the hills in Scotland are not all sand. I was basically riding within the clouds. It was drizzling just a bit, but not enough to be of any concern. Really it was quite a nice morning for riding.
Arthur, Nebraska is the county seat of Arthur County, and best I can tell, it is the only town in the county. You're seeing just about the entire town.
From Arthur, I turned east on highway 92, and would be taking it (and highway 40) all the way into Kearney. This is not the primary route through Nebraska.
Tryon, Nebraska. I had lunch at Aunt Bea's.
Arnold, Nebraska. It's the home of a large Dodge dealership, but not a whole lot more.
Custer County, Nebraska.
Oconto, Nebraska. I stopped at the church for a rest break, when this pack of dogs charged me. Well, sort of.
Riverdale, Nebraska. Drink Squirt.
At Kearney, I stopped for the night. I still had plenty of time left for riding, but the route I had in mind wouldn't have any hotels, so it made sense to just call it quits for the day.
Fillmore County, Nebraska. Seems that I should include at least one shot of young corn.
Western, Nebraska is completely bypassed by the highway. I was looking for a cafe, but didn't see one. Likely there really was something, somewhere, but I didn't want to bother finding it.
From Kearney I had been following Nebraska-74 as far as I could, and then dropped south to Fairbury. I was now on Nebraska-15, which turns into Kansas-15, which leads right to Wichita. Close enough, now, to just turn south and ride home.
The old highway ran through Industry, Kansas, so I took the short side trip. It'd be interesting to know where the name came from. Seems only ironic, now.
Good trip. I actually made it to my original goal (amazing in itself) and managed to pick up several new roads. No real problems with the motorcycle, and no real problems along the way. Just about 3,000 miles.