Out and about in Sturgis
It’s sunny and warm in beautiful downtown Sturgis. But I’m not walking downtown; I’m walking behind downtown on the bike path along Woodland Park.
A few minutes earlier on this mid-March morning, my drive along Junction Avenue into Sturgis still whispered “motorcycle rally.” On one side is the refurbished Best Western, with its new restaurant, Caddy’s Grill & Bar; on the other side is a giant cross next to a building emblazoned with Hellfighters Christian Ministries, and, of course, at the crossroads is world-renowned Main Street itself. Rally dreams are already freshening on this fine spring day.
But there isn’t even a shred of a rally whisper along the bike path that winds through the barely budding shade trees along winter-dry Bear Butte Creek to the west; and over wood bridges and thickly branched shrubbery on the way to Fort Meade Recreation Area to the east.
Today isn’t about biker heaven,
I think as I stroll past a woman and her dog sunning themselves on a park bench. It’s about a bona fide community with its own history and customs. And with the sun burnishing the treetops and rocky outcroppings as they come into view, it’s about genuine pleasures that don’t roar.
Indeed, for visitors who seek
small-town adventures and experiences that offer a reprieve from their hectic daily lives, the Sturgis bike path is a wonderful way to slow down and refresh your mental outlook.
It certainly is refreshing my mental picture of Sturgis, I realize as I study a map of the path that shows the town’s various landmarks. One of the markers shows the house of the bad-girl gambler, bootlegger and madam Poker Alice, (a popular mug on Deadwood billboards) which I’ve yet to actually see even though I’ve lived only 20 minutes away for more than three decades. And I don’t believe I’ve ever gone up the alluring little road near the Lions Park, nor traveled up the steep drive that I can see from the park to the north.
But first – to walk. I head west along Woodle Field, past a colorful and well-supplied children’s playground and on into Woodland Park. As always, in just a few minutes the serene outdoors causes my mood to brighten. Why is it so easy to neglect simple activities that offer such outsized physical and mental rewards?
Reinvigorated and relaxed, I return to my car determined to end my 30-plus years of ignorance and find the notorious hangout of Poker Alice. But first I drive up the Lions Park road to discover a huge covered picnic shelter, with a family in the midst of unpacking their lunch cooler. It’s family fun
, quick, easy and inexpensive.
A few minutes later, I travel the steep road to a turnout spot that overlooks the whole of Sturgis. My five-minute jaunt results in a birds-eye view of the town’s layout that I will be able to reference in the future.
After getting directions from a local man who looks like an old biker (that rally thing), I again drive along Junction Avenue until I spot the “old green-trimmed house that looks out of place” next to the Star Lite Motel. Originally located along Bear Butte Creek, the Poker Alice house was moved in 1990 because it was in the city’s flood plain.
I pull into the parking lot and step out to take pictures. There’s a beat-up old saddle hanging on the wooden rail in front, and the presence of a mailbox leaves me wondering if someone lives in this 1895 house with a past.
It’s a small accomplishment, but an accomplishment none the less, to have acquainted myself with this piece of Black Hills history. As I leave town, I make one last stop at what turns out to be another piece of history of which I was sadly ignorant.
Again off Junction Avenue, on the grounds of the Sturgis Hospital, is a monument to Charles Nolin, a 24-year-old Pony Express rider who was killed by Indians in 1876. The plaque tells an intriguing tale and, as I leave town, I decide that I will try to learn more about the incident.
In fact, after my easy-going morning of walking and wandering around Sturgis, I can say the same thing for this historic little Hills town as a whole: It would be fun, and certainly worthwhile, to learn more.