Friday, August 07, 2015

Sturgis at 75

I am compelled to comment on the 75th edition of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which is wrapping up this weekend. I drove through the Black Hills a couple weeks ago and already significant motorcycle traffic was evident, lending credence to the expectation that this year's rally would be a monster with attendance approaching 1 million bikers.

Many of the articles leading up to the 75th rally mentioned its start in 1938, giving credit to J.C. "Pappy" Hoel as the founder. I claim a unique perspective on the rally because, although I have never driven a motorcycle in my life, I was a reporter for the Sturgis weekly newspaper 1978-84, and I met with Clarence (as locals called him) and his wife Pearl at their home soon after I started at the paper. I remember him as a cordial but sort of deaf old gent. He talked about working as a young man in the family business, which was cutting and storing ice in the winter and delivering it in the summer. In 1936 when refrigeration was making ice delivery obsolete, he bought an Indian motorcycle franchise. Clarence founded the Jackpine Gypsies motorcycle club in 1936 and helped start the rally in 1938. I got the impression that he didn't want to take personal credit for founding the rally, but whether that was due to modesty or embarrassment about the crazier aspects of it, I'm not sure. Whenever I dealt with him after that initial interview, it didn't have to do with "the Rally," but with the White Plate Flat Trackers, an organization he helped found in 1979-80 that was devoted to preserving the history of motorcycle racing. ("White Plate" refers to the white numbered plate awarded to expert riders, and "Flat Track" was the dirt track upon which they raced.)

Part of my beat was city and county government, so I covered countless meetings where rally proponents and opponents came to debate whether the town should continue hosting this insane event. A near-riot by campers in the city park one year led to a series of meetings and a public vote. I wrote an opinion column in the paper advocating that the rally should continue because it was the thing that made the town unique. Without it, Sturgis would be just another ranch town like Belle Fourche. (No offense.) Proponents narrowly won the vote, but there were changes – camping was banned in the park and much of the partying moved, out of sight and out of mind, to new private campgrounds outside of city limits, such as the Buffalo Chip.

In 1989, nearby Deadwood embraced part of its dark history. Gambling was legalized, revitalizing that little town. Today there are dozens of casinos and hotels in Deadwood. Without Deadwood gambling and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, there still would be tourists in the Black Hills, but not nearly as many. Whatever judgments you want to make, moral or otherwise, those two decisions made back in the 1980's bring millions of dollars to the northern Black Hills each year.

Being in the middle of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was part of my job, not something I would do on my own time. These days I live 375 miles to the east and usually visit the Black Hills in the spring and fall when the roads aren't clogged with bikers and RVs. But the rally is a unique event and I'm always interested to see (on TV, not in person) what is going on.

A t-shirt from 1981, one of my few Sturgis souvenirs. The event has gone by various names over the years.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Photo of the Year 2014

How about that, until now (August 2015) I neglected to choose a Photo of the Year for 2014. There's no doubt I've spent less time hunting with my camera the last few years but I did get a few decent shots during the 2014. Nominees were the partial solar eclipse and my first photo of a Baltimore Oriole, but I picked a webcam shot of an elk framed by another elk's antlers. I have been diligent about checking my webcams in Wind Cave National Park every six months. First prize, which I award to myself every year, is a trip to Keokuk, Iowa to see wintering eagles, although I neglected to make the trip this year. Here is this year's POY and previous winners.

Looking back on the previous selections, I was wondering if I should pick a photo of the decade, but it is too hard. The 2003 penguins were snapped during the greatest adventure of my life, a trip to Antarctica. "Little Brothers" from 2004 ended up on the cover of a book. After I clicked the owl picture in 2008, I was thinking about retiring then because I didn't know if I would ever top it. Maybe the Sertoma Butterfly from 2011 comes close. So there will be no "photo of the decade" selection. Click on the images for larger views.

Elk Frame 2014

Here are my POY selections for 2002-2013.

Young red-tailed hawk Junior I (2002 edition) right outside my office window.
Junior I 2002
Gentoo penguins greet each other, Jougla Point, Dec. 4, 2003.
Gentoo Penguins 2003
Puffins on Machias Seal Island, Gulf of Maine, 2004.
Little Brothers 2004
Bald Eagle along the Mississippi River, 2005.
Bald Eagle 2005
Blue Jay, 2006.
Blue Jay 2006
Eagle with fish, 2007.
Eagle with fish 2007
Great Horned Owls, 2008.
Great Horned Owls 2008
Custer State Park Bighorn, 2009.
Custer SP Bighorn 2009
Keokuk eagle, 2010.
Keokuk Eagle 2010
Sertoma Butterfly
Sertoma Butterfly 2011
Dark Morph of Broad-Winged Hawl
Dark Morph 2012
Yellow Crowned Night Heron
Night heron 2013