Search This Blog

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Jewel Cave National Monument to O'Neil Pass

North of Jewel Cave National Monument, the Black Hills DoubleBackBone climbs into the western reaches of the Central Black Hills through the most remote country around these parts. Best to rely on self sufficiency, not cell service. This stretch is not for the ill-prepared or the inattentive.

Out here, an alphabet soup of federal, state and local agencies manage the roads and trails, so names and numbers can be confusing. However, the DoubleBackBone keeps it simple. First off, the route explores remote roads, not trails.  And it stays on local county roads or U.S. Forest Service roads that are "primary" (suitable for passenger cars), "secondary"  (generally suitable for passenger vehicles) and "primitive" (suitable for high clearance vehicles). No skid trails. Also, the DoubleBackBone follows fun Forest Service roads that are identified by whole numbers only. So, if you find yourself on a Forest Service road with a number containing a decimal (like 383.3), or with a number and a letter (like 383D), or both (like 383.3D), you may be having fun, but you're not on the DoubleBackBone. It's not complicated to stay on course, if you pay attention.

Digging deep into the western Black Hills on a primitive Forest Service road.
From U.S. Highway 16, turn north onto Mud Springs Road (282) for a steady climb for 2.7 miles to Antelope Ridge Road (283), which flows directly into the heart of the area still recovering from the massive 83,000+ acre Jasper Fire in 2000. Much of the sweeping panorama along this road was formed or enlarged by that fire. In the relatively dry southern Black Hills, the forest returns slowly.

Riding directly through the 2000 Jasper Fire zone on a typical secondary Forest Service road.
Ride west on Antelope Ridge Road (283) for 5.4 miles and then turn east on Custer Limestone Road (284), the first primary Forest Service road of this section. A more refined surface and some hills make for a couple of pretty quick descents. Be alert at 3.4 miles for a numbered, unnamed brown sign (383), where the route turns north. This primitive Forest Service road is mostly dirt two track gradually moving upstream through a valley.

Just rolling along on the Black Hills DoubleBackBone.
Riding generally north on USFS 383, the DoubleBackBone rolls up and occasionally down a valley, in and out of trees, along and across creeks and through meadows. Back here, the mind easily wanders. That's great, but make sure to stay on USFS 383 and not drift off on a side trip to oblivion.

After 5.1 miles on USFS 383, turn west on Gillette Canyon Road (296), a secondary forest gravel road that will smooth out your ride for a spell.  Just 6.5 miles later, Gillette Canyon Road (296) T-bones into Six Mile Road (301), another secondary USFS road that handles its share of the logging traffic from these parts. It's not a super highway, but you may see a truck or two here.

Remote as it gets around here, climbing along the DoubleBackBone.
In any event, the DoubleBackBone follows Six Mile Road (301) just 2.2 miles before turning north onto Briggs Spring Road (384), another primitive Forest Service road flowing north up a long meadow. Although more dirt than gravel, Briggs Spring Road (384) is relatively smooth and quick, when dry.

These 3 miles pass quickly and the route turns west on South Castle Creek Road (294), another secondary Forest Service road. Immediately to the north, one may consider the mile long spur to the north to Red Bank Springs, a primitive Forest Service Campground. Unfortunately, Red Bank Springs does not have any water for the weary cyclist.

Aspen lined meadows high in the Central Black Hills.
After 1.3 miles on South Castle Creek Road (294), turn north onto Boles Canyon Road (117), a primary Forest Service road. Open the throttle for a long, winding climb on smooth forest gravel. The route intersects with several other roads, but stay on Boles Canyon Road (117) for 15.9 miles until finally reaching South Rapid Creek Road (231). 

Forest Service roads built primarily for logging and fire management.
Almost there. Turn west onto South Rapid Creek Road (231) for 2.8 miles, then east onto O'Neil Pass Road (also numbered 231 on the sign) for 0.8 miles to T-bone onto U.S. Highway 85, the Can-Am Highway. Here, the DoubleBackBone route turns east on this pavement for 1.7 miles before heading north again, then onto Tinton Road (134).

However, before making that turn toward Tinton Road, check your water. It's been about 50 miles since Jewel Cave National Monument and another 30 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 turn west on U.S. Highway 85 for about a mile to Trails Head Lodge for access to water and snacks.

No comments:

Post a Comment