Threading the Needle
Today was about “touring,” the old fashioned way, driving the scenic highways of the Black Hills. This area’s spectacular scenery must be seen in person to be appreciated and enjoyed, but preferably not with bikers outnumbering cars 50 to 1 (although we embraced the experience).
Today, we drove the Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park and saw distant herds of buffalo, the Park’s famously-friendly begging burros and Pronghorns, usually referred to as antelopes, which they are not, but they are similar and can run 60 mph.
The Iron Mountain Road is where drivers find the one-lane granite tunnels, several which perfectly frame a distant view of Mount Rushmore’s famous presidents. Photos of Mount Rushmore seen through a tunnel are often the signature image of the area. In addition to the 3 tunnels, the 17-mile winding road features 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, 3 pigtails and 2 splits.
Our favorite was Needles Highway, a 14-mile stretch through the needles spindly granite formations and Needle’s Eye feature. This is a must-see drive. At elevation of over 6,000’ I sometimes felt like we were part of a Star Wars set, transported to another world. Driving through the Needle’s Eye was a highlight. Due to the bikers, it was quite chaotic and rangers were on hand to direct traffic, which can only pass through one car, in one direction, at a time.
Between rides, we lunched in quaint Custer and drove by to see the work-in-progress carving of the Sioux warrior Crazy Horse. We viewed his profile, but the finished monument will depict him on his horse and be 563’ tall. Workers are now focused on his hand and the horse’s mane.
We topped off this beautiful day with a return visit to Mount Rushmore to get some photos in better light. It was exciting to see the Rushmore sculptures in person, but they were smaller than we expected. Not that they are small, they are each 60’ high, but photos usually depict such a close-up shot, you don’t appreciate their scale and placement in the overall scene. What was most dramatic was coming around a curve on one of our drives today and seeing it magically appear through the trees on the horizon. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.