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Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

Black Hills Riding: The Needles Highway

I saw the Black Hills for the first time when I came to visit my girlfriend’s family this past March during a record-setting heat wave. The snow had melted but the lakes were still frozen and there was no one at all on the road when we drove up to Sylvan Lake for pleasant summer-like hike. The Needles Highway, which begins at Sylvan (6000′ elevation), was still blocked off for the season (standard procedure during winters that don’t hit 80 degrees up there).

Other than the temperature, my second visit couldn’t have been more different. The snow was melted and the contemplative quiet of the hills was broken by the roar of a thousand motorcycles crawling around the 15mph curves towards the famous Needles Highway. I took my place among them, eager to see the prize I’d been unable to claim my first time around.

I’ve been on a lot of scenic “must-see” rides and few have lived up to the billing. The Needles, however, didn’t disappoint. The narrow, winding roads cut their way up the mountainside with sharp curves and steep climbs. At times, the road alternately skirted the edge of steep ravines or traveled through one-lane tunnels into the solid rock. I rode higher and higher until eventually the sky peeked through the trees and I found myself among one of the Black Hills’ most interesting features — the giant stone spires from which the “Needles Highway” got its name. The yellow/gray rock fingers thrust from the treetops and into the sky like the quills of a cornered hedgehog.

I couldn’t resist monkeying my way up to the top of one of them so I could grab some snapshots of the vista before me. I paused long enough to breath deeply of the mountain air, which at that point was an odd medley of pine cones, cigars, and motorcycle exhaust.

The ride through the Needles was another perfect combination of sun, warmth, twisty road and great scenery. By the end of the day, I had properly sore legs, a healthy sunburn, and a camera full of memories. I didn’t get all the shots I was looking for… the ride past the ultramarine blue of Lake Pactola was a too rushed in order to make it back for dinner and the hilarious memory of the biker chick in front of me flashing passers by will just have to live on in my head.