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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Geographic Center of the United States to Spearfish

From the high plains of the Geographic Center of the United States to the entrance into the Black Hills at the college town of Spearfish, these 56 miles of the Black Hills BackBone deliver a visual feast.  Of all the highlights, however, two stretches really stand out, both Minimum Maintenance Roads ("MMR") specifically included as a tribute to TransIowa founder and gravel grinder guru Mark Stevenson.  Thanks, Mark for your inspiration and dedication.  I'll need all of it, with these virtually impassable when wet, deeply rutted dirt roads starting at 120 miles into the BackBone.

Deeply rutted Sale Barn Road leading into the cow town of St. Onge.
So, here's the details.  From the Geographic Center of the United States, continue South (straight) on Old Highway 85 for about 8 miles of more big roller, big view prairie gravel.  Turn NorthEast (left) on U.S. Highway 85 for 0.5 miles and then East (right) on Brooker Road.  There's a few more ranches and even some irrigation here, as the Belle Fouche Reservoir approaches.

Heading toward the Black Hills.
After 7.5 miles on Brooker Road, turn South (right) on Arpan Road, which eventually reveals vistas of the Belle Fouche Reservoir and the still-off-in-the-distance Black Hills.

At 13 miles, Arpan Road t-bones with U.S. Highway 212.  Turn West (right) for 1.6 miles and then South (left) on Fruitdale Road for a short 3 miles.  Fruitdale is a collection of buildings, some of which appear to be inhabited, but none of which are open commercial establishments.  Since it's only another 12 miles to the St. Onge Bar, I plan to ride through.

South of Fruitdale through a river bottom before some hilly foothills.
Fruitdale Road crosses the Belle Fouche River and t-bones with Snowma Road.  Turn East (left) for 0.5 miles, then South (right) on Crooked Oaks Road.  Now, this is different country.  Shorter, steeper rollers, with twisty gravel through sporadic clusters of oak trees and occasional pines.  I can only imagine the fall colors.

Crooked Oaks Road has a few steep pitches that seem to go up with each bend in the road.
After 5.5 miles, Crooked Oaks Road runs into a t-bone.  Take the non-obvious East (left) turn onto Sale Barn Road, a Minimum Maintenance Road ("MMR").  This particular 2 mile stretch of MMR is deeply rutted and passable now primarily due to the snow pack.  After 2 miles, turn West (right) at a four way intersection, which will keep you on Sale Barn Road.  About a half mile later, turn NorthWest (right) on U.S. Highway 34.  This is the rollicking livestock sale town of St. Onge.  The only place in town, the St. Onge Bar, is worth the stop.  It's also been 73 miles since the last planned water stop at Harding.

From St. Onge, continue NorthWest on U.S. Highway 34 for 2 miles, then turn West (left) onto 196th Street.  Odd that this remote road does not have a more colorful name.  It certainly deserves one.

Rolling hills on good prairie gravel on 196th Street.
After 4 miles on 196th Street, turn South (left) on LookOut Mountain Road, which starts out as gravel before turning into another MMR as it winds up, along and then over a ridge line.  I have not tested the veracity of the sign's message, but it was a challenge to pass when mostly frozen.

Back to Minimum Maintenance Roads, this time with some steeps.
Turn West (right) onto Kerwin Lane, which becomes more and more residential as the college town of Spearfish nears.  After about 2 miles on Kerwin Lane, turn South (left) onto U.S. Highway 85 for 1.5 miles to a stop light at Hills View Road.  If in need of provisions, stop in this area, as there likely will be nothing, other than perhaps water, until Custer.  That's about 80-90 miles of Black Hills gravel away.

From the intersection of U.S. Highway 85 and Hills View Road, turn West onto Hills View Road for 1.5 miles to McGuigan Road, which will become USFS 134.  Turn South (left) onto McGuigan Road and prepare to enter the Black Hills.

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