By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
On an absolutely perfect, sunny spring day when New York City is at its absolute best, the TD Five Boro Bike Tour, the world’s largest charity bike ride, returned to its full strength: 32,000 cyclists, hailing from all 50 states and 32 countries, got to 40 miles of car-free streets across all the city’s five boroughs.
In addition to being the largest bike ride in the United States, it’s the most diverse and inclusive ride in the world – with people of all ages, backgrounds, abilities, said Bike New York CEO Ken Podziba.
The sheer joy and delight – omnipresent for the ride – was particularly exuberant this year for the 44th edition of the bike tour after a hiatus in 2020 and last year’s (held in August instead of May) limited capacity of 20,000.
Cheerleaders, bands, banners and signs, marquees greeted and cheered on the riders as they made their way up through Manhattan, into the Bronx, back into Manhattan, down the FDR Drive (a personal favorite), over the Queensborough Bridge (what a view!) into Queens and along the revitalized waterfront, then over another bridge into Brooklyn, onto the highway and over the Verrazano’s one-mile expanse, into Staten Island to the Finish Festival at Empire Outlets on Staten Island’s North Shore, before taking one of New York City’s best rides back to Manhattan, the Staten Island Ferry (and in my case, a delightful ride up the Hudson River Greenway).
What is so special about New York City’s TD Five Boro Bike Tour is how, for one day, you and 32,000 of your closest friends, feel like you own the city. The streets, bridges and highways – like Sixth Avenue, the FDR Drive, the Queensborough Bridge, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Verrazano (the longest suspension bridge in the Americas) are your domain. It makes you giddy. Neighborhoods – so colorful, with their distinctive personalities and character, ring with sound and spirit – Greenwich Village, Harlem, Astoria, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, DUMBO, Staten Island’s north shore. Central Park’s blossoms seem to burst open just for us.
Some 1,200 volunteers – captains, marshalls, EMTs, bike repair people, people who hand out snacks and refill water bottles – add to the Big Apple-sized welcome riders receive.
The annual event raises money for bike education. Bike New York operates bike education centers, after school programs, summer camps, as well as its first membership program.
Numerous charities also use the event for fundraising, purchasing registrations which participants then raise money against.
The ride is designed to be a family friendly tour, not a competition, appealing to all abilities, ages – volunteers hold signs to slow the pace and alert riders to turns and obstacles.
TD Bank has been the title sponsor for the past 16 years; Manhattan Portage was the presenting sponsor.
Among the dignitaries on hand to send the cyclists off: Ken Podziba, President & CEO of Bike New York; Andrew Bregenzer, Regional President of Metro NY – TD Bank; Su-Hwei Lin, CEO of Manhattan Portage; New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez; Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine; NYC Council Members Christopher Marte and Lincoln Restler; and representatives from Prosecco Cycling, including Italian elected officials.
More information about events and programs offered by Bike New York at bike.nyc.
Celebrate Trails Day on April 23 follows immediately after Earth Day for a good reason – biking fulfills the best attributes of sustainable, responsible travel while minimizing the adverse impacts of tourism. Biking lets travelers, adventurers, explorers experience places far and near with the least carbon impact of going place to place; taking the slow-road so you can really connect to local communities you would never see otherwise and spending your tourism dollars with the people who need it most; you can stop and get off to interact with people, take a photo, travel at a pace and a perspective – sitting in a saddle without the wall of windows – to really see, focus, smell the roses, and yet have an ever changing view to see, with the excitement and intrigue of new experiences that might be around the next bend.
And then there’s that endorphin thing that happens as you pedal and take in the fresh air that revs the brain and fills you with good feelings. And biking also affords a way to be in community but socially distanced and in open, uncrowded spaces.
Tour operators are responding to the desire to explore by bicycle with new itineraries, near and far: such as close-to-home (reachable by car) programs that take advantage of New York State’s new 750-mile Empire State Trail (you can ride north-south from the tip of Manhattan to the Canadian border and west-east from Buffalo to Albany), or for a close-to-home foreign experience, biking in Quebec, as well as to trips to exotic locales – like New Zealand, Vietnam, Chile. Or how about Albania, Bulgaria or Transylvania?
More offerings that combine boat and bike make the trip even more convenient (you only unpack once) and add a special element of plying waterways by a small river boat, canal boat or barge, or go from island to island. And many offer an e-bike option, opening a whole new dimension for exploration on two-wheels, especially for people who are concerned about physical abilities.
Here are examples of what’s being offered:
Discovery Bicycle Tours has an amazing array of itineraries in the United States (including new itineraries on the NYS Empire Trail), Canada, Europe, Chile, New Zealand and Vietnam. What I love best (I biked with them last summer on the Maine Coast/Acadia national park, and before that Vermont) is that the programs are really geared for a vacation, the guides there to make your experience purely enjoyable. There are all these extras, as well. A new itinerary on New York’s Empire State Trail; an itinerary on the Erie Canal Trail and New York’s scenic lakes, canal path from the Buffalo area with added scenic riding along Lake Ontario to the Finger Lakes on six-day Erie Canal & NY Lakes tour; a new 3-day Hudson Valley Weekend tour (bike car-free paths & quiet roads, dine at the famous Culinary Institute of America and visit a family-owned winery;a gentle six-day Lake Champlain Islands bike tour with beautiful views of the Green Mountains and Adirondacks; and a challenging six-day biking/camping Green Mountain Gravel Adventure on gorgeous Vermont dirt roads and trails and experience famous Vermont craft breweries and swimming holes.
Nearby but exotic: a six-day tour of the Quebec Eastern Townships known for their beauty, their villages and their wineries.
Among Discovery Bicycle’s international itineraries is a new six-day in England,Cotswolds & Stonehenge Bike Tourand a Moselle River Bike & Barge tour. From close to home to far, far away, Discovery is introducing an 11-day New Zealand Trails tour to experience New Zealand’s unmatched scenery, riding car-free rail-trails and quiet bikeways along deep blue lakes amid soaring ice-covered peaks, through rolling grasslands and hidden valleys (Nov., Jan., Feb.)
Wilderness Voyageurs, starting out from its home base in Ohiopyle, PA, has spread throughout the US. We’ve traveled with them on their South Dakota “Badlands & Black Hills” tour and on rides along the Great Allegheny Passage with Rails to Trails Conservancy.
Wilderness Voyageurs’ 4-day Chesapeake Bay Bike Tour takes advantage of the easy elevation gain for a charming journey along the Maryland coastline. Cycle through farms, woodlands and see bald eagles and endangered species in the Blackwater National Wildlife Preserve. Enjoy seafood feasts, ferry rides, and century-old architecture.
Wilderness Voyageurs is also featuring a specially designed five-day Type 1 Diabetes Ride on the Great Allegheny Passage (July 24)., biking, hiking, visiting Fallingwater, with Dr. Jody Stanislaw, a naturopathic doctor and a Type 1 diabetic, who will be guiding each day with tips on the balance between insulin, exercise, and diet. It’s an ever-changing equation and if you’re tired of the sugar roller coaster, this is an exceptional opportunity. Ride together with fellow type 1s and Dr. Jody.
BikeTours.com, specializing in European biking adventures (guided, self-guided and bike/boat tours), has listed its top destinations for 2022: The Greek Islands (which I did); Czech Republic; Croatia; Transylvania, Romania; Salzburg, Austria; Umbria, Italy; Scotland; Dolomites, Italy; Southern France and Albania (which I did). I’ve also taken their self-guided Venice-Croatia trip and their guided Slovenia biketour and for our first self-guided bike tour, the Danube Bike Trail (ideal for families and first-timers).
“If you’re itching to get back in the saddle with a European bike tour but want to explore destinations heavy on beauty and light on people for most or all of your tour,” Jim Johnson, president of BikeTours.com, suggests Bulgaria, Slovenia (which I did – biggest surprises were visits to Predjama Castle and Postojna Cave), Apulia (Puglia), Transylvania, and Connemara (Ireland).
But this year, recognizing that some may still be more comfortable traveling closer to home, is offeringnew tours from its sister company, Bike the South. One of them is “Tennessee Hills and Stills,” focusing on the state’s whiskey producing tradition.
Check the really user-friendly site: Biketours.com, email@example.com, 877-462-2423, 423-756-8907.
Butterfield & Robinson, long known as a luxury tour company, has introduced a series of departures geared to families with young adults (late teens and up), who will relish this opportunity to share an experience before their YA flies the coop. Among the itineraries: Switzerland E-Bike, Alsace E-Bike, Tuscany biking, Berlin to Prague Active, Mallorca E-Biking, Prague to Vienna; Alentejo, Portugal; Catalonia; the Camino do Santiago Biking,
Perhaps most intriguing: Cambodia & Vietnam: in Cambodia, see the spectacular ancient Khmer temples at Angkor, comprising one of the most jaw-dropping temple complexes in the world; then head to Vietnam and experience the buzz of Ho Chi Minh City and the serene landscapes of Can Tho; delve deep with three nights in Hoi An and wrap up in the Imperial City of Hue.
More biking tours are incorporating camping options. TrekTravel is going a step further, with a new partnership with AutoCamp (autocamp.com) to provide (get this) Airstream suites (those famous RVs) for two brand new itineraries; Palm Springs & Joshua Tree, and California Wine Country.
Among TrekTravel’s most popular itineraries this year: Prague to Vienna, New Mexico (cycle on the historic streets of Santa Fe, within the expansive pine forests, and beneath high desert mesas and Badland formations).
The itinerary I’ve been eying: Portugal, featuring the Alentejo wine region, a majestic countryside of wheat, olive trees, vineyards, and the seat of the world’s cork production where you see the cork tree groves and Roman temples in towns like Evora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
TrekTravel is also continuing to offer private trips for 10 or more guests (Top 5 destinations: California Wine Country, Ashville to Brevard, Puglia, San Juan Islands, and Tuscany).
(TrekTravel, 866-719-2427, Trektravl.com)
Duvine Cycling & Adventure Co. is another high-end active travel company with trips that combine wine and gastronomy in such lavish places as France (Ride Through France’s Most Fabled Terroirs) and Italy. Duvine’s newest itinerary is Bike and Boat in Amalfi: The Amalfi Coast has dazzled travelers for decades, but there’s another side of this destination that’s rarely seen. Our two new tours hold the key to the Cilento Coast, Italy’s best-kept secret. Whether by bike or private yacht, you’ll wend up the Amalfi Coast with views stretching back to Calabria, climb to towns memorialized by Hemingway, and hike Positano’s Path of the Gods to vertiginous vineyards.
B’spoke Cycling Holidays, based in London, are geared for the harder-core, but for more leisurely cycling, look to their sister brand Cycling for Softies which offers luxury cycling tours in Europe’s famous wine regions.
I’m headed to Europe for Boat Bike Tours’ eight-day Bruges-Amsterdam tour. A leading European operator of boat-and-bike tours which more or less founded the concept 40 years ago, the company offers 70 itineraries in Netherlands, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Danube Countries, Austria and Serbia. Germany, Greece, Hungary, France, Italy, and Slovakia incorporating their fleet of 50 ships, from barges and sailing ships to motor yachts. (More when I return.) You can live chat on their website, boatbiketours.com, +31 20 72 35 400
Celebrate Trails Day
Hosted on the fourth Saturday of April, Celebrate Trails Day (formerly Opening Day for Trails) is an annual spring celebration of America’s trails. Started by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in 2013, the celebration encourages people across the country to get outside and enjoy the nation’s exceptional trails and trail systems. There are featured events throughout the country, and if you let RTC know you will #CelebrateTrails, you can win prizes (railstotrails.org/celebratetrails).
Rails to Trails advocates for creation of multi-purpose trails using strong arguments of health and quality-of-life for locals, economic opportunities for communities along the route, and climate benefits of non-carbon-emitting transportation. Since 1992, RTC has advocated for more than $15.6 billion in funds to support more than 54,000 trail and active transportation projects. The Trails Transform America campaign has this message for Congress: Trail networks are as fundamental to America’s transportation systems as roads and rail lines and deserve robust federal investment. Explore trail network projects that are bringing transformative benefits to communities nationwide.
The most ambitious of projects is The Great American Rail-Trail which, once completed, would enable riders to cross the entire nation on linked rail trails. Stretching more than 3,700 miles between Washington DC and Washington State, through 12 states, the trail will directly serve nearly 50 million people within 50 miles of the route.
The RTC site is also a great place to find trails near and far and download the TrailLink app, https://www.traillink.com/mobile-apps/
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
When I finally reach the summit of Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park’s highest point at 1500 ft., having huffed, puffed and sweated my way by bike up the 3.5 mile long, ever-rising winding road, little kids come up with amazement. “We passed you on the road. You rode up here!” I must confess to beam with pride while also taking in the view. Looking down to the ocean, Bar Harbor and the Bar Harbor Inn at sea level where we started our ride some 20 miles and several hours earlier, I realize, “Wait a minute, We rode from there!” (In fact, the ride is mostly uphill from mile 12 to 20) The view is amazing, but having that physical, mental achievement is all the more satisfying.
That is what a bike tour is. The scenery, the attractions, the things you see and do are all amazing, but when you bike, there is that added component of being physically and mentally engaged.
Biking up Cadillac Mountain is the pinnacle of Discovery Bicycle Tour’s six-day Coast of Maine bike tour – and a peak of personal accomplishment – but each day presents its own series of highlights and delights. After all, this is Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park on Maine’s Mount Desert Island, with one of the prettiest seacoasts anywhere. The daily itineraries are outstanding – each day’s route so carefully designed for a great ride, interesting attractions, gorgeous scenery.
This means we ride at our own pace, stop for photos or take a breath, take in the view, hike a trail, or just smell the roses. The guides never pressure you to keep with the group or finish the ride at a certain time. One of the two guides rides sweep to make sure everyone is okay, and the other drives the van along the route (where possible). They make every accommodation for riders, so when feasible, even shuttling some to the top of a slope, or on one day, starting three miles further. The two toughest climbs – Day Mountain and Cadillac Mountain are optional.
Another aspect of the way Discovery designs its itinerary is that it adds a lovely mix of other activities to round out the experience: a sunset sail on the historic schooner, Mary Todd; sea kayaking, a hike (we choose to walk across the land bridge at low tide to Bar Island) and on our last morning, they arrange a 4:30 a.m. drive up Cadillac Mountain in the van (you have to get a reservation to drive up Cadillac) for the sunrise, considered one of the primo-supremo experiences in Acadia. (Unfortunately for me, I miss out when my phone dies and I miss the alarm, but I awake just as the sun is rising out my window and dash down to the Shore Path.)
Both our guides, Cindy Burke and Tom Walsh are long-time veterans and particularly of this Coast of Maine itinerary, and filled us with marvelous insights into the history and people of the island, as well as point out specific parts of that day’s ride. And they have a particular challenge, having to re-jigger the rides inside Acadia after June storms forced the closure of the Eagle Lake carriage roads.
Being able to ride at our own pace is key. At the most popular Acadia sights and overlooks – like Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Bubble Pond, Cadillac Mountain (where cars now need a timed reservation even to drive up), I can just get off my bike and strut over and spend as much time as I like, as when I wait and wait to try to get a photo of a whale’s geyser-like burst of water we spot offshore at Thunder Hole (at high tide, it is said to sound like thunder, but Cindy says most of the time it is a gurgle). Or when I just stop along the road to watch a lobsterman collect the lobsters, throwing back the ones that did not meet the rigid bigger-than-3.5-inches-and-smaller-than-5-inches regulations, and when I just want to get a better image of the stacks of lobster traps and realize Tom is waiting patiently (no judgment!) on the road until I continue the ride.
On our first day, we are encouraged to arrive by 1 pm for an orientation, getting fitted to our bikes, and then an optional 9.9-mile “Schooner Head Overlook Warm-up Ride” on the Park Loop Road in Acadia – except that it is raining. We decide to do it anyway and even when the rain becomes a real downpour, it is wonderful fun (and so fantastic to go into the Bar Harbor Inn’s heated pool and hot tub after). And it shows us, yes, we can ride hills in the rain!
For our Day 2 ride, we are ferried in the van to the start at Seal Cove Auto Museum, where they have pre-arranged our admission. I walk in and am completely enthralled. The museum has an outstanding collection that includes automobiles that are the last of their kind (a 1913 Peugeot is worth $3-5 million; a 1905 Pierce Great Arrow is very rare). But what makes the visit even more fascinating is its special exhibit, “Engines of Change: A Suffrage Centennial.”
Here I learn that Bertha Benz, inventor, business partner and wife of Karl Benz, got fed up with her husband’s endless tinkering so on August 5, 1888, grabbed her children and became the first person to drive an automobile over a long distance (65 miles), field testing the Benz Patent-Motorwagen. Her trip brought worldwide attention for the vehicle and got the company its first sales. (We actually see the 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen in the exhibit.)
The notes for the exhibit are fabulous: “In 1873, Harvard doctor Edward Clarke claimed that stimulating a woman’s brain would enfeeble her reproductive organs. Later, when automobiles were invented, it was a common belief that they were far too complicated for women to operate.”
Indeed, by giving women mobility, independence and an opportunity to demonstrate their capability, bicycles and automobiles were the “engines of change” that directly resulted in liberating women and winning the right to vote. Indeed, automobiles were even used in petition drives (we see examples of these cars and photos in the exhibit).
“Before 1900, few women would have had Bertha Benz’s access to an automobile. They did, however, gain greater geographic freedom through the invention of the safety bicycle in the 1880s…Early suffrage leaders credited the bicycle with doing more for women’s emancipation than anything else in the world. Women could more easily go beyond the limited areas where they could walk. This glimpse of a larger world appealed to many women and paved the way for embracing the automobile.”
“A girl who rides a wheel is lifted out of herself and her surroundings,” Ellen B. Parkhurst wrote ca. 1890. (Bicycles also paved the way for new, liberating fashion – bloomers, bicycle pants, and pants that converted to a skirt.)
“The bicycle did more for woman’s equality than anything” and automobiles further bolstered that. On the other hand, the notes say, “the 1917 Spanish flu almost put suffrage out of business.
Meanwhile, automobiles were designed to appeal to women – the electric automobile was clean, noiseless, and slow, versus the fast, loud, gasoline cars oriented to men. (Seal Cove Auto Museum, 1414 Tremond Road, Seal Cove, Maine, 207-244-9242, sealcoveautomuseum.org).
I spend a fair amount of time in the museum before heading out for the day’s mile ride, which takes us to charming coastal villages. A stunning scene is at Thurston’s Lobster Pound.
Another highlight is the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, the only lighthouse within Acadia National Park (one of the most photographed in Maine). I walk a beautiful trail to a rocky area below the lighthouse where you have to scramble over the boulders to get any view at all of the Lighthouse (the best view here would have been to get further down to the water, but it starts to rain again).
I continue riding, stopping to hike the Ship Harbor trail, pass by the Wonderland Trail, and ride into the scenic Seawall picnic area, where, we are told, Nor’easters have been so powerful, they spray the rocks onto the road.
Our ride ends in charming Southwest Harbor, where the van returns us to the Bar Harbor Inn.
Almost all the rides include Acadia on the Park Loop road and on the marvelous carriage trails.
Built so that horses pulling carriages would not be strained (we even see one of the carriages as it returns to the stables in the park), much like rail-trails, they are not particularly steep but are a bit steeper and hillier than rail-trails. A good portion of the rides are also on the roads which can have longer, somewhat steeper climbs.
There are 45 miles of gravel carriage trails in Acadia – the gift of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. who wanted to travel on motor-free byways through the mountains and valleys by horse and carriage. Today, the opportunity to bike through forest is one of Acadia’s special draws.
Constructed between 1913-40, the roads were designed to preserve the line of hillsides and save trees, align with the contours of the lands, and take advantage of scenic views – hence the ups and the downs. Some 16 feet wide, they are in the style of broken-stone roads commonly used at the turn of the 20th century. Tom points out the magnificent architecture of the stone bridges that span streams, waterfalls, motor roads and cliff sides (there are 17 of them), the two gorgeous gate lodges, and the granite coping stones used as guardrails that line the roads (which Rockefeller complained were too precise, not natural enough), affectionately nicknamed “Rockefeller’s teeth.”
Tom and Cindy had to re-jigger rides almost on the fly because sections of the carriage roads (notably the Eagle Lake carriage roads) they normally ride are closed for re-construction after a major June storm (but we hardly noticed, though I had to almost sneak through a barrier to get a photo of picturesque Eagle Lake). Of the 47 miles of carriage roads, Tom estimates we bike almost half. (I try to imagine how I would have figured out where to go in Acadia without their route maps that say, “Sharp left onto Around-Mountain Carriage Road, Post #14. Stay right at Post #1, right at Post #20, left at Post #19, right at Post #18, Left on Post #13, Left on Post #11, straight at Number #6”)
Day 3’s ride also begins with us being ferried to the start – on the “quiet side” of Mount Desert Island, for a delightful ride along the scenic coastal Sargeant’s Drive, passing lovely “cottages” into Northeast Harbor, a quick visit to the Asticou Azalea Gardens before we enter Arcadia National Park and ride the Carriage Roads. We get to the renowned Jordan Pond House (famous for popovers, but the crowds are ridiculous) and here we can choose to take an 8.2 mile extension to Day Mountain, with a 694-foot elevation. (No one does the extension because there is some possibility of rain.)
Wednesday, Day 4, breaks up biking with a sensational day of kayaking and hiking. National Park Sea Kayak Tours does a marvelous job. We kayak about 6.5 miles, spotting harbor seals, porpoise, loons, bald eagles, and are back just in time for low tide which lets us walk the land bridge to Bar Island. (There is something very magical about a land bridge appearing every day, then disappearing back under the water, especially so when as we return, fog rolls in, blanketing the scene.). Walking back to the Bar Harbor Hotel, you see the same image as depicted in the historic photos, from the 1940s.
Day 6 (Friday), which is the getaway day, offers a mild 10-mile ride on the Duck Brook Carriage Roads, passing beaver ponds and the scenic Eagle Lake. I take my time, really taking in the landscapes.
But before, they have organized a ride up to Cadillac Mountain for sunrise, which means meeting at the van by 4:30 am (my phone dies and I miss the wake-up, but get up on my own at 5 am for sunrise, so walk along the shore path).
We have enough time each afternoon to really enjoy the historic Bar Harbor Inn (it dates from 1887), which hands down has to be one of my very favorite places to stay in Bar Harbor – luxurious but cozy, exquisitely landscaped, a stunning (heated) infinity pool with one of the prettiest views in the world, a spa, a dining room with picture windows out to the water where we have lavish breakfasts (and a choice to have continental-style breakfast in the pool house), magnificently poised on the point overlooking Frenchman Bay and the Shore Path, walking distance to Bar Harbor’s shops and restaurants, and all our rooms are oceanfront with a balcony (www.barharborinn.com).
Bar Harbor is bustling – some say it is the busiest summer in this popular tourist town since perhaps forever with people making up for last year and not taking a chance on putting off experiences – but we just breeze passed the crowds and the line of cars. Well, maybe “breeze pass” is an exaggeration. We pedal passed at whatever speed we can muster or choose. Also, because our lodging (in the absolutely gorgeous Bar Harbor Inn) and dinner reservations are booked well in advance, we have both when it is obvious that others, traveling on their own, do not.
Cindy, who is a history buff, regales us with wonderful insights into the places we ride: The interesting, if disturbing, history of American Indians on Mount Desert, the Wabanaki (“People of the Dawnland”), consisting of four distinct tribes—the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot – who had come seasonally to Mount Desert Island for 12,000 years to hunt, fish, harvest clams, berries and sweetgrass for basket-weaving. In the early 1900s, they had encampments on Bar Island and at West Harbor and sold baskets and goods and performed as Western Indians for tourists at the hotels. “They were allowed to stay because they had stuff the whites wanted,” Cindy says. She recommends visiting the Abbe Museum, which has a partnership with the Smithsonian Institution and holds the largest and best documented collection of Maine Indian basketry and contemporary Wabanaki craft tradition (abbemuseum.org). (I regret not having the time to visit.)
And before we head out on the Day 5 ride, which starts with a turn onto Schooner Head Road, Cindy tells the story of a woman who perished on Titanic. Her house, High Seas, on Schooner Head Road, may be haunted, Cindy says, relating her personal experience.
Everything about the Discovery Bicycle tour is topnotch – on three nights, we enjoy wonderful dinners in some of Bar Harbor’s best restaurants and for two of our rides, we are provided box lunches we pre-ordered to take with us.
The ride is billed as “easier to intermediate,” but it is best if you do not expect the rides to be easy or expect that “coastal Maine” has anything “flat.” There are lots of ups and downs – mostly short – and the rides are definitely do-able if you have the right mental framework (“I can do it.”) and the guides do their best to accommodate riders’ ability.
Coast of Maine is a particularly relaxing bike tour – because as much as I enjoy inn-to-inn (or supported camping trips) so that every day you are moving forward to a new destination, this trip spends all the nights at the Bar Harbor Inn. That means we don’t have to pack up each morning to get our luggage out to the van and no matter how thoroughly wet we get, we can luxuriate and relax in a heated infinity pool and hot tub. (Boat/bike tours have the best of both worlds).
A bike tour is also one of the best ways to enjoy traveling in these times of concern over COVID-19.
Notably, Thistle Cone surveyed all the tour participants as to our COVID-19 vaccine status and reported back to us that we were all fully vaccinated (which I appreciated knowing). A bike tour also maximizes our time out of doors, socially distanced; our hotel rooms all had our own access and really, the only times we were gathered together inside was for breakfast (if we chose), the morning meeting and the dinners in restaurants, which, notably, were also following COVID restrictions of distancing and capacity.
They are also monitoring and reacting to changes in conditions, for example, recently asking guests to wear masks in the van and where social distancing isn’t practical. “The good news is that your tour deposits are completely refundable (with no penalties for changes) until the final payment date. So you can reserve with confidence.”
There are still several departures of the Coast of Maine bike tour this season.
Also, Discovery Bicycle Tours offers what may be the first to design an itinerary on New York State’s new Empire State Trail, from the tip of Manhattan to Albany (the trail continues north to the Canadian border, and connects with the 353-mile east-west Erie Canalway).
In addition, Discovery has bike tours to Cape Cod; Idaho; Mickelson Trail & Black Hills, South Dakota; Tucson & Saguaro National Park; Lake Champlain Islands; Crater Lake & Scenic Bikeways; Texas Hill Country; as well as abroad including Bike & Barge Moselle River; Catalonia Trails; Chile’s Lakes & Volcanoes; Cotswolds & Stonehenge; and New Zealand Trails.
The travel industry is often vilified as a contributor to global warming because of its reliance on transportation systems that emit carbon, like airplanes, buses, cars, cruiseships. Just the simple act of going anywhere, it is charged, leaves a carbon footprint –bottled water, toiletries and especially airplane travel. The most scathing attack on reputation comes from climate activist Greta Thunberg, who preferred to cross the Atlantic Ocean during a record season for storms by sailboat rather than fly to the Climate Conference which had been rerouted to Madrid, Spain.
But the calculations are wrong and unfair. A cost-benefit analysis would show that travelers provide the economic underpinnings that protect cultural heritage and fund environmental protection and conservation, and that the industry is among the most aggressive in not just curbing carbon emissions and developing the technology to transition clean, green, sustainable energy and economy, but modeling the techniques that travelers take back to their own homes, communities, and decision-makers. Travelers are not just ambassadors for peace and understanding among peoples, they also serve as ambassadors in the cause of climate action – sharing what they learn after seeing an offshore wind farm off Holland (so popular for its windmills), solar panels on farm houses in Germany, battery chargers for e-bikes in Slovenia, learning the story of energy innovation at the new Museum of Energy in Utica, New York.
In effect, travel industry companies such as The Travel Corporation, with its wide-ranging brands, Hurtigruten and Lindblad Expeditions are catalysts for climate action in wider society.
After all, the existential threat posed by climate change and global warming poses to the planet – the super storms, wild fires, flooding, drought, sea-level rise, pandemics, famine and conflict – pose an existential threat to the travel industry, too.
Whole segments of the travel industry (largest in the world, generating $9 trillion -10% -to the global economy and 20% of jobs) are dedicated to sustainable, responsible travel.
Hotels, like the Sand Pearl in Clearwater Beach, Florida, are being purpose-built with LEED standards, use low-flow plumbing, cold washing and drying for laundry, farm-to-table dining, and few or no plastics.
Smaller, expeditionary-style cruise ships are being designed with pioneering technology to eliminate carbon emissions.
Hurtigruten developed the world’s first hybrid battery-powered cruise ship, MS Roald Amundsen, which made its maiden voyage in 2019 through the Northwest Passage (ironically only navigable because of global warming); its sister ship MS Fridtjof Nansen was launched in 2020. Hurtigruten also pioneered battery-powered, no-emission snowmobiles for use in the Arctic, generating renewable energy from the Arctic winds and the midnight sun.(For Earth Day, Hurtigruten was offering up to 40% off per person on select expedition cruises to remote destinations such as Alaska, Norway, the British Isles and North America in 2021 and 2022, 844-991-1048, hurtigruten.com).
Another expeditionary cruise company, PONANT is launching the first electric luxury polar ship in 2021. It will operate with a mix of liquified natural gas (the cleanest fuel on the market) and electric battery (zero emission and can operate for up to eight hours at a time). Le Commandant-Charcot will be fitted with the latest technology for minimizing environmental impact, as well as a scientific laboratory for conducting operational oceanography missions and research, in which guests will be able to participate.
Indeed, the push to green technology and sustainable practices is throughout the cruise industry, even the mega-ships that are as big as a small city, in effect demonstrating solutions from waste recycling and desalinization to producing energy from food waste. “Green technologies are being incorporated into newly built ships and are sometimes retrofitted onto older ones — think solar panels, exhaust ‘scrubber’ systems that help minimize emissions, advances in hull design that let ships cut through the water more efficiently, cooking oil conversion systems and energy-efficient appliances. Some cruise lines also collaborate with nonprofit organizations and government agencies to collect data about the ocean’s health and climate changes,” writes CruiseCritic.com, in a report on the latest green practices of the major mainstream and luxury cruise lines.
Then again, you can literally go old-school on one of Maine Windjammer Association’s fleet of nine historic sailing ships (sailmainecoast.com).
One of the industry’s biggest enterprises, The Travel Corporation, which owns major travel brands, has gone whole-hog into sustainability, implementing a five-step Climate Action Plan to be carbon-neutral by 2030 and source 50 percent of electricity from renewable sources across the organization by 2025. This includes TTC’s 20+ offices, 18 Red Carnation Hotels, 13 Uniworld ships, six accommodations/facilities, 500+ vehicles and more than 1,500 itineraries operated worldwide by its 40 brands including Contiki, Trafalgar, Insight Vacations and Uniworld.
The goals also include: reduce food waste by 50% across all hotels and ships by 2025; increase the use of local and organic food products by our supply chain by 2025; reduce printed brochures by 50% by 2025; eliminate as many unnecessary single-use plastics from our operations and itineraries by 2022; include at least one MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experience on 50% of TTC itineraries by 2025; achieve a 20% increase of itineraries visiting developing regions for select specialist brands by 2025; increase employee and market sentiment regarding diversity and inclusion across brands; complete 30,000 volunteer hours by 2025; and ensure all wildlife experiences across TTC brands adhere to the Animal Welfare Policy by 2021.
Since launching its first sustainability strategy in 2015, TTC has invested in energy conservation and reducing its environmental impact across its portfolio of brands. Advancements to date include installing solar panels in 2020 at the Uniworld head office in Encino, California, implementing a 400kW Tesla plant supplying over 95% of Xigera Safari Lodge’s energy, which opened December 2020 as part of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection, and the recent shift to 100% renewable electricity by Contiki’s Chateau De Cruix and Haus Schöneck as well as Red Carnation Hotel’s Ashford Castle.
Looking forward, TTC has committed to carbon neutral offices and business travel beginning January 1, 2022, through its partnership with offset provider South Pole. Contiki is moving to become a completely carbon neutral business, meaning unavoidable emissions from all trips departing as of January 1, 2022 will be offset.
As part of its climate action plan, TTC’s philanthropy, TreadRight Foundation, is investing in two new developing, nature-based solutions for removing excess carbon from our atmosphere: Project Vesta‘s mission is to harness the natural power of the ocean to remove a trillion tons of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and permanently store carbon in rock; and GreenWave is a regenerative ocean farming organization studying how kelp can be added to soil to increase its carbon storage potential while decreasing harmful nitrous oxide emissions on farms. (Learn more at Impact.TreadRight.org.)
Another pioneer in sustainable travel, Lindblad Expeditions offers its passengers an easy way to calculate the carbon footprint of your flights and choose a project to invest in to offset that footprint. “It costs less than you probably think, and it’s an easy and quick way to take climate action.” In addition, Lindblad supports three major National Geographic initiatives including the National Geographic Pristine Seas project (expeditions.com).
Off Season Adventures trips (they travel off season to minimize impact) allocates a portion of the tour price to its sister nonprofit, Second Look Worldwide organization, which supports infrastructure projects and improvements in the destinations it visited. The first initiative, Kakoi Water Project, brings a sustainable year-round solar-powered water source to the 15,000 people who live on the border of Tarangire National Park in Tanzania (offseasonadventures.com).
by Karen Rubin Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
Bike tours offer one of the best vacation alternatives in these times when people want to be outdoors in open spaces, and enjoy stunning landscapes, discover heritage and history and have that opportunity for shared experiences that travel uniquely provide. There is still time this season to take advantage of guided, self-guided and private bike tours from companies including Pocono Biking, Wilderness Voyageurs and Discovery Bicycle Tours.
Pocono Biking has space on departures this season on a supported four-day bike tour that takes you 142 miles of the Delaware & Lehigh rail trail, also known as D&L Trail.
I did this ride, anchored by the charming town of Jim Thorpe and the famous historic landmark at Washington Crossing, on the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn, though with camping instead of inn-to-inn along this scenic and history-rich trail (railstotrails.org). The RTC trip also was operated by Pocono Biking, a powerhouse outdoors- adventure company in the area well known for its rafting adventures on the Lehigh River in the Lehigh Valley.
The trip, traveling through 57,600 acres (90 miles) of state park, is designed so you get to enjoy three of Pennsylvania’s award winning quaint small towns: Jim Thorpe, Bethlehem and New Hope. Essentially, we follow the route of Anthracite Coal, from mine to market, which thrust America into the Industrial Revolution. Along the way, we see the geography, the resources, and the technological innovations that made this possible, and how they affected the society, the culture, and the economy of the fledgling nation. The trail, part of the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, is so historically significant that it is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate.
Day 1 – 36 miles: The adventure starts in the wilderness of the Lehigh Gorge State Park, riding passed waterfalls and spotting wildlife (deer!), taking advantage of the newly connected D&L Rail Trail into the charming town of Jim Thorpe. The first night is spent amid mountains in the Inn of Jim Thorpe, circa 1849.
Jim Thorpe – an odd name for a town – was established in 1818 as Mauch Chunk, which means “Mountain of the Sleeping Bear,” the name the Lenni Lenape Indians gave to the nearby mountain. But it was later renamed for an Oklahoma-born Native American, the Olympic hero Jim Thorpe, who is buried there. Thorpe was born in Oklahoma in 1888 and raised on the Sac and Fox Reservation and had never set foot in the borough. But Patsy Thorpe, Jim’s third wife, cut a deal with two struggling towns in Pennsylvania, that if they would merge, rename themselves Jim Thorpe and build a memorial to honor him, she would present them his remains for burial.
The town played a key role in the emergence of the United States as an Industrial Revolution powerhouse. Here, entrepreneurs led by Josiah White formed the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company in the 1820s (you can still see the brick building), which shipped tons and tons of anthracite coal and other goods to market via the Lehigh and Delaware Canals which they constructed. The town grew in importance when it was named Carbon County’s seat in 1843.
A major attraction here is the Packer Mansion, which I was lucky enough to visit on my trip. Asa Packer’s story epitomizes the rags-to-riches-for-those-with-grit-and-a-good-idea American Dream: Born poor in Mystic, Connecticut, Asa Packer (1805-1879) left home when he was 17, setting out on foot to Brooklyn, Pennsylvania where he apprenticed as a carpenter to his cousin, Edward Packer. In 1828, he married Sarah Minerva Blakslee (1807-1882) and the couple tilled a farm they rented from Sarah’s father. But after four years, they were just as poor as when they started. So hearing that men were needed to captain coal barges on the Lehigh Canal, Asa traveled to Mauch Chunk, in the winter of 1832. He used his skill as a carpenter to build and repair canal boats. He resettled his family in Mauch Chunk and became the owner of a canal boat that carried coal to Philadelphia, then opened his own firm, A. & R. W. Packer, which built canal boats and locks for the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company.
He tried to get the company to build a railroad, but was refused. So, in October 1851, risking financial ruin, Packer purchased nearly all the controlling stock and interest for the unfinished Delaware, Lehigh, Schuylkill and Susquehanna Railroad (later known as the Lehigh Valley Railroad). By November, 1852, he expanded the railroad from Mauch Chunk to Easton, Pennsylvania, in exchange for the company’s stocks and bonds, and later into New York State.
He became the third richest person in the world and parlayed his business success into political success, serving as a Judge, a state representative, a two-term Congressman (1853-7), and even challenged Ulysses S. Grant for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1868. He narrowly lost election to become Pennsylvania’s Governor in 1869.
The Packers settled in their Italianate Villa in Mauch Chunk in 1861 and, to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, on January 23, 1878, held a fantastic gala (a newspaper printed in gold described it, and the man who performed their wedding attended). Asa died just 18 months later.
This quaint village is a hub for many marvelous attractions including the Packer Mansion; the Old Jail Museum (the eerie dungeon where the Molly McGuires were jailed; Cell 17 with its mysterious handprint on the wall, under the gallows on which seven of the accused Molly Maguires were put to death); the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, St. Mark’s Church, Historic Stone Row, the Mauch Chunk Opera House, Anita Shapolsky Art Center, Mauch Chunk Museum, plus wineries and distilleries (Big Creek Vineyard and Stonekeep Meadery), biking, hiking and rafting.
Jim Thorpe Visitors Center, 2 Lehigh Ave., Jim Thorpe PA 18229, 570-325-3673, jimthorpe.org.
Day 2 – 37 miles: After a night exploring the shops, museums and restaurants in Jim Thorpe and breakfast at the Inn, cycle beside the locks and canals along the Lehigh River to the town of Bethlehem, PA. Along the way you pass the Lehigh Gap Nature Center with its protected land. There are stunning views of the Blue Mountain and Appalachian Trail. Bethlehem, circa 1741, an old Moravian settlement, has cobblestone streets, quaint shops, and history around every bend. Spend the night in the Hotel Bethlehem where Presidents and dignitaries have stayed.
Lehigh Gap Nature Center, a non-profit conservation organization at the foot of the Kittatinny Ridge, is dedicated to preserving wildlife and habitat through conservation programs such as the Lehigh Gap Wildlife Refuge, educational programs such as the Kittatiny Raptor Corridor Project as well as research. I linger in the butterfly garden before setting out again on the trail. (8844 Paint Mill Rd, Slatington, PA 18080, 610-760-8889, http://lgnc.org/)
Along the way, we come upon what is left of the original canal locks – stone walls, wooden gates with metal latches and gears, remnants from the mid-1800s.
At Freemansburg, we find a lockmasters house, the remains of the locks and a mill, which, when I visited, was manned by interpreters in period dress. I wonder whether the village was settled by freemen and am told that it was named for one of the original settlers, Richard Freeman.
Freemansburg is a classic example of a canal town with houses and structures built up against the waterway that was the village’s lifeblood in the 1800s. Members of the Old Freemansburg Association (OFA) reclaimed a 1.5 mile section of the Lehigh Canal the Borough owns from overgrowth and debris and restored the towpath which became the D&L Trail. The OFA spearheaded efforts to protect and restore the 1829 Locktender’s House, mule barn, Lock No. 44, gristmill, and coal yard. Volunteers also reconstructed the barn using canal era tools and equipment, a project that took 10 years to complete. The multi-functional building now hosts weddings, educational sessions and interpretative demonstrations. (http://lehighvalleyhistory.com/history-of-the-borough-of-freemansburg)
Riding on, we come to an island that consists of a shuttered steel mill that today stands somewhat surreally like an abstract sculpture.
Day 3 – 47 miles: After breakfast, the group departs Bethlehem and cycles south following the path of 19th century aqueducts to the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers. Visit the only operating mule drawn canal boat east of the Mississippi. Tour the National Canal Museum and pass through quaint river villages, until arriving in New Hope. New Hope offers bustling nightlife and cultural attractions such as the Bucks County Playhouse.
The Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor interprets this fascinating period of American history in the 520-acre Hugh Moore Park through tours of the National Canal Museum and rides on the 110-passenger Josiah White II canal boat. Here you see remnants of the oldest industrial park in the region, a Locktender’s House and one of only three mule-drawn canal boats still operating in America, which plies a two-mile section of the canal that has been restored. The National Canal Museum, with hands-on exhibits highlighting 19th century canal life and technology, normally is open from June until October. (https://canals.org/)
Day 4 – 22 miles: On day four, after breakfast at the Fox and Hound Bed & Breakfast, ride along the canal trail to Washington Crossing where George Washington crossed the Delaware in 1776. You also cross the Delaware to the D&R Canal State Park and head north to Bull’s Island where the ride ends with lunch before being shuttled back to your car.
Available dates at this writing include Sept. 14 and Oct. 5 (up to 14 guests per trip, with 2 guides; the minimum age is 13; e-bike rentals are available, but the trail is easy/moderate crushed gravel trail). The cost is $995 ($225 single supplement); $90 to rent a bike, and includes the overnight accommodations, professional bike guides; sag wagon; basic bike repair (replacement bike if needed to complete the ride); rest stops with snacks and water; breakfast on three days; lunch on two days; luggage transportation to each accommodation; morning trail briefings and transportation back to your car by 4pm on the final day.
If you would rather DIY, Pocono Biking also offers daily rates and shuttle service, Big Day Out & Big Night Out (Multisport Adventures), two-day trips, and Pocono Whitewater Rafting on the Lehigh River.
“Bike touring lends itself to a vacationing style that uniquely fits these times: small groups and big open spaces! Although we understand that traveling at this moment is not for everyone and is a personal decision, our goal is to minimize the risks where possible and make traveling as comfortable as possible.”
Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
Deadwood, South Dakota – the endpoint of the 109-mile Mickelson Trail on the Wilderness
Voyageurs’ six-day “Badlands and Mickelson Trail” bike tour – is a shrine to
the Old Wild West, Rapid City is what the American West is today.
The Wilderness-Voyageurs Badlands trip (800-272-4141, Wilderness-Voyageurs.com) starts in Rapid City where I cleverly organize my trip to arrive the day before, staying at the famous, historic Alex Johnson Hotel (famous on its own, but made eternally famous for the part it played in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, “North by Northwest” – an autographed caricature of Hitchcock is behind the front desk).
Indeed, the Alex Johnson Hotel is a major attraction in itself (it’s red and white sign atop the building is iconic symbol of the city) – the hotel, still the third tallest in South Dakota, even provides a walking tour of many artifacts and architectural features that in their own way tell the story of Rapid City.
The Alex Johnson Hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a member of Historic Hotels of America, which means that successive owners have recognized their responsibility as stewards of these place-making hotels that harbor the story of their respective destination. To be accepted into the prestigious HHA program, which has nearly 300 members, a hotel has to faithfully maintain authenticity, sense of place and architectural integrity, be at least 50 years old; designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; and recognized as having historic significance. (More information at HistoricHotels.org)
The Alex Johnson Hotel is all of these things and more. The hotel
was built by Alex Carlton Johnson (1861-1938), who was vice president of the
Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. Johnson was unusual for his time in that he
respected and admired the Native Americans who lived in the area and developed
his hotel as a tribute to the Sioux Indian Nation and honor its heritage. The
structural design of the hotel integrates the heritage of the Plains Indians
and the Germanic Tudor architecture representing German immigration into the
Construction began in 1927, coincidentally, just the day before work began on nearby Mount Rushmore. The hotel opened less than a year later, on July 1, 1928.
follow the walking tour:
the entrance of the hotel are sculpted Indian heads, taken from the design of
Indian-head nickels and pennies.
The entrance has an “AJ” tepee symbol embedded in the entry walkway. The lobby itself is designed in Native American tradition with “Sacred Four Directions” integrated in the lobby tiles. The Lakota Sioux people believed their four sacred powers were derived from the four directions: north (white) a symbol for the “Cleansing Snow.”; east (red), the “Morning Star” which gives “Daybreak Knowledge”; south (yellow) is “Warm Winds” which replenishes the land; west (black) is “Thunder Being,” giving strength and power in times of trouble. Among the signs is a symbol that resembles a swastika, but was long used by Native Americans since prehistoric times.
Suspended with chains, the chandelier that dominates the center is actually formed of war lances. It is in the shape of a teepee and made of concentric, decreasing-sized copper-clad wooden rings. The rings are decorated in authentic Sioux patterns.
The exquisite ceiling incorporates stenciled Sioux designs between open beams. The brightly-colored patterns, originally painted with natural materials, are in the traditional “box and border” design. There are eight plaster-cast busts of Indian men that hold the beams.
The fireplace is formed of Black Hills stones. A huge rock in the keystone was selected for its resemblance to a buffalo head. The mantle is decorated with brands of local ranchers. Above the fireplace is a striking portrait of Alex Johnson in Sioux attire. Johnson was made an honorary blood brother of Chief Iron Horse in 1933, and named “Chief Red Star.” Another portrait of Johnson, in a more typical businessman pose, was commissioned by the 580 members of the Chicago Rotary Club in appreciation for his service as president (1924-25).
There are two bison heads mounted over the southwest entrance of the AJ’s Mercantile shop (American buffalo are apparently not buffalo at all, but one of two species of bison). I learn that “buffalo” was a corruption of “boeuf,” the name the French explorers used for the animal.
mezzanine and second floor are graced with carved wood railings and provide a
gorgeous vantage point to appreciate the Indian busts, ceiling painting and
The ballroom, which also served as a nightclub back in the day, has four murals painted by Max Rheiner, an artist from Chicago, that realistically depict four well known areas of the region: Harney Peak, the Needles (which we will soon visit on the bike tour), the Badlands (we will soon visit) and Spearfish Canyon.
Lincoln Room, the site of the original restaurant, has been restored to its
original elegance. The ceiling lights are original. The wallpaper custom,
hand-printed paper and the same design used in Abraham Lincoln’s home in
Springfield Illinois. An original 19th century Lincoln print is on
the wall. Meeting rooms are named after the four presidents on Mount Rushmore.
The hotel also offers Paddy O’Neill’s Irish Pub and Grill, named after the hotel’s first guest.
is a kind of museum of exhibits – you can see Johnson’s actual headdress and
that is not all. I learn that the Alex Johnson hotel is haunted – there is an
entire book of testimonials from guests who have had sightings, and recently.
Ross Goldman, the front-desk fellow who has been giving me an orientation to the hotel and to Rapid City, points me to an entire Haunting book filled with people’s letters and descriptions of encounters.
of the rooms that is supposedly haunted, 304, was Alex Johnson’s private room
where he stayed when he was in Rapid City, and where he died at the age of 90.
But years before, his young daughter died in that room. People, especially
children, say they have seen a child ghost
In the Haunting book, I find a drawing by a little girl who stayed in
room 304, who drew herself, her brother, and another girl with a dark, long dress
you can see through (the ghost), dated July 5 2019. Children say they see ball
rolling and that there is a knock on doors all at once.
haunted room, 812, was where 60 years ago, a bride on her wedding night jumped,
was pushed or fell out of window. Guests say that doors open, lights go on and
some say when they sleep, they feel something pressing on their chest.
macabre legends must have appealed to Alfred Hitchcock who used the Alex Johnson
Hotel in his iconic thriller, “North by Northwest” and stayed here through the
filming of the Mount Rushmore scenes– there is an autographed photo of
Hitchcock behind reception desk (the lobby seemed much larger in the movie).
(the only Goldman in South Dakota, he notes), tells me his father is from
Brooklyn, and came to Rapid City for his medical residency and stayed. What a
small world: Goldman’s cousins live on my block in Long Island, New York. (He
says there are just 300 Jews in the entire state; they hold their Passover
seder in the hotel’s ballroom).
after exploring Rapid City, I get to appreciate the Vertex Sky Bar on the
hotel’s tenth floor (the Alex Johnson hotel is the third tallest building in
South Dakota). Originally, there was a solarium here and an observation tower
that was later used by KOTA radio station. Today, it is an upscale rooftop bar exclusively
for members and hotel guests. It provides a wonderful view for the sunset
behind the hills.
Goldman gives me some great tips for our bike trip – especially in Deadwood City, where he tells me to be sure to visit the cemetery where Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are buried, and where there is also a Jewish section.
he orients me to Rapid City: Memorial Park was created after a major flood in
1972 collapsed the dam, in which 238 people died (signs in the park tell the
story), leveling the poorest section of city. He tells me where to get the best
buffalo burger (Thirsty’s).
so I am off to discover Rapid City.
City makes the absolute most of whatever it has. The architecture except for a
small historic district is mostly nondescript, but there is sheer brilliance in
that 20 years ago, an artist began an ambitious program to have almost
life-sized sculptures of every president on every corner of the two downtown
boulevards, Main Street and St. Joseph’s Boulevard. This turned Rapid City into
“The City of Presidents.”
is fascinating and fun to go in search of them (they aren’t in chronological or
alphabetical order). Six artists produced the 43 sculptures, beginning in 2000:Obama’s
statue, depicting the Election night scene when he came out holding his
daughter’s hand, only went up a couple of months before; Lincoln is also
portrayed with his son, Tad; FDR is shown standing at a podium with radio mics;
Taft looking amazingly svelte, shown as the first president to throw out the
first pitch at a baseball game. There is a self-guided walking tour and a
Presidential Scavenger Hunt. It is really fun to try to see all of the
presidents. What is most interesting is how these significant personages are
set in such ordinary circumstance on nondescript small-town America street
notable exception to the presidents is a bust, “Mitakuye Oyasin” (“We are all
related”) by DC Lamphere, from a drawing by Richard Under Baggage, representing
“hope for reconciliation, dignity and respect for all the human race.” The
earth is in the shape of a hoop or circle of life; crossed pipes represent
world peace; the eagle symbolizes all flying creatures, and communication with
Tunka Sila; wisdom and the healing arts are represented by a grizzly bear, and
a long and productive life is symbolized by a turtle. “The bison reminds us of
our ancestors’ healthy lifestyles, free from famine, and also of the white
Buffalo Calf Woman who brought us the pipe.”
Another marked contrast to the presidents on every other corner is outside a remarkable shop, Prairie Edge: “Hunkayapi” also was created by local artist Dale Lamphere. The statue, depicting a Lakota naming ceremony, is intended to reflect the warmth in Lakota families, the wisdom of a Lakota elder and the teaching of the Lakota heritage to the next generation.
Edge is one of the most fantastic Native American shops anywhere. It is almost
a museum, with numerous contemporary Native artists who have their own
displays, biography and museum-quality art (I learn about quillwork). There is
also clothing, including Pendleton & Pilson, blankets and housewares, books
and music, and a Sioux Trading Post, and tee shirts and souvenirs and yes items
popular in tourist shops on sale, like an old-fashioned mercantile store.
shop contains a fine art Plains Indian Gallery, a Buffalo Room with bison
leather furnishings. There is also the Italian glass bead library boasting the
world’s largest selection of glass beads, with over 2,600 different styles and colors, from
the same Venetian guild that supplied fur traders in the 19th
century used for trade, including used in trade for the island of Manhattan;
after the Societa Veneziana Conterie closed in 1992, Prairie Edge bought the
remaining inventory of 70 tons of beads. (Prairie Edge, 606 Main Street, Rapid
City SD 57701, 800-541-2388, 605-342-3086, www.prairieedge.com).
I think about what Goldman told me about continued tension between Native Americans and the “settlers” (for lack of a better word), “Other places are more assimilated. South Dakota has nine Indian reservations. The two largest reservations – Pine Ridge, Rosebud – make Appalachia look like Beverly Hills.,” he told me. And his remarks echo for me later when I visit the Crazy Horse Memorial on our Mickelson Trail ride.
Edge is housed in an 1886 building in Italianate style that began as the L.
Morris Dry Goods and Clothing store with a dentist’s office on the second floor
and rooms to rent. Known as the Clower Building, it is most famously remembered
as the Jack Clower Saloon (1895-1917), a cowboy bar ion its day. It is one of
the most beautiful buildings in Rapid City.
you do expect in an open-carry state that still prides itself as being the wild
west, are the gun shops. There is the biggest gun shop I’ve ever seen, First
Stop Gun & Coin. (I am amazed at how heavy rifles are; there are “My First
Rifle,” child-sized like starter violins, and some pink and decorated rifles
geared for women.
wander over to Main Street Square, with a spray fountain, Astroturf and
stage for performances, and public restroom.
There is a surprising variety of restaurants you wouldn’t expect in a place that calls itself “City of Presidents” – Nepali, Mexican (considering how far from the Mexican border we are). Goldman has recommended Thirsty’s, which looks like a pool hall, as having the best buffalo burger in town. I opt for the Firehouse Brewing Company in the historic firehouse next door to Prairie Edge. I take note of a large 1883 photo mural depicting the store that had stood on the site with store names of Jewish proprietors: Herrmann Treber & Goldberg Groceries, Liquors and Cigars Wholesale.
Back at the Alex Johnson Hotel, I go up to the Vertex Sky Bar on the 10th floor to take in the sunset.
The Alex Johnson Hotel today is independently owned by the Bradsky family of Rapid City, acquired in 2008 on the hotel’s 80th anniversary, and refurbished with respect and sense of stewardship for its historic significance and importance to the city. (The family owns several properties, under the Liv Hospitality banner, in Deadwood and Rapid City, including Cadillac Jack’s and Tin Lizzie’s in Deadwood and Watiki water park in Rapid City. (www.LivHotelGroup.com)
Hotel Alex Johnson Rapid City, Curio Collection by Hilton, 523 Sixth Street, Rapid City SD 57701, 605-342-1210, alexjohnson.com.
More information at Visit Rapid City, 512 Main Street, Rapid City SD 57701, 800-487-3223, 605-718-8484, www.VisitRapidCity.com.
Missile National Historic Site
With better planning, I would have also
plugged into my itinerary a visit to Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. The
site provides an opportunity to explore the Minuteman II system’s role as a
nuclear deterrent during the Cold War and visit sites rarely seen by civilians
while in use, but that nevertheless loomed large on the geo-political
landscape, and in these tense times, be reminded about what a threat nuclear
I first became aware of the site
watching an extraordinary documentary, “The Man who Saved the World,” about
Stanislav Petrov, a former
lieutenant colonel of the Soviet Air
Defense Forces and his role in preventing the 1983 Soviet nuclear false alarm incident from leading
to nuclear holocaust. Now, with Trump and Putin at odds over
renegotiating a nuclear arms treaty while boasting about new weapons, it is
more important than ever to be reminded of how quickly things can go
Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
It’s our last
day of the Wilderness Voyageurs six-day “Badlands and Mickelson Trail” bike
tour of South Dakota, when we would have biked back a portion of the Mickelson
Trail that we cycled yesterday before visiting Mount Rushmore. But as luck
would have it (and it is actually lucky), it rains as we leave Deadwood. It is
lucky because the rest of our rides have been glorious and we did get to
complete the 109-mile long Mickelson Trail, in addition to riding through
Badlands National Park and Custer State Park. Our guides, James Oerding and
John Buehlhorn, offer us alternatives: instead of doing the Mickelson 18 miles
from Dumont to Mystic (the same trail we did yesterday but downhill) we go
directly to Mount Rushmore and see if the weather dries out.
Rushmore is such a familiar American icon, it may be a cliché. But seeing it “in
person” makes you rethink what it is all about.
sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, wrote “Let us place
there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders,
their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a
prayer that these records will endure until the wind and the rain alone shall
wear them away.”
Borglum also wrote, “The purpose of
the memorial is to communicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and
unification of the United States with colossal statues of Washington,
Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.”
National Park Service offers this about Mount Rushmore National Monument:
“Majestic figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt
and Abraham Lincoln, surrounded by the beauty of the Black Hills of South
Dakota, tell the story of the birth, growth, development and preservation of
this country. From the history of the first inhabitants to the diversity of
America today, Mount Rushmore brings visitors face to face with the rich
heritage we all share.”
The NPS posits that Borglum “selected these four presidents
because from his perspective, they represented the most important events in the
history of the United States. Would another artist at that time, or perhaps a
modern artist choose differently? As you read more about Borglum’s choices,
think about what you might have done if the decision was up to you.”
I stumble upon a
15-minute Ranger talk in the Sculptor’s Studio about Gutzon Borglum,
the carving process and the lives of the workers – how they
dynamited away 90 percent of the stone, leaving just 3 to 6 inches of material
to chisel off by hand, how they hang a weight to where the nose should be and
create the facial features from that reference point.
stands in front of a model of how a completed Mount Rushmore was envisioned by
Borglum. Who knew there was more? I’ve always taken for granted that what we
see was all that was meant to be. The model shows that it would have had their
jackets down to their waist and hands.
see the scale of the sculpture, it is hard to contemplate the challenge of
blasting away all that rock and carving that stone. But we learn that getting
this project underway was a challenge unto itself.
South Dakota historian
Doane Robinson is credited with conceiving the idea of carving the
likenesses of noted figures into the mountains of the Black Hills of South
Dakota in order to promote tourism in the region. But once Doane
Robinson and others had found a sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, they had to get
permission to do the carving. Senator Peter Norbeck (the man who created the
Needles Highway through Custer State Park) and Congressman William Williamson
were instrumental in getting the legislation passed to allow the carving. The
bill requesting permission to use federal land for the memorial easily passed
through Congress. But a bill sent to the South Dakota Legislature faced more
Robinson’s initial idea
was to feature heroes of the American West, such as Lewis and Clark, Oglala
Lakota chief Red cloud and Buffalo Bill Cody. But Borglum wanted the sculpture to
have broader appeal, so chose the four presidents, who would each symbolize an
important aspect of American history. (That might be why Robinson was not
chosen for the 12-member commission to oversee the project.)
Early in the project, money was hard
to find, despite Borglum’s guarantee that eastern businessmen would gladly make
large donations. He also promised South Dakotans that they would not be
responsible for paying for any of the mountain carving. Borglum got Treasury
Secretary Andrew Mellon on board, but only asked for half of the funding he
needed, believing he would be able to match federal funding ($250,000) dollar
for dollar with private donations.
Borglum worked on the project from
1927, the presidents’ faces were carved from 1933-1939, with his son, Lincoln. Meanwhile,
in 1929, the stock market crashed; in 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt placed
Mount Rushmore under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.
In March, 1941, as a final dedication was being planned,
Gutzon Borglum died. This fact, along with the impending American involvement
in World War II, led to the end of further carving on the mountain. With the
money – and enthusiasm – running out, Congress refused to allocate any more
funding. On October 31, 1941, the last day of work, Mount Rushmore National
Memorial was declared a completed project.
explains that the death of the artist raised an ethical issue for anyone who
would take over the work. And, the Ranger said, “The country had moved on. They
were not as interested in presidents as they were in the 1930s; when Mount
Rushmore was a shrine to democracy. And what if the new artist made a mistake?”
I can see how
Mount Rushmore was a cautionary tale for the Crazy Horse Memorial and why
sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, who worked on Mount Rushmore before being tasked
to do Crazy Horse, refused any federal funding, instead establishing a foundation
funded with private donations and admissions. Some 70 years after he began his
work, his grandchildren are involved in continuing to carve the memorial.
I walk the
Presidential Trail (just 0.6 miles long, 422 stairs, weather
permitting) to get up close and personal with the mountain
sculpture and perhaps glimpse some of the area wildlife.
million visitors come to Mount Rushmore each year.
Among the activities offered: the Junior
Ranger program (booklets are available at the information desks for ages
three to four, five to twelve and 13 and up), and the Carvers’ Café, Ice Cream Shop and Gift Shop.
Nakota and Dakota Heritage Village (10 – 30 mins., free): Explore
the history of the Black Hills and the American Indian tribes who have
populated this land for thousands of years. Located next to the Borglum View
Terrace for 2019, this area highlights the customs and traditions of local
American Indian communities. Open 10:30 am to 3 pm, early June through mid-August, weather
Youth Exploration Area (10 – 30 mins., free): Explore the natural, cultural and historical aspects of Mount Rushmore with interactive programs. Located at the Borglum View Terrace for 2019. Open early June through early August.
(30 – 120 mins; rental fee): Rent an
audio tour wand or multimedia device to hear the story of Mount
Rushmore through music, narration, interviews, historic recordings and sound
effects while walking a scenic route around the park. Available at the Audio
Tour Building across from the Information Center (rentals available inside the
Information Center during the winter months). The tour and accompanying
brochure are available in English, French, German, Lakota, and Spanish.
It had been gray
and drizzly when we first arrived making the monument look dull, but as we are
leaving, blue sky breaks through and for the first time, I realize that George
Washington has a jacket.
visit, the Visitor Center and amphitheater are closed for construction.)
(Just recently, the last living Mount
Rushmore construction worker, Donald ‘Nick” Clifford, who worked on the
monument from 1938-40, passed away at the age of 98.)
Even thought the weather has cleared up
just as we are leaving Mount Rushmore, because it is a getaway travel day, the
group decides not to bike (the trail James suggests is impractical because it
requires the guides to take off the roof racks in order to fit through the
tunnel). We decide instead, to go straight to Rapid City, our departure point,
for lunch before we all go our separate ways.
Our last lunch
together, in Rapid City, is at Tally’s Silver Spoon (best Reuben sandwich
outside of NYC!) – just across the street from the historic Alex Johnson Hotel,
where I began my South Dakota odyssey a week ago.
What I love best
about Wilderness Voyageurs’ “Badlands and Mickelson Trail” bike tour are the
varied experiences: Badlands – fossils – Circle View Guest Ranch – Black Hills
– Crazy Horse – Custer State Park – stone spires – wildlife – buffalo – Blue
Bell Lodge – Mount Rushmore – biking the 109-mile long Mickelson rail trail.
Guided bike trips are not cheap, but what I look for is value for money – my test is whether I could reproduce the trip for less out-of-pocket, to make up for the decided increase in convenience of having the itinerary already plotted out. I found Wilderness Voyageurs excellent value – in the services provided, wonderful accommodations (especially the guest ranch and the lodge), dining, creating an itinerary that was idyllic, entrances to attractions (Badlands National Park, Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore), and also considerate, superb guides, a relaxed, unpressured atmosphere (“You’re on vacation!”).
The destination, South Dakota, is quite sensational and unexpectedly varied – spectacular scenery, nature and wildlife, fossils (!), culture and history – a microcosm of North America, really. Indeed, it is an ideal destination for international visitors to plunge into the American frontier west mythology of the past, but more interestingly, to see the American West as it is today. And frankly, even if I rented a bike and paid for shuttle services, I couldn’t have duplicated the itinerary, or the camaraderie, or the expertise and care.
Voyageurs started out as a rafting adventures company 50 years ago, but has
developed into a wide-ranging outdoors company with an extensive catalog of
biking, rafting, fishing and outdoor adventures throughout the US and even
Cuba, many guided and self-guided bike itineraries built around rail trails
like the Eric Canal in New York, Great Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania, and
Katy Trail in Missouri.
Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
It strikes me as somewhat ironic, or perhaps appropriate, that
Deadwood, South Dakota, so famous for being the place where Wild Bill Hickok
was killed in a saloon playing poker, after being mining boomtown and a virtual
ghost town, has been reincarnated as a casino gaming mecca.
hotel, the Deadwood Mountain Grand Resort, actually reflects both
these traditions: it has one of the biggest casinos and the building has
repurposed what used to be a slime plant (slime is the waste left when they use
cyanide to decompose rock to release the gold), that was part of the Homestake
Mine. The Homestake Mine was the second-largest gold producer in the
United States and the longest continually operating mine in US history,
operating from 1885 to as recently as 2001.
We’ve arrived at Deadwood at the end of biking the 109-mile long Mickelson Trail, a bike trail converted from a former railroad line named to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Hall of Fame, which we have covered in three days of the six-day Wilderness Voyageurs “Badlands and Mickelson Trail” bike tour of South Dakota.
My day begins at the Blue Bell Lodge in Custer State Park, with a buffalo strolling up to the porch of my cabin. We then are shuttled in the Wilderness Voyageurs van to the Mystic Trailhead, to ride the remaining 34 scenic miles of the Mickelson Trail into Deadwood.
already about 3 pm, and armed with a list of activities that take place which I
have obtained from the concierge (the shootout on Main Street at 6 pm, for
example), I quickly drop my things to rush out to get to the Mount Moriah Cemetery which I remember
the Alex Johnson Hotel manager, Ross Goldman, telling me about. Though the
concierge and the visitor bureau guy discourage me from walking up there (there
isn’t a public bus and the bus tour which makes a quick stop at the cemetery
doesn’t make sense, I head out anyway – the hike, up 4,800 ft. to a high ridge
overlooking Deadwood Gulch – the highest point in Deadwood – proves no big deal
(especially compared to the hills we biked yesterday in Custer State Park) and
takes just about 20 minutes.
the entrance, they provide an excellent map with information and location of
the notable graves of the important people who are buried here for you to do
your own self-guided walking tour.
major lure – and why there is a line of people – is the side-by-side plots of James
Butler (Wild Bill) Hickok and Calamity Jane, whose legends continue to animate
Deadwood even today.
to the guide, James Butler Hickok was murdered in Deadwood on August 2, 1876.
He came, along with so many others, to the Deadwood gold camp in search of
adventure and fortune. But his true passion was gambling. While playing a game
of cards, he was shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall. “Wild
Bill’s colorful life included service as a marshal, an Army scout and other
tasks which called for a fast gun and no aversion to bloodshed.” (Later, you
can see the re-creation of the arrest of Jack McCall, and then a re-creation of
the hastily convened miners’ court, by the Deadwood Alive troop.)
“Calamity Jane” Canary (1850-1903) also had a colorful life, which she largely
created and which may or may not be true. “She worked on a bull train,
performed in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and was a prostitute.” She claimed
to have been Wild Bill Hickok’s sweetheart (and even that they were married and
had a daughter). Her grave marker calls her Martha Jane Burke because she
married Clinton Burke after Hickok’s death. She is known for acts of charity
and willingness to nurse the sick. In 1903, Calamity Jane died in the Terry
mining camp, her dying wish, “Bury me beside Wild Bill” was carried out.
cemetery was established in1878 and actively used until 1949. There are some
3,627 people buried here including a children’s section with 350 who died in of
scarlet fever and diphtheria epidemic 1878-1880; a Civil War section, a Jewish
section (surprisingly large) and a Chinese section (there is even a Chinese
altar and ceremonial oven), and several notable and colorful characters who are
described in the guide with directions to their gravesites.
struck by the wrought iron gates at the entrance which have symbols
representing the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Freemasonry and the Star of
David. Indeed the name Mt. Moriah was chosen for its religious affiliation with
both the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah (Mount Moriah is located within Jerusalem,
the site of Solomon’s temple.)
It takes about an hour to visit. ($2/entrance, 108 Sherman St., Deadwood 57732, 605-578-2082, www.cityofdeadwood.com).
it turns out, was named for the dead timber on the surrounding hills, not for
its shoot-outs. The discovery of gold in the Black Hills brought thousands of
new people to the area.
back down to the historic Main Street in plenty of time for the 6 pm “Main Street Shootout”, featuring a
fantastic Calamity Jane character.
There are free shows
throughout the day on Historic Main
Street (reminiscent of a theme park’s re-creation of a Wild West town):
Deadwood’s True Tales; a 2 pm Main Street shootout; a Rootin’Tootin’ Card Game
for kids and old-thyme musical show; Dr. Stan Dupt’s Travelin’ Medicine Show; 4
pm Main Street shootout; 4:30 Old Thym Hoe Down; 5:45 Deadwood’s True Tales on
the steps of the historic Franklin Hotel.
After the 6 pm
shootout, I check out the shops and grab a burger with another couple from our
bike tour who I meet up with on the street, and come back for the 7:30 pm
“Capture of Jack McCall” outside Saloon 10 (there is
the “original Saloon 10 where Wild Bill was actually shot).
there, we all march up the street to the Masonic Temple for the 8 pm “Trial of
Trial of Jack McCall” has been performed steadily, I am astonished to
learn since 1925, making it one of the nation’s longest
running plays. It began as an annual presentation during Statehood Days. The
script is based on news accounts of the actual trial which took place in the
mining camp of Deadwood after Jack McCall murdered James Butler
“Wild Bill” Hickok. Wild Bill was playing poker in Nuttal and Mann’s
Saloon No. 10 and was shot in the back of the head while holding Aces and
Eights, forever known as the “Dead Man’s Hand”. (People leave the
cards at his grave.). Though based on fact, it is done with great humor (if a murder trial
can be fun). “It has to be accurate,” any “Cookie” Mosher who plays John Swift,
Clerk of the Courts and Executive Director of Deadwood Alive, tells me because Deadwood Alive, a nonprofit, is supported in part
by Historical Preservation Society. (It reminds me of the “Cry Innocent,”
recreation of a Salem Witch Trial, in Salem, Massachusetts).
recreate the edition of the Black Hills Pioneer which reported the story of
Hickok’s murder, on August 3, 1876. “A dastardly murder was committed in
Deadwood gulch yesterday afternoon. The fiendish murderer who shot him in the
back is in jail. The dead man is Wild Bill Hickok, whose prowess with the
pistols is known far and wide. Single-handed, he captured robbers and trouble
makers in the south, at Dodge city, Abilene and Hays, Kansas, in Nebraska, in
all the south. Men feared him, feared his quickness on the draw, the deadly and
accurate aim which send more than one roustabout sprawling.
“But on this
terrible, bloodstained afternoon in the wild gold camp of the Black Hills, Wild
Bill never had a chance.”
This is a family-friendly show where the
selected members of the audience participate in the performance serving as
jurors in the trial- the jury of miners is made up of “minors” – kids who get
to wear various hats and sit on a bench). The show is held nightly Monday
through Saturday with the schedule as outlined below.
extremely entertaining as a trial for murder could possibly be.
Deadwood didn’t have a courthouse so the trial was held in Deadwood Theater
(the narrator/court manager explains they have to wait for auditions to finish
– so there is music provided by Calamity Jane as the audience files in. The
theater was tearing down from the previous week’s show and getting ready for
the next, so you see various props.The trial was held just the day after McCall’s
boy is given the role of sheriff; wearing an oversized cowboy hat, he seems
just itching to shoot the toy gun he hold on McCall.
call “witnesses” and John Swift, the clerk of Courts (played by Mosher) goes
into the audience and pulls somebody up – then after jokes (swearing on
“Bartenders Guide” instead of bible), “sneaks” them a script. He grabs a guy as
a witness who is wearing shorts so he puts shawl over his leg for modesty; he grabs
a woman to play McCall’s’ employer and pretends to flirt. (It’s very Shakespearean the way they go
in/out of character and talk to audience.)
witness says Wild Bill asked him to move his chair so Wild Bill could sit with his
back to wall, and he refused.
on the jury pretend to sleep during Defense’s summation.
in real life, McCall was found Not Guilty. Then, in an epilogue, the Clerk relates
that McCall was driven from town but bragged about killing Wild Bill over a
game of cards. The federal government said that because the crime was committed
in Indian Country the feds still had jurisdiction to try McCall without
violating the rule against double jeopardy. McCall was rearrested in 1877, got a
new trial, was found guilty and hanged.
Deadwood Alive has been entertaining visitors for over 20 years
with Main Street shootouts and regular performances of the Trial of Jack
McCall. The Deadwood Alive troupe of superb actors consists of over 10
characters and provide entertainment throughout the year including daily
shootouts, guided walking tours, musical performances and the famous Trial of
Jack McCall. Deadwood Alive is managed by a non-profit board of directors and
employs up to a dozen individuals each summer to re-enact several historically
accurate incidents of Deadwood’s past and make a visit to Deadwood so
entertaining for people of all ages (($6 adults, $5 seniors, $3 children,
enjoy the charm of the Main Street. I stop in to the Franklin Hotel, opened since
1903, a beautiful, elegant hotel, now with a casino in the lobby.
Deadwood actually offers a lot of history and attractions, which unfortunately, I do not have time to experience): The Adams Museum (554 Sherman St); Days of ’76 Museum (18 Seventy Six Dr), and Historic Adams House (22 Van Buren St.). (DeadwoodHistory.com, 605-722-4800).
More visitor information at Deadwood
South Dakota, 800-344-8826,www.deadwood.com.
Voyageurs started out as a rafting adventures company 50 years ago, but has
developed into a wide-ranging outdoors company with an extensive catalog of
biking, rafting, fishing and outdoor adventures throughout the US and even
Cuba, many guided and self-guided bike itineraries built around rail trails
like the Eric Canal in New York, Great Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania, and
Katy Trail in Missouri.
Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
didn’t think I could be wowed more than yesterday’s bike ride along the
Mickelson Trail to the Crazy Horse Memorial. But today’s ride through South Dakota’s
Custer State Park, starting on the Needles Highway, and riding the Wildlife
Loop for incredibly close encounters with the state’s famous animal life, finishing
at a rustic (but luxurious) lodge in the woods, is over the moon.
The Wilderness Voyageurs guides shuttle us in the van from the town of Custer to Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park to start our ride through South Dakota’s first and, at 71,000 acres, its largest state park. Like the town, its namesake is the infamous Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer, who in addition to being the army commander who brutally fought Indians (meeting his master at the Battle of Little Big Horn), was an “explorer and fortune hunter”. In 1874, Custer found gold in these Black Hills, prompting a mad gold rush that resulted in the Indians being displaced from their sacred lands. But be that as it may, the park, which preserves and protects the precious buffalo (actually American bison), and so much more, seems a measure of justice.
scenery is spectacular, beginning with this first view of the enchanting Sylvan
Lake. There is the Sylvan Lake Lodge (35 Lodge rooms, 31 cabins and a specialty
“Cathedral Spires Cabin” that sleeps 20), one of a few lodges in the park, a
superb hub for people who have come to fish, kayak, hike, rock climb or like
us, bike through Custer State Park and the fabulous Wildlife Loop.
bike along the Needles Highway. “14 miles of winding turns, granite spires and
rock tunnels, the Needles Highway is a marvel of engineering,” a marker reads. “Peter
Dakota’s first governor, U.S. senator and a conservationist] walked and rode the future highway on horseback, laying out
a route many deemed impossible.
asked his engineer, Scovel Johnson, ‘Scovel, can you build a road through
here?’ Scovel answered, ‘If you can furnish me enough dynamite.’ It took
150,000 pounds of the explosive, and the highway was opened in 1922.”
long, we find ourselves in the midst of a section known as The Needles, with
monster spires (fantastic for rock climbing).
ride through the Needles Eye tunnel – carved just wide and high enough to
accommodate the van (they have to take off the bikes) and soon after, the
Cathedral Spires. The breathtaking scenery makes you contemplate your place in
the natural world.
Oerding is the guide today (while John Buehlhorn drives the van), and once again, I am last, lingering to take
in the view, which means that James pretty much accompanies me. James is a
master wildlife spotter and sees a pair of mountain goats on a spire and then
we see their kid they are trying to convince to jump across a cavern between
the spires. They seem genuinely puzzled how to get down, though I can’t figure
out how they got up to this promontory in the first place.
a place where we can climb down to get a better view.
let’s me bike at my own pace and doesn’t hurry me along.
sooner does the landscape change completely from the tall spires to plains,
than we come across a whole herd of buffalo (actually, American bison) just
where we get to the Visitor Center, where John has lunch for us. Traffic has
stopped where the bison have chosen to cross the road.
seem to be a hundred bison gathered on a large field just in front of the
Visitor Center, and people are casually picnicking (like us) within arm’s
length – a surreal scene for a city kid.
Custer State Park Visitor Center is a stunning modern building, offering an
array of exhibits, including a large interactive map, a 20-foot scale model of
the Cathedral Spires and displays describing the natural world of the Park – as
well as warnings about how not to interact with the bison (a bison can run 35
mph; if it lifts its tail, it is getting into fighting position; bison
communicate to the herd with their tail). There is a wonderfully comfortable
theater which offers a not to be missed 20-minute film narrated by Kevin
Costner who reminds us that this was the very land (in fact used in the film)
of “Dances With Wolves.”
buffalo – tatanka – are an enduring symbol of the Old West symbolizing
abundance, strength, power and an enduring symbol of Indian culture.”
In the Lakota language, the word “tatanka” is translated as “buffalo” or “buffalo bull.” But native Lakota speakers say the literal
translation is more like “He who owns us.”
“The Lakota and other tribes believed that a white buffalo is the most sacred living thing on earth. … The American buffalo or bison is a
symbol of abundance and manifestation. Tatanka is the
root of all life.”
State Park, “the spirit is Tatanka,” the film intones. “71,000 acres….towering
granite spires… an incredible American landscape. Choose your own path.”
park sits between Crazy Horse Memorial at one corner, Mount Rushmore National
Memorial at the other.
history dates back to 1897; but it was officially named a state park in 1919;
the Needles Highway was completed in 1922; by 1924, the bison herd totaled 100.
In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge and his wife spent three months at the Game
Lodge. The park was expanded in the 1930s as part of FDR’s government works
projects and became one of largest state parks in the United States. By 1966,
the park received 1 million visitors; now, some 2 million visitors come each
has played a vital role in saving the American bison. There were 30-60 million
bison roaming North America in the 1500s when Europeans first arrived; by the
late 1880s-1890s, fewer than 1000 were left. In the early 1900s, the
Yellowstone herd was protected; then the Custer State Park herd. In 1914, 36
bison were purchased and by 1924, the herd totaled 100. Today, there are some
500,000 bison in North America, with 400 born a year here at Custer State Park.
Each September, there is a Buffalo Roundup which this year, brought out over 19,440 visitors for the 54th Annual roundup, to watch as 60 horseback riders wrangle the herd of 1,400 bison into corrals for their annual health check. The annual roundup helps the park manage its herd; some 445 bison are sold at the annual auction. The park also hosts a three-day arts festival in conjunction with the roundup. (Upcoming Buffalo Roundups will be held on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, and Friday, Sept. 24, 2021.)
here, we get back onto the road to bike on Custer State Park’s Wildlife Loop.
71,000 acres in the Black Hills, Custer State Park, is one
of the best places in North America to see a range of animals in their natural
the Wildlife Loop, there are buffalo (bison), deer, elk, pronghorn antelope
(the fastest land animal on the Continent; 12 pronghorn were brought here in
1914), burros, yellow-bellied marmot, prairie dogs, big horn sheep – native to
Black Hills – unique in Custer State Park. And before the end of day, we will
see just about every one.
beyond the visitor center, where the herd has now moved on from the field, all
the cars are stopped in both directions to allow the bison to cross the road. I
put myself between two cars which I think will give me some protection.
never been in a situation like this, so close to these fearsome creatures
without any barrier between (well except for the time I biked in tall grass in
the tiger reserve in India). I am in their habitat.
Bison are the largest terrestrial animal in North America, standing up to six feet tall. A male can weigh upwards of a ton and a female can weigh 900 pounds, according to the National Wildlife Foundation. Bison fight by crashing their massive heads or horns together. Both male and female bison have short, curved, black horns, which can grow to two feet long. American bison like to live and travel in groups. For most of the year herds are divided by sex, with females and calves in one herd and males in another herd. When the breeding season begins in the summer, many males temporarily join the female herd and begin looking for a mate.
on the road, waiting for the buffalo to cross the road, is an opportunity to
study their behavior. It occurs to me as I watch, that unlike dolphin which
seem to show great emotion with their expressions and interactions, the buffalo
don’t seem to have the means to show emotion, except perhaps a flick of a tail
or their blue tongue. I wonder how one seems to emerge as a leader that the
me how little interest or interaction there is among buffalo – except for a mother
close with her calf, the buffalo don’t seem to have any connection,
communication with each other, except all facing same direction and walk almost
together. They all turn in one direction and move in one direction – who is
leader? How is the leader selected? I
later learn that one way they communicate is with their tails.
It turns out that bison, who are almost constantly moving, actually vote on the direction they will travel, orienting their bodies in the direction they would like to go, and eventually choosing to follow an “initiator”; they communicate through grunts and growls, from smells and hearing, I subsequently learn from Scientific American.
are also mountain lions in the park (we don’t get to see any), which are
monitored with radio-collars and tranquilized for routine medical testing.
James tells me that once he came upon the medical staff tranquilizing a
mountain lion in order to take its vitals.
we come to the toughest ride of the trip – of the 39 miles we bike today, it
seems three-quarters are uphill; there are lots of long, steep ascents and
sweeping downhills too. This is the difference between a road and a rail trail.
I plug through.
one point, I lose momentum altogether and wind up walking the bike the
equivalent of a city block and am annoyed with myself. But I make the remaining
ascents, including the final half mile steep, corkscrew rise at mile 37 to the
Blue Bell Lodge. I have a strategy of stopping where the road levels a bit,
then resetting my concentration. (The van is available to drive people who
choose not to bike.)
is so beautiful – 30 gorgeous log cabins among the pines (a specialty Ponderosa
Cabin accommodates 20).
have my own cabin – fireplace, deer head, two double beds, dining table/chairs,
tv, kitchenette, porch with 3 chairs. Heaven.
makes all of this it possible – you couldn’t do this itinerary on your own
because it isn’t contiguous. They shuttle us to starting and ending points so
we have the best route. We aren’t carrying our own gear from inn to inn.
guides, James Oerding and John Buehlhorn, make a big difference – their
knowledge not only of the trail, the route, but the places we will experience, the
animals and sites we see, down to lunch recommendations. And SOOOO helpful –
like father hens.
humored, patient, interesting. “You’re on vacation,” they say. They don’t rush
us along or show impatience if we are slow or stop a lot. And they cheer us on
to get through the touch climbs. Not only in their knowledge and experience but
extremely helpful, patient, kind, considerate – go out of way to help guests –
which is really clear this day. Van is there to help if necessary.
trip is organized with pit stops, snacks, breakfasts and most lunches and hosted
dinners, (just one lunch and two dinners on our own) as well as the admissions
we dine at the Blue Bell Lodge’s Tatanka Dining Room (locally known as the Blue
Bell Lodge Dining Room) – a lovely western themed (obviously) room. We order
what we like from the menu (booze is on our own), which has some distinct
items: rattle snake and buffalo sausage (tasty!); buffalo tenderloin.
historic Blue Bell Lodge was originally a hunting lodge for friends- named (it
is believed) for the telephone company, now run by Regency Hotel
Management. A nightly chuck wagon dinner is offered
that goes out 5-8 pm, with a ride to the valley; live music, dinner, dancing,
for as many as 100 people.
behind at the lodge to look at my email when I get a call from James telling me
a giant buffalo is just off the path in the pitch darkness. I see it when a car
comes by and lights up the buffalo.
offers to drive the van over to pick me up – I insist on finding a way to walk
the short distance, and he tries talking me through but I have trouble finding the path. Finally, I find the path and see
James and John walking over to rescue me.
stars are gorgeous. I can see the Milky Way.
lodge and Custer State Park, are open year-round. I can imagine how spectacular
it is in winter.
I wake up early to sit
on the porch of my cabin at the Blue Bell Lodge with a book and a cup of coffee,
thinking this is the ultimate in luxury, but the peace of the moment is soon
broken when I spy the buffalo from last night right outside. It lumbers toward my porch
and takes a drink from a puddle.
and John – not wanting to chance any confrontation with the buffalo – call us
to tell us they will drive the van to pick each of us up at our cabins at 8 am. We
drive back to Custer for breakfast at a cute café before starting today’s bike
Day 5 of the Wilderness
Voyageurs Badlands and Mickelson Trail tour is our final day on the Mickelson
Trail. We ride the last miles all the way to Deadwood, a true wild west town
made famous by the murder of Wild Bill Hickok.
are shuttled back to Mystic where we left the trail two days ago, and ride 18
miles up hill, and then down the slope, for a total of 34 miles to end of Mickelson
at Deadwood, at mile 109.
John comes to pick us up with the van,
making back-and-forth trips from the trailhead to our hotel, the Deadwood Mountain Grand Resort, which has an enormous casino (it
seems fitting for a town that was born out of the gold rush and made famous by
a poker game).
We are on our own to explore Deadwood and discover its many
charms. Fortunately, I’ve had some tips from the Alex Johnson Hotel manager in
Rapid City, and head straight out to the cemetery.
Voyageurs started out as a rafting adventures company 50 years ago, but has
developed into a wide-ranging outdoors company with an extensive catalog of
biking, rafting, fishing and outdoor
adventures throughout the US and even Cuba, many guided and self-guided bike
itineraries built around rail trails like the Eric Canal in New York, Great
Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania, and Katy Trail in Missouri.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is sensational, awesome and profound. The
carved portrait in the cliff-side, which I first encounter by surprise as I
bike on the Mickelson Trail between Custer and Hill City is spectacular enough,
but there is so much more to discover. There is also a superb Museum of Native
Americans of North America (it rivals the Smithsonian’s Museum in Washington
DC) where you watch a terrific video that tells the story of the America’s
indigenous people, and can visit the studio/home of the sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski.
It is the highlight of our third day of the Wilderness Voyageurs “Badlands and
Mickelson Trail” bike tour of South Dakota.
I rush to join a tour (a
modest extra fee) that brings us right to the base of the sculpture. You look
into this extraordinary, strong face – some quartz on the cheek has a glint
that suggests a tear.
Only then do I realize that,
much to my surprise, seeing the scaffolding and equipment, that 70 years after
sculptor Ziolkowski started carving the monument in 1947, his grandson is
leading a crew to continue carving. Right now it is mainly a bust – albeit the
largest stone carving in the world – but as we see in the museum, the completed
sculpture will show Crazy Horse astride a horse, his arm outstretched toward
the lands that were taken from the Lakota.
At 87 ft 6 inches high, the Crazy Horse Memorial
is the world’s largest mountain carving in progress. They are now working on
the 29-foot high horse’s head, the 263-foot long arm, and 33 ft-high hand, the
guide tells us. The horse’s head will be as tall as 22-story building,
one-third larger than any of the President’s at Mount Rushmore. The next phase of progress on the
Mountain involves carving Crazy Horse’s left
hand, left forearm, right shoulder, hairline, and part of the horse’s mane and
head over 10-15 years. The plan is to carve the back side of the
rock face as well, which would make the Crazy Horse Memorial a three-sided
When completed, the Crazy
Horse Mountain carving will be the world’s largest sculpture, measuring 563
feet high by 641 feet long, carved in the round. The nine-story high face of
Crazy Horse was completed on June 3, 1998; work began on the 22-story high
horse’s head soon after.
“One if hardest decisions
(after two years of planning) was to start with head, not the horse (in other
words, work way down),” the guide tells us.
In 71 years of construction,
there have been no deaths or life threatening injuries of the workers (though
there was that accident when a guy driving a machine slipped off edge; his father
told him he had to get the machine out himself.)
Four of Korczak and Ruth’s 10 children
and three of his grandchildren still work at the Memorial.
On the bus ride back to the
visitor center, the guide tells us that Zioklowski was a decorated World War II
veteran who was wounded on D-Day, but was so devoted to the Crazy Horse
Memorial, he even planned for his death: there is a tomb in a cave at the base
of the monument..
Back at the visitor
center/museum, the story about the Crazy Horse Memorial is told in an excellent
The overwhelming theme is to
tell the story, to give a positive view of native culture, to show that Native
Americans have their own heroes, and to restore and build a legacy that
survived every attempt to blot it out in a form of genocide.
There were as many as 18 million Indians living in North America when the Europeans arrived
(the current population is 7 million in the US). “These Black Hills are our
Cathedral, our sacred land,” the film says.
Crazy Horse was an Ogala
Lakota, born around 1840 on the edge of Black Hills. He was first called “Curly”
but after proving himself in battle, earned his father’s name, “Crazy Horse” (as
in “His Horse is Crazy”). The chief warned of encroaching “river” of settlers,
leading to 23-years of Indian wars. In 1876 Crazy Horse led the battle against
General Custer, the Battle of Little Big Horn (known as Custer’s Last Stand,
but Indians call it “the Battle of Greasy Grass”). It was a victory for the
Indians, but short-lived. Soon after, the US government rounded up the rebels
and killed Crazy Horse while he was in custody at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. (See www.nps.gov/libi/learn/historyculture/crazy-horse.htm)
I am introduced to a new hero: Standing Bear.
Standing Bear was born 1874 near Pierre, South Dakota, and was among the first Indian children sent away to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania where his name was randomly changed to “Henry.” In the school, their Indian identity was forcibly removed – they cut the boys’ hair, they were not allowed to speak their language “to best help them learn the ways of non-native.”
“As a result of attending Carlisle, Standing Bear concluded that in order to best help his people, it would be necessary for him to learn the ways of the non-Native world. Somewhat ironically, Carlisle – an institution that was designed to assimilate Native Americans out of their indigenous ways – became a source of inspiration that Standing Bear would repeatedly draw upon to shape his enlightened understanding of cross-cultural relationships, as well as to find new ways of preserving his people’s culture and history.” He honed leadership skills like public speaking, reasoning, and writing, realizing that because of the changing times, the battle for cultural survival would no longer be waged with weapons, but with words and ideas. “This realization became a driving force behind much of his work during his adult life and led him to become a strong proponent of education,” the background material on the Crazy Horse Memorial website explains (crazyhorsememorial.org).
attended night school in Chicago while he worked for the Sears Roebuck Company
to pay for his schooling. With feet firmly placed in both worlds, he became
heavily involved in the affairs of his people over the course of his life and
politically astute —working with Senator Francis Case and serving as a member
of the South Dakota Indian Affairs Commission. He led the initiative to honor
President Calvin Coolidge with a traditional name – “Leading Eagle,”
taking the opportunity for advocacy during the naming ceremony to challenge
President Coolidge to take up the leadership role that had been previously
filled by highly-respected leaders such as Sitting Bull and Red Cloud.
In 1933, Standing
Bear learned of a monument to be constructed at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, to
honor his maternal cousin, Crazy Horse, who was killed there in 1877. He wrote
to the organizer that he and fellow Lakota leaders were promoting a carving of
Crazy Horse in the sacred Paha Sapa – Black Hills.
Standing Bear looked for an
artist with the skill to carve the memorial to his people that would show
Indians had heroes too and turned to Korczak Ziolkowski, a self-taught
sculptor who had assisted at Mount Rushmore and had
gained recognition at the 1939 World’s Fair. Standing Bear invited him back to
the Black Hills.
Born in Boston of Polish descent in
1908, Korczak was orphaned when he was one year old. He grew up in a series of
foster homes and is said to have been badly mistreated. He gained skills in heavy construction
helping his foster father.
On his own at 16, Korczak took odd jobs
to put himself through Rindge Technical School in Cambridge, MA, after which he
became an apprentice patternmaker in the shipyards on the rough Boston
waterfront. He experimented with woodworking, making beautiful furniture. At
age 18, he handcrafted a grandfather clock from 55 pieces of Santa Domingo
mahogany. Although he never took a lesson in art or sculpture, he studied the
masters and began creating plaster and clay studies. In 1932, he used a coal
chisel to carve his first portrait, a marble tribute to Judge Frederick
Pickering Cabot, the famous Boston juvenile judge who had befriended and
encouraged the gifted boy and introduced him to the world of fine arts.
Moving to West Hartford, Conn., Korczak
launched a successful studio career doing commissioned sculpture throughout New
England, Boston, and New York.
Ziolkowski wanted to do something
worthwhile with his sculpture, and made the Crazy Horse Memorial his life’s
“Crazy Horse has never been
known to have signed a treaty or touched the pen,” Ziolkowski wrote. “Crazy
Horse, as far as the scale model is concerned, is to be carved not so much as a
lineal likeness, but more as a memorial to the spirit of Crazy Horse – to his
people. With his left hand gesturing forward in response to the derisive
question asked by a white man, ‘Where are your lands now?’ He replied, ‘My lands
are where my dead lie buried’.”
There is no known photo of
Crazy Horse, Ziolkowski created his likeness from oral descriptions.
He built a log studio home
(which we can visit) at a time when there was nothing around – no roads, no
water, no electricity. For the first seven years, he had to haul himself and
his equipment, including a decompressor and 50 pound box of dynamite, up 741
Living completely isolated
in the wilderness, Korczak and his wife Ruth bought an 1880s one-room school
house, had it moved to this isolated property and hired a teacher for their 10
There is so much to see
here: The Museums of
Crazy Horse Memorial feature exhibits and engaging experiences that let you
discover Native history and contemporary life, the art and science of mountain carving and the lives of the Ziolkowski family.
INDIAN MUSEUM OF NORTH AMERICA® houses an enormous collection of art
and artifacts reflecting the diverse histories and cultures of over 300 Native
Nations. The Museum, designed to complement the story being told in stone
on the Mountain, presents the lives of American Indians and preserves Native
Culture for future generations. The Museum collection started with a single display
donated in 1965 by Charles Eder, Hunkpapa Lakota, from Montana, which remains on display to this day. The
Indian Museum has about the same number of annual visits as the National Museum
of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. Close to
90% of the art and artifacts have been donated by generous individuals,
including many Native Americans.
The gorgeous building housing the Museum
was designed and built by Korczak Ziolkowski and his family in the
harsh winter of 1972-73, when no work was possible on the Mountain.
The Museum incorporated Korczak’s love of wood and natural lighting, being
constructed from ponderosa pine, harvested and milled at Crazy Horse Memorial.
The original wing of the museum was dedicated on May 30, 1973. In the early 1980s,
Korczak planned a new wing of the Museum to accommodate the growing collection
of artifacts. He did not live to see his plans realized, instead his wife Ruth Ziolkowski and 7 of their children
made sure the new wing was built. The structure was built in the winter of
1983-84 and funding came in large part from a $60,000 check left in the Crazy
Horse Memorial contribution box in late August of 1983. The contributor said he
was moved by the purpose of Crazy Horse, Korczak, and his family’s great
progress and by the sculptor’s reliance on free enterprise and refusal to take
The Ziolkowski Family Life Collection is shown throughout the complex and demonstrates to people of all ages the timeless values of making a promise and keeping it, setting a goal and never giving up, working hard to overcome adversity, and devoting one’s life to something much larger than oneself. There are portraits of the couple and personal effects that tell their life’s story.
The Mountain Carving Gallery shares the amazing history of carving the Mountain. It features the tools Korczak used in the early years of carving, including a ½ size replica of “the bucket” – a wooden basket used with an aerial cable car run by an antique Chevy engine that allowed the sculptor to haul equipment and tools up the Mountain. Displayed in the Mountain Carving Room are the measuring models used to carve the face of Crazy Horse, plasters of Crazy Horse’s face and the detailed pictorial progression of carving the face. They also detail the next phase in the Memorial’s carving which is focused on Crazy Horse’s left hand and arm, the top of Crazy Horse’s head, his hairline, and the horse’s mane. If you stand in just the right spot, you can line up the model of how the finished work will look against the actual mountain sculpture as it is.
Crazy Horse Memorial is
actually a private, nonprofit (they also have a nonprofit college and medical
training center that educates Indians), and twice turned down federal funding
because “they didn’t believe the government would do it right.” Indeed, Mount
Rushmore (which we see on the last day of our bike tour) was never completed
because the federal government stopped funding the project. The entrance fee
($30 per car, 3 or more people, $24 per car two people, $12 per person, $7 per
bicycle or motorcycle) support the continued carving, the Indian Museum of
North America and the Indian University of North America, which assists qualifying
students get their college degrees.
Once again, I am so grateful
that I am not being pushed along with an artificial time limit by the
Wilderness Voyageurs guides, I wander through the vast complex trying to take
it all in. I am utterly fascinated.
I buy postcards for 25c apiece and stamps, sit with a (free) cup of coffee in the cafe and mail them at their tiny post-office. There is an excellent gift shop.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is
open 365 days of the year, with various seasonal offerings.
I’m the last one to leave
the Crazy Horse Memorial, and note that the bike of our sweeper guide for today John
is still on the rack, but
I figure he will see that I have gone and catch up to me, so I get back on the
Mickelson Trail. He catches me again when I don’t realize to get off the trail
at Hill City, where we are on our own for lunch and exploring the town.
Hill City is really
charming and the home of the South Dakota State Railroad Museum, where you can
take a ride on an old-time steam railroad. The shops are really pleasant.
The Wilderness Voyageurs
van is parked there in case anybody needs anything.
The ride to the Crazy Horse Memorial was uphill on the rail trail for 8 miles but going down hill isn’t a picnic because of the loose gravel – but not difficult and totally enjoyable. We ride through train tunnels and over trestles. It is no wonder that the 109-mile long Mickelson Trail, which is a centerpiece of the Wilderness Voyageurs’ tour, is one of 30 rail-trails to have been named to the Hall of Fame by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. We finish this day’s ride at Mystic at the 74.7-mile marker– we’ll ride the remaining miles on another day. Mystic used to be a significant town when the railroad ran here. Now there are just two buildings and four residents.
I notice the sign tacked up at the
shelter: Be Aware: Mountain Lions spotted on the trail toward Rochford within
the last few days.
We are shuttled back to Custer for our
second night’s stay at the Holiday Inn Express (very comfortable, with pool,
game room, WiFi and breakfast), and treated to a marvelous dinner at one of the
finer dining restaurants, the Sage Creek Grill (611 Mount Rushmore Road,
Voyageurs started out as a rafting adventures company 50 years ago, but has
developed into a wide-ranging outdoors company with an extensive catalog of
biking, rafting, fishing and outdoor
adventures throughout the US and even Cuba, many guided and self-guided bike
itineraries built around rail trails like the Eric Canal in New York, Great
Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania, and Katy Trail in Missouri.
are still a few spots left on Wilderness Voyageurs’ Quintessential West Cuba
Bike Tour departing on March 21.