We are heading first for Devil’s Tower National Monument, made famous as the mountain backdrop in the Steven Speilberg movie ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. Devil’s Tower was the first declared United States National Monument, created in 1906, by then President Theodore Roosevelt. We will spend the night at the KOA campground near the base of the monument, before moving on for our now single night at the Sturgis motorcycle rally. Our schedule has been adjusted because of the time taken to get to and back from Yellowstone. We think this will be enough of the Sturgis experience for both of us.
Our campground is full of motorcyclists heading to or from Sturgis, we are still over 100 miles away but the influence of the event, and the economic benefit, can be felt this far out. Backgrounds of our camping neighbours are varied, on one side a couple of Boeing executives and the other a man from rural Tennessee. We meet many others with different stories to tell, all making for interesting conversations.
We find out that the KOA campground shows the movie ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ each night, with the screen setup in such a way that the backdrop of Devil’s Tower looms imposingly above us soaring almost vertically 1,267 feet (386 m) above the Belle Fourche River which separates the campground from Devil’s Tower. Those who have seen the movie will know the scenes with light and thunder in the grey clouds. Above us, we have a similar backdrop with dark grey clouds, thunder and lightening, so atmospheric, we are just waiting for the alien ships to descend and whisk us away, but no, not tonight.
We are still about 100 miles or 160 kilometres from Sturgis. Having heard stories of it taking hours to get in and out of Sturgis via the main street, we decide to loop to the north to get to our destination on the far side of Sturgis. My clutch plates are fairly worn and may not last if I have to spend time riding the clutch. I do not want it failing in the middle of Sturgis and have to push ‘Storm’.
Even this back route is filled with motorcycles, group after group pass us by. We see our first accident as a woman rider locks up and crashes for no apparent reason. She is Ok, but a reminder to us to keep our eyes open. As we get closer to Sturgis, we start to see more and more fields turned into camp sites. This is going to be a big event!
I think about all the Harley Davidson (HD) motorcycles that are filling Sturgis and its surrounds for the 10 days of the rally and wonder if, from above, the vast numbers of motorcycles and their riders in the HD colours of black and orange would not look to dissimilar to the large herds of bison that once roamed these rolling plains. As we have observed previously, the age of the HD riders is advancing, we see more and more HD three wheelers, perhaps over time they may fade away as the vast herds of bison did. The advancing years story was reinforced by seeing one grey haired baby boomer packing one of those weekly tablet holders in his panniers!
Traffic is not as bad as we had feared and we are quickly inside the Buffalo Chip Campground. Given the heavy rain the previous night, and the churned up grass from ATV’s, we decide to camp close to the West Gate just off the main route through the camp. We realise this will be noisy, but with more rain forecast, want to be able to get out tomorrow. The noise of HD motorcycles is constant as we setup the tent – what will the night bring? We also start to see the various interesting vehicles and their occupants pass us by, we have an excellent location for this.
I started to write this next part as a chronological report on our activities and observations, but feel that our visit and report on Sturgis is better served by a different approach.
When people heard that we were going to stay at the Buffalo Chip for Sturgis, we received warnings about drinking and fighting. Our impression was that this would be a wild place with all sorts of risks and dangers. The opposite could not be more true. I had expected many, many tents, the reality was that RV’s or Motorhomes as we call them predominate. Many are large house sized vehicles with trailers for motorcycles. Yes many people trailer their HD motorcycles to Sturgis, probably to keep them clean, given the efforts we have seen in this direction on the road. The impression I have of the hundreds of acres of RV’s is that of a shantytown we have seen in other parts of the world, with much improved interiors. I suspect this is due, as mentioned previously, the largest age group here seems be be the 50+ or, as we are known, the ‘baby boomers’. With age comes wealth and this was definitely reflected here. People are here to have a good time in a more mature way than we would have done in our 20’s. We see a number of interesting and non politically correct activities that in this environment do no harm and probably take one back to one’s youth, so why not?
People enjoying themselves responsibly was my takeaway from this event. We are glad we went and enjoyed our time at Sturgis. We even managed to fall asleep at 1am as hundreds of motorbikes went past the tent, no noise restrictions here. You can even take you motorcycle to the concert and rev your engines in lieu of clapping.
We saw Lynyrd Skynyrd, Shinedown and Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real. A real rock evening. This and a visit to the Full Throttle Saloon, the largest biker bar in the world, made for a memorable time – roll on the 100th anniversary.