Vanocker Canyon


Cruisin’ and Cussin’ the Black Hills

with CC Ryder

With all the raping and pillaging going on at the Sturgis Rally and Races (no… not the bikers, the Government) I’m surprised more and more don’t fail to return after some of the shit that happens. Getting a “pay now or go to jail” fine for twenty dollars for no eye protection is a start. Ninety dollar fine (in Hulett, citations where issued meaning the poor girl has to return for court) for indecent exposure, illegal parking will bring you a $150 fine and $50 cab ride to reclaim your bike, not to mention they care less how they tow/sling your ride. Any reading over the legal limit of alcohol on your breath and you’ll get a free night accommodation and see the Man in the morning. This cost one camper at our site $500 cash plus he lost his license right then and there for six months. He is a lucky one; his woman was able to drive them home from the run.

So why do so many of us return year after year, to this Mecca of Motorcycle Madness? The people that you meet each day! Not just a catchy tune but also a fact here in the Black Hills in August. The energy levels have peaked and you can feed off the raw energy that the crowd on Main Street generates. Every day has a life of its own, and the adventure is ever changing. Many simply park their bikes and watch the crowd flow by, which is as effective way as any to watch the masses.

The other reason is the riding, regardless of the crowds and lines you must endure, the roads winding through the Black Hills are as spectacular as any across this land. Most of the trails around Sturgis seem to have just enough curves to keep you leaning and eagerly waiting for the next curve the road is about to throw your way. Over the past four years the Vanocker Canyon Road off exit #32, has emerged as my favorite.

Thanks to the frugal nature of the County the first couple hundred yards is not yet paved. Although the Federal and State Governments paid for most of the Canyon road to be paved the last bit was the responsibility of the County. Most people who start out on this most enjoyable ride hit the gravel and turn around, not knowing that merely a few hundred yards down new asphalt greets you for the balance of the ride. It was just this fact that has kept this most splendid ride from becoming over-crowded. We used this route as an alternative to the I-90 into Rapid City and also as a warm up to Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road, not to mention Custer National Park. To the County’s credit, plans are to have the balance paved in time for next years rally. As one old timer told me. Everything has to work around the rally; they may even get it paved later this year.

Today we will assume you only have a single day to tour the Black Hills so we will cover the basics. The basics being the two monuments and roads I’ve mentioned above. Heading south on the Vanocker Canyon Road will take you past Nemo (don’t blink) to the junction with Hwy #166. Here we turn right and continue to the Johnson Siding junction. We turn right again on the #44 for another few miles to we reach another T intersection, which brings us to the #385, and the traffic.

Following the #385 south to the #16, we turn right and this will lead you into Keystone, where we stopped ½ way down the hill to eat and escape the crowd for a bit. A good piece of advice would be to start any day trip as early as you can get your group together. The traffic grows as the sun rises and mid day is bad for accidents. The temperature has peaked and the hot sun is conducive to closing your eyes. The #385 is not an overly difficult stretch of road but it seems every year, a few fail to manage the corners, so stay alert.

After lunch we carry on south out of Keystone on the #16A where we turn right onto the #244 for a couple mile detour to see the famous Mount Rushmore. To avoid the park’s anticipated congestion, we parked on the pullover approaching the park gates, took our pictures and returned down the hill to rejoin the #16A. Here we once again turned south (right) and started the next leg of our ride, which is also a most enjoyable ride. This part of 16A is called the Iron Mountain Road and is home to tunnels through solid rock, switchbacks and something I’ve never seen elsewhere, wooden corkscrew bridges. You will enter Custer State Park while on this road so any stops from here on, have the tourist in mind (read expensive). Being less than independently wealthy and running out of time we opted to skip the Needles part of the trip (cost was $5 per person for about 9 miles and takes app. 45 minutes), I’ve rode both before and consider the Iron Mountain a better ride. The Needles Hwy would best be enjoyed any other week than this, and then you would have the time to get pictures from the Needles Tunnel.

Traveling west, still on 16A we stop at Stockade Lake briefly before carrying on through Custer and north on the #385 to Crazy Horse Monument for more pictures. After marveling at this awesome structure (way bigger than Mt. Rushmore and no Gov’t involvement) we head back north on the #385. Close to two hours later (one accident delay), we run through Deadwood and join the 14A for the last ten-mile stretch back to Sturgis. This piece of the ride has recently been upgraded to four lanes most of the way and is another great ride in itself. This was a full day ride with the stops and one of my most favorite rides in the Black Hills area.

I’ve made lasting friendships here and I thank God for putting such wonderful people into my life and in such a fine manner. Every year I discover yet more roads to explore, and new reasons to return the next. The people and the riding more than make up for the Rally’s shortcomings or the County’s short sightedness.

JD Boyd


CC Ryder

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