Sturgis/Deadwood/Spearfish, SD: A Biker Bar Isn’t For Bicyclists? (Days 16-19 of 42)

My road-biker husband was super-excited to learn I had planned a visit to a biker bar, until he realized it wasn’t for bicyclists.  But Sturgis, SD is famous for its annual Biker Rally, as well as a reality show centered around the place AND the culture, so how could we miss seeing it in person, even if we don’t wear leather (at least not in public)?  Off we went to Sturgis and Full Throttle Saloon, the world’s largest biker bar.

The annual rally is always huge, but expected to be ridiculously-huge this year, as it will be the 75th Anniversary of the event.  The town is expecting 1.2 million bikers to arrive starting the first week of August, and every local with any sense is booking their week far, far away in Hawaii during that time.

It is hard to describe how cool this place is, at least when it’s not chock-full of 1.2 million bikers.  It is simply enormous, with both indoor and outdoor areas, a virtual mini-city on 30 acres in the middle of a lonely South Dakota field.

Emmett the Donkey wanders around everywhere, inside, outside, parking lot, kitchen, the health inspectors clearly look the other way on this one.  He is chubby and lethargic … a cautionary tale to beer drinkers everywhere (you know he’s tipping one back all day long).

Full Throttle has 359 employees and 105 of them are bartenders, according to our bored waitress, who clearly gets asked the same 12 questions over and over and over.  All employees are expected to work all shifts during Bike Week, manning food stands and more than 70 bars like this.

The beer taps are made from motorcycle engines.

A variety of concerts and entertainment will happen on this various stages like this, under the glow of the suspended semi-trucks.  And by “entertainment,” they mean Best Redneck Tattoo Contest, Beer Belly Contest, Best Butt Contest, Best Tramp Stamp, Best “Mom” Tattoo, Wall of Death Motorcycle Stunt Show, Midget Wrestling, and the World-Famous Hollywood Girls Knockouts Oil Wrestling and Hot Cream Wrestling Revue.  Don’t wanna bring your gramma to this event!

Nothings says “motorcycles” like half-naked girls pole dancing in cages.  Oh, and guess what, tattoo artists will be on hand to give you a FREE Full Throttle Saloon tattoo if you want it!  Permanent! Not temporary!  Now that’s a stroke of sales genius … you will be marketing them for generations to come!

Professionally-trained and/or the more inebriated patrons will sign up to ride their bikes around each other inside the “Globe of Death.”

The Burn-Out Pit is where bikers destroy a $300+ tire in a few seconds by revving up their bikes in a way that makes their back wheel spin while standing still and burn rubber into a huge, smelly smoke cloud.  Nothing says testosterone like breathing problems!

Even the parking lot decor is larger than life.

Full Throttle also has row upon row of these work-camp style tiny cabins for rent (during Bike Week only).  Inside are two beds, one breakfast table, one microwave and one mini-fridge.  But since they are on-site, all ya gotta do is stumble across the parking lot at 4 AM!  Be sure to throw up on your neighbor’s stoop instead of your own!  (If you can tell the difference.)

Sturgis itself is kinda ugly industrial, lots of tattoo and piercing shops and hundreds of rally t-shirt stands.  We did shop in what is surely the world’s most-visited Harley Davidson shop, and they have a Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum as well.

Nearby  Deadwood, SD, is similar to Arizona’s Tombstone, but much larger (and thanks/no thanks to the recent influx of casinos in the area, has fancified itself, replacing wooden boardwalks with concrete sidewalks, for instance).  It is known as the setting for HBO’s 2004 series “Deadwood” (duh).

Deadwood is also famous as the final resting place of Wild Bill Hickok, the original frontier stud-muffin, as well as Calamity Jane, the hardscrabbling gal who could outdrink, outshoot, outspit, outcurse, and outgamble most, if not all, of the 10,000+ male ruffins living in Deadwood at the time.

Wild Bill was killed by the local drifter/loser/one-your-mother-warned-you-about Jack McCall while playing a game of poker in Saloon No. 10 on Deadwood’s Main Street.

His poker hand at the time was two black aces and two black 8’s, which became known as the Dead Man’s Hand.  (They say the fifth card was in the “hole” at the time of the shooting).  This old license plate inside Saloon No. 10 commemorates the unlucky hand.

He was buried in the local cemetery, but was “relocated” a few years later to accommodate growth of the town.  When they dug him up, the minerals in the soil had calcified him and he was perfectly preserved as hard as a rock (the original “stiff”, har-har), weighing at least twice what he weighed when he died.  Here is his final gravesite in Mt. Moriah Cemetery, high over the town.

The true story of Calamity Jane is hard to ascertain, as rumor and innuendo abound (much of it propogated by herself).  She definitely would have been in the National Enquirer every issue, had she lived today.

She was buried next to Wild Bill Hickok, but as a fraternity prank.  C.J. and W.B.H. were never actually romantically involved, although she did have one-helluva long-running crush on Billy, the original cyberstalker. When she died, Bill’s four best friends paid to have her buried right-smack-dab next to him; since as he would have nothing to do with her while he was alive, he would be stuck with her for all eternity. Boys will be boys!

We also took a side trip to Spearfish Canyon and Roughlock Falls, where we enjoyed a lovely hike with the doggies.  Although most of South Dakota is flat, the Black Hills have gorgeous hills and canyons.

We also visited was the cool D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery.  While it was fun to see the 30,000 rainbow trout currently being bred to stock throughout various S.D. lakes, streams and rivers, of particular interest was the historic railcar and the stories of the 66-year “Fish Car Era.”

Before the invention of tanker trucks, specially-designed train cars were used to quickly transport fish all around the country.  In fact, Engine #10 visited all 48 continuous states during its career!  By 1920, over 72 billion fish had been distributed over 2 million miles of railroad track.

The staff lived and worked on the train, so it had sleeping berths (tiny!), a kitchen (tiny!) and a bathroom which flushed directly out onto the traintracks (ewwww!), besides of course the containers housing the fish!

The fish car could haul the little swimmers for as long as ten days with only 1% loss, and were responsibility for distributing species from areas that were abundant to areas that were lacking, in order to distribute food supplies around the nation in the early 1900’s.  It was a really fascinating look into America’s past!

A sobering sight are all of the “X Marks The Spot” signs placed by the state anywhere a motorist has died, in an attempt to get you to slow down and drive carefully. The back has a similar message and many of the signs are decorated with wreaths, flowers, flags and mementos by friends and family of loved ones.

With all the mountain curves and hills in this area, we could see how we need to be careful driving … because we want to live!!!  At least another day!  Because next we are headed to Mt. Rushmore and Custer State Park. We’ll be peeking at you soon from beneath some really huge heads!

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