Gateway to Sturgis and The Ghost of Wild Bill

September 1, 2010
Bryan Harley
Bryan Harley
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Our resident road warrior has earned his stripes covering the rally circuit, from riding the Black Hills of Sturgis to cruising Main Street in Daytona Beach. Whether it's chopped, bobbed, or bored, metric to 'Merican, he rides 'em all.

An old Sinclair sign, its painted red letters and green dinosaur faded with time, sits at the edge of town, a ghost of a gas station overrun by desert grass and brush. Situated in the high plains of Western Colorado, the tiny hamlet known as Gateway, Colorado, is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it small. The town has seen its share of booms and busts, from homesteaders and ranchers in the late 1800s to uranium miners in the 1940s. The striated vertical canyon walls
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Ride along with Motorcycle USA in our Sturgis 2010 Rally Review Video as we travel from Gateway, Colorado to Sturgis, South Dakota for the 70th annual Black Hills Rally.

surrounding it tell an even deeper tale of how rivers and wind have carved this harsh land into an outlaw’s paradise. I’m worlds away from the post-apocalyptic décor of Michael Ballard’s Full Throttle Saloon or the burnout pit at the Broken Spoke but I’ve been bitten by the bug. It’s the first week of August and my migratory senses are on fire, an unnatural burning fueled by the need to once again return to the Black Hills. It’s the Rally’s 70th anniversary and the party promises to be huge and though I’m two states away, this is my Gateway to Sturgis.

But first to the business at hand: Victory Motorcycles held its 2011 press launch in the high desert of Colorado. After landing in Grand Junction, Victory had a new Cross Country waiting for me when I stepped off the plane and there was no better way to shake jet-lag than a kick-ass motorcycle ride. In the short jaunt between Grand Junction and Gateway, it’s easy to see why Victory chose this remote locale to introduce its new line. The roads twist and turn through canyons

Gateway  Colorado sits at the convergence of two canyons and provided plenty of spectacular sights and curvy roads.
Gateway, Colorado sits at the convergence of two canyons and provided plenty of spectacular sights and curvy roads.
The high desert of western Colorado is a beautiful place.

with distinct Spaghetti Western charm. I keep expecting to see John Wayne’s silhouette standing on a ridge. Riding through a ghost town on the 2011 Victory Cross Country, rattlesnakes and coyotes may call this place home but it’s not the place you’d want to get stranded. Before the panic of being lost sets in, the pueblo-style buildings of the Gateway Canyons Resort rise before us on the final bend leading out of town.

Were it not for John Hendricks of The Discovery Channel fame dropping a boatload of cash to build the Gateway Colorado Auto Museum and the surrounding resort and spa, the history of Gateway might otherwise be relegated to the Anasazi and Freemont petroglyphs nearby. But the allure of the area inspired Hendricks to build this oasis in the high desert with its offerings of spa treatments and a big blue pool.

The resort sits at the convergence of two canyons where the West Creek flows into the muddy waters of the Dolores River. Unaweep Canyon has two creeks that flow out of it, one springing forth from the other almost imperceptibly. Unaweep is an Indian word meaning “two mouths.” The area is rife for outdoor activity, a fact the resort seeks to capitalize on with its Adventure Center which has gear and guides. Nearby is the 387-mile long Grand Loop for mountain bikers, a stretch that includes the world famous Kokopelli’s Trail. If biking’s not your thing, the Adventure Center will outfit you for a kayak run down the Dolores River. There’s also a stable of able-bodied horses and countless trails to either ride or hike. If you’re more into horsepower of another kind, the center has ATVs for rent. Upon arrival, we took advantage of the incredible off-roading opportunities with a spin on the 2011 Sportsman Touring 850 EPS thanks to Polaris’ Donna Beadle who had brought out a few four-wheelers to the press intro for us to kick up some gravel with. We ripped up a jeep trail behind the resort and later learned the trail ran all the way to Moab 100 miles away. We weren’t there for the off-road ride anyway.

That evening we got a tour of the crown jewel of the resort, the Gateway Colorado Auto Museum. Hendricks is a man who fancies cars and his private collection rivals any I’ve seen. His collection pays homage to how American history

Why is Eric smiling  Because this is probably the closest hell ever come to  3.2 million  the cost of the 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 behind him.
Why is Eric smiling? Because this is probably the closest he’ll ever come to $3.2 million, the cost of the 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 behind him.

and the combustible engine are inextricably intertwined as the collection is arranged in a timeline spanning over 100 years and ranges from a 1906 Cadillac Model H Coupe to a 2006 Chip Foose Mustang Stallion. But the piece de resistance of the collection is a prototype Oldsmobile, a 1954 F-88

Put on your best party hat - its time to thrown down for Sturgis 2009.
We weren’t the only ones with Sturgis on our brains.

that was bought at auction for over $3.2 million. Built originally to compete with Chevy’s Corvette, the F-88 never made its way into production. All models were slated for the scrap heap except this one that mysteriously slipped through the cracks. The car is appropriately colored gold because it’s worth its weight in gold. Personally, I’d prefer either the 1970 Plymouth “Hemi ‘Cuda” or the 1971 Pontiac GTO Judge he had in his American muscle car display, but beggars can’t be choosers.

I awoke the next day to the sun cresting above the Pinon Mesa. The morning rays illuminate the red face of the sandstone formation called the Palisade that stands sentinel above the resort and provides a spectacular morning vista. The air is warm and dry. It’s a good day to ride.

Victory has its stable of 2011 motorcycles fueled and ready to roll. I’m feeling the need for a little speed and the blacked-out Hammer 8-Ball is calling my name. Victory’s muscle cruiser doesn’t disappoint as we head out the opposite way we came in. Highway 141 offers a series of sweepers for us to bank the bike in to as we run along rivers and through chiseled chasms of rock. We grab seat time on as many new Victorys as possible in one day, tilting the smooth-rolling Cross Country into the bends, opening up the Vision Tour’s Freedom 106/6 on the straights and

We took advantage of the incredible off-road opportunities around Gateway with a spin on Polaris 2011 Sportsman Touring 850 EPS.
We took advantage of the incredible off-road opportunities around Gateway with a spin on Polaris’ 2011 Sportsman Touring 850 EPS.

twisting the throttle wide on the sporty Vegas Jackpot.

With the excitement of riding the new bikes, the beauty of the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic & Historic Byway is relegated to second fiddle, but the majesty of our surroundings does not go unappreciated. We do stop at a scenic overlook to admire the engineering marvel known as the Hanging Flume. With no photographs, written accounts or drawings available from the period of its construction, experts can only speculate how this ten-mile long wooden mining flume was constructed on sheer rock walls, sometimes suspended several hundred feet above the river below. It is both a testament to the expertise of project leader Nathaniel P. Turner and the power gold has to motivate men. The Hanging Flume provided the water pressure needed to mine the placer deposits of the Montrose Placer Mining Company. Though much of what is left of the flume are only wooden beams sticking out of rock above the river, the scale of the operation and how they pulled it off without the benefit of modern machinery is impressive nonetheless.

Though our stay at Gateway Canyons Resort has been filled with hospitality, we wake up the next day eager to ride again as the call of the Black Hills Rally beckons 700 miles away. I’d trade my comfy bed with the 500 thread-count sheets for a patch of grass and a bed roll at the Legendary Buffalo Chip Campground in a heartbeat as long as ZZ Top

Something tells me this Google Maps shortcut isnt such a good idea.
Something tells me this Google Maps shortcut isn’t such a good idea.

plays me a lullaby. Victory has arranged for us to do a ride-away on a 2011 Vision 8-Ball to Sturgis. A group of Victory reps, journalists from other mags and the good people behind the Road 2 A Cure foundation are already up and ready to begin their pilgrimage to the Rally. I’m getting a late start after a couple of bottles of wine at dinner and a few after-hour cocktails with American Iron’s Joe Knezevic the night before. Note to self – don’t drink Jim Beam with Joe again. Never. Whisky and wine don’t mix.

Pulling out of the resort, it’s a 50-mile run on Highway 141 to Grand Junction before connecting to Interstate 70. Making one last pass through town, I do a double take at the only other rider on the road who is passing in the opposite direction. It’s hard not to notice him in his tan deerskin leathers with leather tassels and matching deerskin frontiersman hat riding an old Harley-Davidson with a bull skull strapped between its bars. His arms stretched up wide as they grasp the head-high ape hangers. Even though he’s got a bushy Wild Bill mustache I notice his broad toothy grin and bright eyes beneath vintage aviator-style goggles. He flashes me a peace sign as our paths pass and I shoot him back a finger of acknowledgement. I swear I’ve seen him before and run through the reels of memory, searching through my data banks of Daytona Bike Week, Laconia, New Orleans. Nothing comes to mind immediately but I know we’ve crossed paths before.

Meet Billy Goat Gruff. It didnt seem to mind that we were passing through the neighborhood but kept a wary eye on us nonetheless. - On the Road to Sturgis
It’s easy to get caught up in the scenery of western Colorado, but there’s plenty of wildlife that call this area home, so enjoy the view but keep your guard on high.

The outline of Utah’s Lasal Mountains fades behind me as I rumble along. Yellow sunflowers fed by summer storms dot the roadway as the strip winds through canyons chiseled by the hands of time. The bellow of the Vision 8-Ball’s pipes echoes off the natural acoustics of the steep walls. It is the type of ride that is best savored slowly, but it’s hard to resist the road’s bends. The narrow chasm opens up to reveal a fertile valley of green pastures and stables of regal horses. An old stone dwelling just off the road has one rock face that hasn’t fallen to the constants of time and weather. Known as the Driggs Mansion, the six-room hunting lodge/house was built for a wealthy New York lawyer, Laurence La Tourette Driggs between 1914 and 1918. The house was barely lived in by the Driggs family though, and after serving as a ranch house for a short period, it began its descent into its current state of disrepair. Past the ruins the road begins to snake again and the bike is cutting smooth lines through the turns. A mountain goat a few feet off the road chews on leaves with no regard for me but serves as a warning to be on my game and to keep my speed down.

Grand Junction is brown and dry compared to the colorful canyons I’ve just come from. The air is arid and loose sand blows across the roadway. A sign for Rim Rock Drive and a route through Colorado National Monument entices us to stray from our predetermined path, but the allure of Sturgis keeps us on course. Railways with

We never knew a town called Parachute existed until we made a pit stop there to take a quick break at its public park and info center.

stationary engines and cars sit on tracks that parallel the interstate. The area harbors many mines, from gold to other precious ores. Mining and the railroad are mediums that helped populate an otherwise inhospitable environment as the landscape is scenic but rugged and only provides a living for those willing to sacrifice. The names of towns along this stretch of I-70 are contrite and no-nonsense – Rifle, Parachute and Silt. The speed limit is 75 but traffic is flowing at 80 to 85 which allow us to make good time.

Ever been to the rest area with No Name
               Ever been to the rest area with No Name?

The wide valley begins to narrow and the mountains in the distance soon close in. Just when you think the views around Gateway couldn’t be beat, a ribbon of road cuts through another incredible high-walled canyon highlighted by green groves of tall Ponderosa Pines. The stretch parallels a murky brown river teaming with big blue rafts shooting down its rapids. With names like Tuttle’s Tumble, Tombstone and Maneater, the Shoshone rapids on the Colorado River through Glenwood Canyon provide thrills and spills to the adventurous. The sun is heating me up in my black riding leathers and the spray shooting over the bow of the rafts looks refreshingly fun but the urge to continue our trek to Sturgis is stronger.

Beyond Glenwood Canyon, the land opens up and reveals jagged peaks on the horizon. It’s not long before the road

Bikers from across the country converged on the Chip to enjoy the best facilities  food  vendors  music and entertainment that Sturgis has to offer as well as to celebrate Sturgis Rally Weeks 70th Anniversary.
We crossed the great Rocky Mountains and the plains of Wyoming with visions of Sturgis dancing in our heads.

begins to angle skyward as the climb up those mountains begins. The forests thicken and rugged rock pillars jut out above the tree line as we get the first real feel of the majesty of the Rocky Mountains. Grand lodge-style homes and multi-story resorts begin to fill the landscape as we ride into the posh resort town of Vail. You can almost feel the money there from the roadside.

The Vision’s Freedom 106 is powering up the climbs but requires a little more throttle than before due to the altitudes we’re reaching. Soon we crest the Vail Pass, 10,662 feet in elevation. And despite being almost two miles up, this doesn’t deter the scores of bicyclists who pedal quickly in air that would have me gasping to walk at a fast pace.

Gateway to Sturgis and The Ghost of Wild Bill
Gateway to Sturgis and The Ghost of Wild Bill 2

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