Ride Custer’s Last Ride — Highway 10 The Old Red Trail

Ride a centuries-old route through western North Dakota that follows the same trail Custer followed on his way to Little Big Horn. The trail later became the Red Trail back before highways were numbered, then it became Highway 10. It’s one of the Suggested Routes on the Kickstands Up Motorcycle Touring Map.  It’s 108 miles of the kind of two-lane riding bikers like to take — free of Interstate trucks and traffic. It’s a road of ample freedom, a highway to yourself and  plenty of reasons to ride slow and view the scenes.

Two bikes parked at the rest area along Hwy 10 at Steele, ND

Headed west, you can get on Highway 10 about 40 miles east of Bismarck at Steele.  It’s a well-maintained surface and a leisurely ride within site of I-94.   Follow it through the pastures and the wetlands of central North Dakota through the homelands of people whose lives are dedicated to taking care of the land.  On this westward trip across North Dakota, you start at about the geographic landmark of the 100th Meridian near Steel.

Next stop is Sterling where the Tops Motel goes out of its way to accommodate bikers, even providing a bucket and rags to wipe down your bike from the day’s riding.  From there, you head in to the state’s Second Largest City: Bismarck.  Stay on 10 to travel down Main Street of Bismarck, parallel to the Burlington Northern – Sante Fe Rail Line. You’ll ride down a street that was Edwinton before it was Bismarck in 1873.

On Bismarck’s Main Street, you can stop at a number of pubs, clubs and restaurants. The historic Patterson Hotel houses Peacock Alley. It’s across from the former train depot that is now a Mexican Restaurant. Both are good places to stop.  If you are riding through, be prepared for a tight knot of traffic and several stop lights.  It’s only for six blocks or so.  Traffic will be turning on to the street, and off. So, stay alert. It’s recommended you stay in the left lane because the right lane is a turning lane and a parking lane.

East end of Memorial Bridge, Bismarck

From there, across Memorial Bridge. Veterans and Patriots will want to take note of the “walk outs” on the bridge, each one dedicated to a military branch. At both ends are 11 spires standing guard to the American Flag.  A block north of the east end of Memorial Bridge is historic Fraine Barracks and the Monument to the Global War on Terror.  Pull over, drop your kickstand and pause at the monument.  North Dakota’s young soldiers who have died in the Global War on Terror are memorialized at this marker and small park.

Global War on Terror Monument at Fraine Barracks, east end of Memorial Bridge

It’s a moving experience.

Back on your bike, ride across the Missouri River. Now the character of Highway 10 and the landscape changes.  The terrain changes. The agrarian lifestyle changes.  The towns take on a different feel.

Heading west across Memorial Bridge on to what is now also dubbed “Memorial Highway” you drop in to what was a slough or marsh 100 years ago. Today, it’s Mandan’s “Strip.”  Plenty of places to stop here beginning with the Colonial Bar-Motel-Campgrounds. Farther on down the line you will find gas stations, restaurants and more than four motorcycle shops. Victory, Harley, Honda and the famous Scooter Shak (sic)  are all on this multi-labeled highway:  Mandan’s Memorial Highway, The Strip, Highway 10.

Still on the west edge of Mandan, the highway ducks under the railroad tracks and you turn down Mandan’s Main street and out west. Mandan, the sister city to Bismarck is where the West Begins and you can feel the change, leaving the “east-river” farming country and entering “west-river” ranch country.  You are now on one of the favorite rides of knowledgeable North Dakota bikers, the Old Red Trail, Old 10 Scenic Highway.

Highway 10 Follows the BN-Sante Fe route through Western ND just as it has for nearly 100 years.

You’re about to ride next to one of the oldest rail lines in western America. It’s now the Burlington Northern Sante Fe line and it primarily hauls grain and coal.  In an earlier day, it was the Northern Pacific — you’ve heard of it.  It brought the life blood of civilization to this region that allowed Europeans to settle here in the mid 1800’s

On this ride, you will follow the peaceful highway enjoy the rolling hills, the sweeping vista of bluffs and buttes.  It’s a 25 miles ride to New Salem.  If you didn’t get good fuel in Bismarck or Mandan, jog up to the Tesoro Truck Stop next to I-94; it’s a thousand yards or so to the north.  Stop in at the Sunset Inn for home cooking and a refreshing drink.  Vivian welcomes riders.  See up there on the hill?  That’s the World’s Largest Holstein. Go ahead and ride up the road to the monument and pose for an udderly memorable photo.

New Salem Sue, Largest (concrete) Holstein in the world

Leaving New Salem you continue riding another 10 miles past the rolling region of ranches and livestock until you come to a stop sign.  Morton County Commissioners decided years ago to rip up the blacktop on this scenic route. That means bikers will have to ride a few miles on Interstate before they get back on to the paved scenic route.  But if you do that, you’ll miss a stop at Almont. So,  jog  south down to the hidden valley town of Almont where you can get a burger and a beer at the Muddy Creek Saloon.

Muddy Creek Saloon, Almont

Later, if you come back on four wheels, it’s here at Almont that you can find more scenic routes, but since the County decided gravel was cheaper to maintain,  it’s not a good ride for bikers. That’s why Kickstands Up recommends getting on I-94 for just a moment. It’s for only 13 miles to the first Glen Ullin exit where you rejoin Highway 10.

From here you will stay on Old 10 until you are close to Montana.  It’s this section of Highway 10 that provides you with  a wild west history lesson. Along Highway 10 are frequent historic notes and pull offs. You’ll read about Custer’s last big trek across the region when he headed to Little Big Horn.

The communities and the highway itself are leisurely steps back in time to a path through the state that is reminiscent of the 1960’s.  Glen Ullin’s Wet Spot is a favorite of bikers.  It’s just past the KrazeeKustom vintage auto restoration shop on the east end of Glen Ullin.

Krazee Kustom rebuilding a Chev pickup

Jerome loves visitors. Check out the rare and unusual cars and pickups he is rebuilding.

The route continues on to Hebron where you’ll have a couple of chances for down-home cooking in the state’s Brick City.  The Hebron Brick plant supplies masonry to builders all over the Mid-West. You’ll pass by the plant if you cruise downtown.  If you don’t head in to town you’ll ride past a pottery shop, Dakotah Clayworks, where the artist uses local clay to form brilliant pieces of art. Robin would love to pack a piece or two for your saddlebags, or ship it directly to your home.

Headed west from Hebron you will ride through more winding and hilly ranch country.  The pavement is challenging at points, but in most cases highway crews are continually at work adding new fresh asphalt.

Richardton Abbey at night

Once you are on fresh pavement, you can enjoy the ride on this easy 2-lane route to Richardton and the twin towers of the Abbey.  The Abbey welcomes visitors. The ancient architecture and interior design have stood in this place welcoming travelers and homesteaders since the 19th Century.

A trike rides hwy 10 near Richardton

From there, through Taylor in to Dickinson, and here is where you’ll have plenty of opportunity for biker-oriented stops.

Prairie Rose Cafe

Dickinson is a cowboy town and though the modern-day oil field activity has taken over the region, cowboys still hold ground in town. They welcome riders.  So here is where you’ll pull in to one of the remaining old-fashioned café’s from back when Highway 10 was the transcontinental highway, before there was an Interstate. The Prairie Rose Café with it swivel stools at the counter, the booths and the friendly, chatty staff will keep your coffee cup full.  I’ve written about it earlier here on the 2wheels blog.

Downtown Dickinson is where you can pull in to one of the oldest established biker-owned watering holes. Bernie’s Esquire Club is the quintessential biker bar.  Bernie and his family have always been bikers and have taken an active role in the biker culture for decades.

Bernie’s Esquire Club

The Esquire Club is a neighbor to the finest dining in the region at the Brickhouse.   It’s a polished gem in the rough cut culture of this ranch country. Seafood, steaks, wine and fine dining.  And if the night is right, enjoy live jazz at the Brickhouse. Mike welcomes riders. Back up your bike to the curb and step in to an upscale joint.

Patriot Custom Cycle’s show-winning custom bagger

If you’re hankering to mingle with some of the best motorcycle mechanics in southwestern North Dakota, Dickinson is the place. Patriot Custom Cycle is staffed by top-notch mechanics, but wait! There’s more.

The custom bikes built by the retired soldier and his staff are new on the custom bike scene but are already winning prizes and trophies for their creations.  Wes is a no-nonsense kind of guy who is known for helping bikers with emergency repairs and service when passing through Dickinson.  If you don’t need service but want to see craftsmen at work, pull in to the Main Street shop. Wes will show you his latest creation.

Head west out of Dickinson to get back in to ranch country. It’s a little more arid out here, so keep water handy. It can be hot on Highway 10 on a mid-afternoon summer ride.  Water is as essential to you as it is to the herds of cattle you’ll be riding through.  If you ride through here on one of the dog days of summer, from mid-July to mid-August, you cold get cooked.  It can be very hot.  Even the breezes on your bike won’t do much to cool you because they’re just as warm as you are.

The I Don’t Know Bar is your next reason to stop. It’s in South Heart, about 20 miles west of Dickinson. Mike Sticka hosts clubs and functions at his bar.  It’s more than a biker-friendly bar;   it’s as friendly of a gathering point as you’ll find anywhere.  Mike’s enthusiasm is contagious. If you meet him, you’ll meet a friend.

I Don’t Know Bar, South Heart

From South Heart you continue on through cowboy country to Belfield.  In the early 19th Century, this region was settled by Ukrainians and Germans from Russia.  That Ukrainian culture runs just below the apparent surface.  Ask locals what their last name is and you’ll hear names reminiscent of eastern Slavic Countries, tough to pronounce and even tougher to spell.  Some bikers like to pause to adjust their load, take a stroll, or kick back in shady spots along the highway.  Out here in western North Dakota, there is little shade except at a cemetery you may ride past.  Go ahead. Park your bike, check out the tombstones of the Ukrainian settlers, the iron crosses, the ancient spots of shade someone started long before you were born.

Trappers Kettle, Belfield is run by bikers and loves to host bikers overnight, or for a meal

Belfield is home of Trapper’s Kettle.  Good food and good sleep for bikers. Ryan is a long time biker and he’ll do what he can to make your journey the best it can be.  You’ll be amazed at the good food, but it’s the decor and the dinnerware that will catch your attention.

Downtown Belfield is a steakhouse you’ll remember. The Roughrider Bar and Grill is one of those hidden gems of friendly people, good service and great food.  They love bikers!  Downtown Belfield offers a break from the traffic you’ll encounter here at the junction of U.S. Highway 85, Interstate 94 and our Highway 10.  Go ahead, swoop in to Downtown Belfield and say “hi” at the Roughrider.

Riding in Medora

From there, it’s on to Medora. That’s where bikers like to disappear in the restored old west town.  It’s the entrance to the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and that alone is worth your ride west.  The loop through the park is not to be taken at any gear above 2nd or 3rd because you never know what’s around the next curve.

Wildlife roam free, and that includes buffalo, elk, deer, horses and of course town after town of prairie dogs.

Riding Theodore Roosevelt Nat Park, South Unit

Tucked in the Badlands is Medora, a motorcycle oasis

Here at the South Unit and at Medora your camera will be a welcome tool.  Photo ops abound!  Bikers hang out here on their trip because the shade, home-made ice cream, fudge and other treats are a good reason to make Medora a destination point.

One of the best surprises for bikers is the leather goods store.  No where in the state are the leathers better priced for bikers than at Black Hills Gold.  It’s right between two other biker-friendly points, The Peanut Bar and  Boots Bar and Grill.  Take your pick!

When it’s time to continue west on Highway 10, you will have to  jog up to I-94 for just a few hundred yards west of Medora to the West River Exit.  That’s where you’ll get back on 10 for the rest of your trip across the sate.  You and the BN-Sante Fe railroad will traverse through the bluffs and buttes in to Montana.

Between Medora and the state line at Beach, is a throwback to 1960, long before there was an Interstate. The road surface is a bit rough, so you’ll be riding at 1960’s speeds — take time to enjoy the view.  Like Jackpine Gypsy and Sturgis Rally founder Pappy Hoel used to say, “Don’t be afraid to ride slow.”  You’re riding on a very old path across the Northern Plains in to Montana.  This particular section of road between Medora and Beach is a trail that pre-dates white man’s travels across the region. You are following an ancient trail that Custer followed, then the rail line, but it was established by the Sioux Indians long before “Anglos” arrived here.

Once you get to the end, you’re at Beach, North Dakota, sitting on the North Dakota/Montana border.  In Beach you have one more chance to claim your piece of the earth you just rode.  Prairie Fire Pottery is another example of artistry found on the prairies. Tama Smith welcomes visitors and if it’s the right day, she’ll show you her kiln as she fires her next creations.  Again, make a purchase and it will be packed for your saddlebags, or shipped to your home.

It is here that you’ve completed your 108 mile journey through time. Your choice now, what will it be?  Will you put your kickstand down in Medora, Belfield or Beach?  That’s where you will find some of the best places for motorcycles to spend the night anywhere in America.  Any where! Friendly, secure, welcoming people and culture.  You and your ride are in a region known for hospitality and safety.  You’ll see more smiles here in a few minutes than you’ll find in hours any where else.

Oh, and don’t forget (shameless plug goes here):  This is one of the feature highways in the 2012 Kickstands Up Motorcycle Touring Map. Pick up your copy for more tips and ideas, not only on this Scenic Highway but other suggested route through North Dakota.  Where to get a copy?  Check out the website.  http://www.kickstandsupnd.com

4 Responses to “Ride Custer’s Last Ride — Highway 10 The Old Red Trail”

  1. Wowie! Who would ever have thought, when traveling the interstate, that there was so much to see and learn about in North Dakota.. I’ll be riding this soon! Thanks!

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