Sturgis – second visit

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.

Early morning light on Devil's Tower

Early morning light on Devil’s Tower

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.

Eddie, "Nasty Nick", Ronna and Roxane

Eddie, “Nasty Nick”, Ronna and Roxane


Nick's Mustang Contraption

Nick’s Mustang Contraption


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.
Watching Close Encounters of a 3rd Kind at Devil's Tower

Watching Close Encounters of a 3rd Kind at Devil’s Tower

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’.

Loaded and what headgear

Loaded and what headgear


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.

Businesses around Sturgis open up to campers

Businesses around Sturgis open up to campers


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?

Our camping spot at Buffalo Chip!!

Our camping spot at Buffalo Chip!!


Buffalo Chip, Sturgis

Buffalo Chip, Sturgis


Michael from Warm Beach, Wa

Michael from Warm Beach, Wa


Buffalo Chip, Sturgis

Buffalo Chip, Sturgis


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.

– Anthony

Sturgis – a first visit

Sturgis, a name that many motorcyclists will recognise, the home of the largest motorcycle event in the world, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, held annually for the last 74 years, with 2015 seeing the 75th year of the event. The event, which is expected to draw up to a million visitors this year, is not our usual UNESCO site to visit, but being so close and probably not riding back for the 100th anniversary, we will take the chance to get bragging rights by attending, and securing event paraphernalia While the event does not start until next week, we wanted to get the lie of the land beforehand, hence a quick trip to our chosen camping/event site. Can someone confirm Sturgis is a UNESCO site?

We travel from our Black Hills campsite, in which we sat through a one hour hail storm last night, towards Deadwood.

A little hailstone from around our tent.

A little hailstone from around our tent.

Deadwood is a famous town from the cowboy era, which today features a main street with one side dedicated to motorcycle parking only. Probably 150 years ago horses would have lined the street in the same place as motorcycles stand today. Historic buildings have been retained and now welcome tourists and gamblers. Yes, casinos have been established to take your money, replacing the card sharps and gunslingers of old.

Main Street, Deadwood with motorcycle parking

Main Street, Deadwood with motorcycle parking


Mustang Sally, a great western name

Mustang Sally, a great western name


On from historic Deadwood to Sturgis. The town appears to be a hive of activity with setup work being undertaken. Merchandise tents and stands being erected, semi trailers full of with every conceivable motorcycle accessory plus all those mandatory Sturgis teeshirts being unloaded are the activities we see as we move from one tedious stop sign to the next. It is difficult to traverse the town’s main street under normal circumstances, what will it be like in a week’s time? Impossible I think! A small crowd of motorcyclists wandering the streets, looking to make purchases from the vendors. A good time to buy without the crowds, but there is nothing we really want.
Main street in Sturgis without the crowds

Main street in Sturgis without the crowds

We finally get through town and head for our campsite which is where the major bands are also playing. It is called Buffalo Chip and has become famous for great parties over the years. The place is almost empty, final preparations are underway. Looks like the calm before the storm. I am sure it will be so different next week. We get our wristbands for Monday and Tuesday night and learn that camping is first come first served and some people started camping a week ago to get good spots! Hundreds of thousands of people are not our thing and we are already starting to chicken out by thinking only one night at Buffalo Chip, due to the time it will take us to get to Yellowstone and back.

Buffalo Chip bar, customers to come next week

Buffalo Chip bar, customers to come next week


Field of Flags at the Buffalo Chip campground to honour those who serve in the military

Field of Flags at the Buffalo Chip campground to honour those who serve in the military

Veterans are important here at the Buffalo Chip campground

Veterans are important here at the Buffalo Chip campground


This region is known for strong winds and we head west we battle strong gusty winds in the late afternoon. A reminder that we need to start riding early to avoid the physical strain that this type of riding brings. We are heading for Thermopolis, a small town in central Wyoming that is based around hot springs, hence the name from the Greek for ‘Hot City’. First we pass through the Wind River Canyon, this is a spectacular route, with the river sparkling in the sun as we ride.

Wind river canyon, a great ride.

Wind river canyon, a great ride.


The hot springs at Thermopolis were part of an Indian reservation which was sold to the US Government with the proviso that the hot springs should be available to all people for free. This has resulted in a spa that is open to all for free, well, for 20 minutes at a time. We tried it and 20 minutes is more than enough! We enjoy a stroll through the park, seeing the hot springs running into the river – must be nice to have that warmth in winter.

80 years of hot springs activity created this

80 years of hot springs activity created this

Thermopolis hot springs lake

Thermopolis hot springs lake


Wyoming is a big state and we enter our third day crossing it at our pace. We are heading for the Grand Tetons, somewhere we have not been since 1985, wow how time flies! First we have yet another pass to cross, the Togwotee Pass on US287 with an elevation of 9,658 ft (2,944 m) over. Over the top and we see the Grand Tetons for the first time in 30 years. We have a picture at home taken from our tent when last camped here and this view had recalls wonderful memories from the past. We pass Jackson, a well known ski town, as we head for Idaho Falls which is a far west as we will travel in the USA.

Grand Tetons, our first view in 30 years.

Grand Tetons, our first view in 30 years.

Where we camped 30 years ago

Where we camped 30 years ago


– Anthony