Text: Robert Smith • Photography: Robert Smith
Mention Gillette, Wyoming, to most people and you'll get a blank stare. Motorcyclists may show a glimmer of recognition and a puzzled frown. When you add "90 miles west of Sturgis," the lights come on. Western-based bikers frequently stop for gas here, northeast Wyoming's last major town en route to the annual Black Hills Motorcycle Rally.
It's mid-September and I'm riding I-25 north to Gillette on a 2004 Electra Glide from Eaglerider's Denver rental fleet. Late summer is unusually cool, and I'm leaving Colorado's high passes before a forecasted early dump of the white stuff comes true. I ride through Denver's dormitory towns in sunshine, but ahead is a steel-gray canopy flowing down from Canada.
Beyond Cheyenne, communities drift farther apart, until I wonder if I'll see another turnoff. I gas up in tiny Chugwater and fight the galloping prairie wind over rolling hills to Douglas where I turn north on 59. The Glide's tank shows less than half, and I plan to gas up in the town of Bill, 20 miles ahead. I'm reminded that Wyoming is the least densely populated state of the lower 48, with two-thirds the landmass of California and fewer than half a million people. Bill consists of a weather-beaten clapboard general store the size of a garden shed and one non-functional vintage gas pump. The nearest gas? "Wright: 40 miles up the road."
Running on fumes, the Glide rumbles into a shopping mall-sized truck stop in Wright. The bronzed, tufted-grass prairie is dotted with nodding oil donkeys, and as I roll on toward Gillette, the conveyors and earthmovers of massive open-pit coalmines line the road. A caravan of mile-long trains, spaced only hundreds of yards apart, thunders south, each car piled high with coal. It's an impressive sight against the empty plains and the big sky.
Day one: Black Hills
Thanks to my local contact, Rex Brown, I have a riding "buddy" for each of my four one-day excursions. Lawyer Stan Wolfe meets me at my hotel, the Wingate, at 8:00 the next morning. It's a cool, gray Sunday, so we have the business route that parallels I-90 east to Moorcroft to ourselves. Stan, also riding a Glide, suggests we cover as many of the local sights as we can while the weather holds. First stop, the Devil's Tower, north on 14.
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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the May/June 2005 back issue.