Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Edgemont to Jewel Cave National Monument

Out of the rolling prairie around Edgemont, the DoubleBackBone dives into the hardscrabble canyons of the Southern Black Hills, gradually climbing through rough country up increasingly more forested hills. When this forest gravel is dry, it can be fast, but no commercial services are anywhere near. So, be self-sufficient and, if needed at the end of this 51 mile stretch, take a short side-trip to Jewel Cave National Monument for water and snacks.

Red Canyon Road north of Edgemont leads into the Southern Black Hills.
From Edgemont, ride east on paved U.S. Highway 18 for 2.5 miles, then turn north onto Red Canyon Road (Fall River County Road 15) for 9.4 miles of twisty, rolling forest gravel through Red Canyon and its multiple flash flood draws. Cattle roam freely throughout these open range canyons, as do elk and deer. Over time, wind and water have carved unique geologic formations, including some arches, into the surrounding canyon walls. Although this area has the unmistakeable feel of the Black Hills, it's definitely different from the developed tourist and recreational centers further north.

Common sign on Red Canyon Road, signaling a re-enforced flash flood drainage in the draw ahead.
After a rollicking 9.4 miles, Red Canyon Road T-bones into Pilger Mountain Road (317). Turn west to meander along a valley and up a ridge, leaving behind the flash flood draws of the canyons and heading into the Hills, with bigger views opening toward the south. After 8.3 miles on Pilger Mountain Road (317), turn east onto Pleasant Valley Road (715) for some faster gravel on a more developed road. There may even be a truck or two from one of the active, large ranches out here.

Hardscrabble canyons grudgingly give way to rolling hills with more trees.
After just 6.6 miles on Pleasant Valley Road (715), watch for this next turn, west onto Richardson Cutoff Road (276), a primitive Forest Service road. This does not look much like a gravel road and it's not. But it's great fun to ride. Keep an eye and ear out for the possibility of other traffic, however, as this rough road passes the Richardson Trail Head, which accesses a popular ATV trail system.

Dropping into Richardson Cutoff Road, a rough one that gets rougher.
The rugged 5.4 miles of Richardson Cutoff (276) pass too quickly and T-bone into Pass Creek Road (273). Turn west on faster forest gravel for some wandering miles, with more climbing than descending. After 10.7 miles on Pass Creek Road (273), turn north onto Mann Road (270) for 8.6 miles to U.S. Highway 16. The DoubleBackBone route turns east on this pavement for 0.5 miles before heading north again, now onto Mud Springs Road (282).

Climbing toward Jewel Cave National Monument.
This is a good representation of forest gravel on secondary National Forest roads in the Black Hills.
However, before making that turn onto Mud Springs Road (282), check your water. It's been over 50 miles since Edgemont and another 80 miles remain to Spearfish before a commercial establishment of any kind is on this route. Although other sources of water may be available along the way, or just off the way, here one may continue east on U.S. Highway 16 for another 2 miles to the entrance for Jewel Cave National Monument for access to water and snacks.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

NothingThere, Nebraska to Edgemont

Starting at the stop sign finish of the Black Hills BackBone, this section of the DoubleBackBone swings west through Buffalo Gap National Grasslands before angling north to the railroad town of Edgemont. Wide open prairie translates to stark exposure and long sight lines. It's hard to miss the herds of cattle, but watch for the wary pronghorn and majestic elk that patrol these lands. With big views through rolling, hard-packed gravel, these fifty miles can pass quickly, unless of course the winds pick up, the rains fall or the sun comes out.

Winding down to the railroad town of Edgemont nestled in the distant trees.
From the start, head west on Dakota Line Road for 3 miles and then north for a mile, before turning west on East Ardmore Road for 13 miles to the ghost town of Ardmore. A few of the buildings in Ardmore appear to be occupied, but there are many abandoned structures and no commercial establishments. If you need water before Edgemont, still about 33 miles away, knocking on a door here may be an option. I plan to ride straight through, other than perhaps stopping for a moment to snap a picture.

The long anticipated Stop Sign finish of the Black Hills BackBone?
Well, yes, unless you're on the DoubleBackBone. Then it's time to turn right and head west along the Nebraska border.
Continue west on Ardmore Road for 7.8 miles and then north on Edgemont Road (Fall River County 6412) for 10.9 miles. Although the BackBone finish sits 25 miles ago, the Nebraska border is still just 2 miles to the south. Miles of open prairie lie ahead, with but a few man-made structures.

Solitary building, perhaps an abandoned school house, on Edgemont Road, about 4 miles north of the Nebraska border.
Makes one wonder about life on the prairie as a kid. There are no other buildings in sight.
To avoid an 8 mile pavement run into Edgemont, the DoubleBackBone stays on gravel by turning back east on South Highway 471 for 3 miles, north on Plum Creek Road (Fall River County 65) for 4 miles, and west on Indian Canyon Road (Fall River County 3292) for 2 miles. This is good, fast, prairie gravel with few other options, so navigation is straightforward.

Turn north on Lookout Road (Fall River County 6) for a twisty 4 miles that eventually T-bones into paved Highway 471 for a short coast into Edgemont. Stay on Highway 471 through town to U.S. Highway 18 at the north end.

Small herd of elk just off a gravel road south of Edgemont.
Edgemont sports a spartan city campground with showers on the south end of town, a bar and grill on main street, a motel for those so inclined and convenience stores on the north end of town. Enjoy the amenities and stock up on supplies. The next town on the Black Hills DoubleBackBone route is Spearfish, about 130 miles and more than a few thousand feet of climbing away.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Imagine a DoubleBackBone

Spanning the height of the State of South Dakota on 310 miles of remote back country gravel and dirt roads, the Black Hills BackBone creates a host of challenges for the adventurous cyclist. One not to overlook is just getting to the start at NoWhere, North Dakota and from the finish at NothingThere, Nebraska. From Rapid City, it's a three hour drive one way to the start and two hours one way from the finish.

How to eliminate those long shuttle drives? Make the route into a loop and start where convenient.

Imagine, if you will, riding along the original Black Hills BackBone route to the stop sign finish at the Nebraska border. Celebrate for a moment and certainly snap a few pictures, but then head west onto Dakota Line Road to access the Wild, Wild Western reaches of the Black Hills. A serpentine network of barely used gravel and dirt roads wind generally north for a return up O'Neil Pass, before dropping onto the Northern Prairie to the North Dakota border.

Now, that's one big, bad loop. Well over 600 miles, all told.

The Black Hills DoubleBackBone.

Out there. Somewhere. On the Black Hills DoubleBackBone.
Sometimes, more is more. More rolling prairie patrolled by herds of cattle, buffalo, pronghorn and elk. More obscure canyons scoured by flash floods. More twisty ridge lines climbing to soaring views. More hills stuffed with pine and aspen. More dirt near-roads connecting with secondary Forest Service gravel. And even more remote than the easterly side of the loop, which is a bit hard to believe until you're out there. Get you some of that! Details in the posts ahead.

The Black Hills DoubleBackBone, like the original BackBone, is just a route that I think is fun and challenging, however one chooses to experience it. Solo or group. One continuous ride, a series of days or in sections over time. Self-supported, shuttled or fully supported. Maybe some combination or even all of the above.

The Black Hills DoubleBackBone. Go bigger.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Black Hills BackBone Bump

The Black Hills BackBone was a whimsical daydream that materialized into a 310 mile gravel and dirt road route spanning the height of the State of South Dakota along the spine of the Black Hills. From the Dakota Marker start at NoWhere, North Dakota to the Stop Sign finish at NothingThere, Nebraska, the Black Hills BackBone showcases the remote ruggedness of western South Dakota.

This route is out there. The first 200+ miles pass through but two towns, one of which offers little more than a bar/convenience store. There very well may be more miles without cell phone coverage than with. And in this back country, people are outnumbered by cows, and probably by deer and elk, too.

Conceived as an unsupported, solo ride, the Black Hills BackBone readily lends itself to a multi-day bikepacking ride or even a multi-day supported tour. In 2017, a small group of friends rode the entire route over three days in the heat and winds of a Fourth of July weekend. For a six part report on that ride, go to these posts. An Idea Takes Shape; Gathering; Crossing the Northern Prairie; Up and Into the Black Hills; Focus on the Finish; A Weekend to Remember.

From the broad shoulders of Flag Mountain, the granite peaks of Mount Rushmore and Harney Peak loom on the horizon.
To my knowledge, the entire Black Hills BackBone has not been ridden on a bicycle as a continuous, unsupported solo ride. That is not from lack of preparation or effort on my part. In my first attempt in 2015, I stumbled into ferocious prairie winds with horizontal rain that eventually spit me out in Spearfish 135 miles later, barely able to stand.  A Rancher's Kindness.  In my second attempt in 2016, I flew across the 135 miles of Northern Prairie in ideal conditions before plowing into a freak ice blizzard climbing O'Neil Pass, dropping me into a trail head outhouse shaking like a frozen leaf.  A Sudden Turn.  My third attempt remains undocumented, as I still cannot wrap my mind around that ride.

So, the first to complete an unsupported, continuous Black Hills BackBone will hold the course record. Whether anyone else gives it a go, or not, I'll be back out there again.

Lots of details and pictures of the Black Hills BackBone route are posted throughout this blog, if you're looking for a nice, long, remote ride. To save a trip through the blog archives, here are links to prior blog posts for the route.  Introduction;  Overview;  Final CutNew Cue Sheets & Tweaks; BackBone Photo Essay.