Since our internal clocks are still on Atlanta time and it gets light about 5 AM in South Dakota, we were all up and eating breakfast at 5 AM! I didn’t complain because the weather forecast was calling for thundershowers this afternoon, and I wanted to ride the Mickelson Trail before the weather came in. Since the trail was really rough yesterday, I decided to switch to my Giant hybrid bike with front suspension :-). We loaded our gear and drove to the Dumont Trailhead.
We started riding on the trail at 7:30 AM. The first mile of the ride toward Deadwood was uphill as expected; however, we had fresh legs from a good night of sleep so we reached the highest point on the trail (6100 feet) in about 15 minutes. There were several snow patches along the right side of the trail, but we were able to navigate around them. We also passed through a few cattle gates.
Unlike the previous day’s ride which ran through a valley, this portion of the trail followed along a ridge overlooking the valley below. There were magnificient views of the Black Hills to our right, and we spotted the Terry Peak Ski Resort in the distance.
A few miles past the Englewood Trailhead, there was a split in the trail. Apparently, a portion of the original BN Main Line was closed; two alternate routes to Deadwood were described on a large sign. We could take the High Route to the Sugarloaf Trailhead and then the Fan Trail to Kirk or we could take a Connector Route which was shorter but much more challenging. We chose the first route, which included a 3/4 mile 5% downhill section as well as a sharp turn with a 11-13% grade. Truthfully, we did not notice the grade as being much steeper than previous downhill stretches on the trail.
As we approched Lead, a small mining town, we passed the first of two river gorges. On the outskirts of Deadwood, we encountered about 50 4th graders biking the opposite direction. They were participating in a triathalon, and we cheered them on their way. When we reached the northern trail terminus in Deadwood, we called Mary & Jim (our wonderful shuttlers) to pick us up.
Mary guided us through the highlights of Deadwood, including Saloon No. 10 where “Wild Bill” Hickok was gunned down and Kevin Costner’s casino.
Next, we drove north to Tatanka: Story of the Bison. We watched a brief movie about Costner’s dream of portraying the plight of the bison and their sacred relationship with Native Americans. The outside exhibits featured bronze sculptures of 14 bison under attack by three Native Americans on horseback and an Indian encampment. The sculptures were lifelike and made me realize what a tragedy it is that almost 30 million bison were killed by American hunters.
Back on the road, we proceeded along the Northern Hills Scenic Loop to Bridal Veil Falls, Spearfish Falls, and Roughlock Falls. Roughlock was my favorite; I’ve never seen a waterfall plunge several feet into a pool of smaller cascades. Mary said it reminded her of waterfalls in Ireland.
On one of the waterfall viewing decks, we were approached by a small Spotted Towhee begging for food. Later, as we ate a picnic lunch, the bird landed on our picnic table searching for a handout. Mary threw some chips on the ground and the Towhee gobbled up every bite. The markings on the bird were phenomenal, and I know my friend Ann would be jealous that we saw these birds upclose.
After our picnic, we drove to the Dances with Wolves filmsite. Jim & Mary are big fans of the movie and could actually identify where different scenes were filmed. We headed back to the Homestake Gold Mine Visitor Center in Lead. Behind the Visitor Center, there was an open cut mine area which was in operation until a few years ago. We bought a few Black Hills gold gifts and drove back through rain showers to the cabin in Hill City.
I persuaded Jim, my brother-in-law, to ride the Mickelson Trail from near Custer to Hill City before dinner. Ed was exhausted from riding and driving all day, and Jim wanted to try riding a section of the trail. Jim whizzed along, and I struggled to stay up with him :-). We rode the 10.5 miles in an hour. Ed picked us up in Hill City and drove us back to the cabin where Mary had cooked supper :-).
Tomorrow, we plan to ride from Pringle down to Edgemont, the southern terminus of the Mickelson Trail.