The Sakakawea Loop – 255 miles. Danger.

One last ride – a ride to cover territory not ridden in 2012.  It used to be the best ride in the state, but now it’s not one that I’d recommend.  Here’s why:

A warm September day invites a late afternoon ride, and if it’s timed right, a rider can cover lots of territory in a day.  That was the goal of my last ride of 2012.  The edges and borders of that forbidden territory for bikers – the oil patch!

Coal Creek Power Plant along Highway 83 by Underwood

Mary grabbed her camera and climbed on the passenger seat to take these photos.  She’s an experienced rider, but she was glad she wasn’t operating the bike. It was a tough ride.

The ride started at Wilton and headed up Highway 83, the central belt strap across the mid-section of North Dakota.  It’s a great 4-lane highway. North of Wilton there’s good food and good gas at Washburn and Underwood.  A fun place to stop is Coleharbor at the Harbor bar.

Just around the corner from Coleharbor is the turn to Garrison on Highway 37 and 1804.  The road is in good shape for bikers, and after Garrison, the terrain changes significantly as the region changes from the prairies of the Missouri Slope to the Missouri Breaks, a region of hills and valleys feeding in to the Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea.

Old Scouts Cemetery at White Shield, a veteran’s cemetery where Arikara and Hidatsa U.S. Army scouts are buried.

The first stop after Garrison and White Shield is the Old Scouts Cemetery.  Here is where patriotic and skilled scouts from the Three Affiliated Tribes are buried. It’s a military cemetery honoring those men and women who served in the United States Military. Their tradition and history go back to the days when the U.S. Army was at war against the Sioux Nation.  Members of the Hidatsa and Arikara nation signed up with Custer to help battle their mutual enemy at the time. Warriors such as Bloody Knife, Stab and Bob Tail Bull served with Custer.  In every war since then, tribal scouts used their skills on behalf of the U.S. Armed Forces up to and including the Global War on Terror.

I wrote a historical documentary script on the Old Scouts – a story that never was produced, and sadly lives hidden where few people know about it. That’s why I stop, to honor these American Patriots, tend to a few neglected graves and say “thanks.”

Across the harvested grain field is the Congregational Church

From there, a hilly ride around Lake Sakakawea on 1804 goes past the abandoned Congregational

Interior of Congregational Church

Church where Charles Hall and Harold Case were affiliated when they left their homes in the East to minister to young Native American youth.  A monument in the cemetery marks Charles Hall’s burial spot.  Again, paying respects to those forgotten servants.

From the abandoned Congregational Church, north to Parshall and that’s where the tension begins – tension caused by the hundreds and hundreds of square miles of a massive construction project – the Bakken Oil field.  Homes, trailer parks, oil facilities, oil sites and roads are all under construction and it’s a tense place for bikers to ride. The traffic can be challenging.

Beware. Road Construction.

Not only is traffic a challenge, but so are the roads. Miles and miles of greasy, pothole construction paths where traffic is detoured while the road surfaces are upgraded to handle the intense oil field traffic.   As nice as the new roads will be, the detours on slippery, muddy paths around the construction are just as bad.   More than once my bike slammed and clunked when I hit potholes that I couldn’t avoid.  The clean bike I started with was covered with mud from the traffic I met.

In New Town, a stop at what used to be a little convenience store on the edge of town, is now a visit to a busy truck stop. There a chance meeting with a biker from Enid, Oklahoma was a high point.  Stroker is the Sergeant at Arms for the American Veterans Motorcycle Club in Oklahoma.  He wanted to find out about motorcycle repair shops in the region. He had lost part of his bike when he rode came in to the Bakken region near Killdeer. I should have realized that his story of the messy road construction north of Killdeer was a clue to what lay ahead.

Four Bears Bridge

His story of rough roads ahead was forgotten when until it was too late. After leaving New Town, a stop was required at the Four Bears Bridge. First to check out the bridge from Crow Files High, the historic hilltop named for the Hidatsa Chief.

Truck Traffic on Hwy 22

From there, the ride plunges right in to the oil field.  What should have been a direct ride south on Highway 22 became a detour further west through Keane and Johnson’s Corner.  There at Johnson’s Corner the detour turns back east to join Highway 22 south of the most intense road construction.

Oil field activity between New Town and Killdeer

Hopes for a smooth ride home were dashed as the ride-worthy section of Highway 22 was more intense road construction.  The ND DOT is reshaping the entire scenic highway because of the mud slides. Entire sections of the highway have been lost to gravity and loose subgrade.  If you’ve ever ridden Highway 22 before this year, you will not recognize the route. Not only has the road changed, but hundreds of feet on either side of the road have been reshaped to control the slides.  The scenic valley that once was home to the Lost Bridge monument is history.

After leaving the road construction area of Highway 22, it’s a straight drop down to Killdeer.  By now, the road construction and the detours have made the trip much longer than planned.  So, a quick stop at the Cenex truck stop (formerly just a convenience store) was all that time allowed.

South of Killdeer, the state’s only Roundabout, a busy oil field truck intersection of Highway 22 and Highway 200 where literally thousands of trucks intersect every day.  The state opted to build a roundabout instead of a signaled intersection.  It opened in October 2012, but was still under construction on this last ride of the season.

The ride back to Wilton on Highway 200 is a pleasant ride, though it was turning cold and dark.  The hills roll as the highway passes through towns such as Dunn Center, Dodge and Hazen.    At Washburn, Highway 200 intersects with Highway 83, and the loop is complete.  A quick evening meal at the Dakota Farms Restaurant in Washburn and the day is complete.

Thanks to Mary Tastad for taking these photos.

It’s a wearisome ride, made more so by the intensity of traffic, bad roads and detours.  This used to be one of the best rides in the Northern Plains.  Now, it bears a repeated warning. Do not attempt.

Have you ridden it this year? What was YOUR experience?

2 Responses to “The Sakakawea Loop – 255 miles. Danger.”

  1. Unbelievable the traffic great pic’s ! I hear it is going to get worse.

    • I think temporarily it will get worse, but all the major cities, the state and the federal gov’t are working at building bypasses and stronger roads. Hwy 23 from Parshall to New Town is getting a thicker sub-grade and thicker paved surface to handle the extra heavy loads.

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