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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.

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