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Sturgis, UTVs and anachronisms…

Call me anachronism: I ride a real four-legged horse, not an iron one. I paddle a canoe across Pactola Lake instead of a power boat. Maybe I’m weird. Maybe there are other anachronisms out there too. I have an axe to grind about what’s currently happening in He Sapa:

This past weekend, my wife Nancy and I took a hike in He Sapa to get some peace and quiet. Home —  between Interstate 90 and SD 44 — is normally fairly quiet given that it’s on the edge of Rapid City and near shopping areas, but the roar of those cycles Friday night, the first day of the Sturgis rally, until about 2 a.m., then starting up again Saturday morning about 7 a.m., same on Sunday, was driving us nuts.

So we traveled down South Rockerville Rd., exploring, looking for a National Forest road where we might turn in, find a quiet side trail to hike.

At the first road, we were immediately greeted by two roaring, sputtering UTVs, traveling the gravel fast, like they owned it. We pulled off to let them pass and as we did, lead knucklehead pointed his upraised index finger at us. No. 1? What does that mean? I wanted to point another finger at him.

Traveling down the road a little further, one, two, three other vehicles; then from a side trail another trio of vehicles came bouncing out. Geeze, I told Nancy, this place is packed, let’s get out of here.

The second forest road had similar traffic.

The third road seemed to offer peace. We parked, started hiking up the road towards an even less-traveled side trail. Just as we turned in, out roared the same two UTV-loads of idiots we’d passed on the first road, again with the No.1 salute.

Continuing up the side trail, we spotted a mule deer doe 15 feet away. She didn’t move while we walked quietly past. I wondered if a fawn was involved.

As we climbed the side trail, fresh UTV, ATV or Jeep tracks abounded. The Forest Service put concrete crossing blocks in three brook crossings to protect the water from vehicle abuse. I wondered how many times vehicles crossed those pretty little waters and what sort of impact that had on the small wild trout – I saw one dart upstream when we crossed — who live there.

Further uphill, in flat spots, we witnessed foot deep ruts filled with water – the result of vehicles traveling this trail when it was wet. Why, I asked Nancy, would anyone bring any vehicle up this trail when it’s wet? She shook her head and looked at the black-eyed Susan’s blossoming yellow along the trail.

I kept thinking about all the UTV rental places I’d seen in Custer, Hill City and Rapid. Do they tell people the advertisements that show UTVs roaring, mud-flying, through water holes destroy trails? Does a tourist care about the damage they do? Those No. 1 guys were mudded up. Do the rentals ask drivers to be careful around wildlife, like the deer, possibly her fawn, we’d seen on the trails? Such disturbance could severely impact wildlife, causing nesting bird failures, stressing out deer, elk, and bighorn sheep, all of the wildlife in the hills.

Meanwhile, all along that side trail, miles from US 16, the roar of motorcycles along US 16 assaulted our ears.

Reaching the hilltop, we were passed by a Jeep going downhill.

We returned to the car, left He Sapa. On the way out, hordes of motorcyclists rode in front and behind us, one rider’s radio so loud it drowned out the car radio.

He Sapa is a sacred place, a cathedral of immense natural beauty. In summer, the scent of sun-warmed ponderosa pine needles washes over the land, flowers blanket the side hills and wildlife abounds. But I wonder if the UTV purveyors and Sturgis’s debauching biker havens are not killing the very thing that brings people to He Sapa — its natural beauty, its peace and quiet.

Yes people must earn their living, and tourism is one vehicle for this. But when the roar of motorcycles drowns out the bird calls, when people are too busy tearing down forest roads to smell the pines, what are they really experiencing?


(Contact John Taylor at

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