July 30, 2014

7/27-30/14 - Custer SP

We camped at Hart Ranch for a week to see the Black Hills.  As long as we're here for the scenery, most of our trips took us through Custer State Park.  The "entrance license" was $15 and it's good for a week.  (Still can't get the sticky stuff off the inside of the windshield!)
On the way to Wind Cave NP, we drove straight through on US-16A--if you could possibly call that windy, twisty road "straight"!  It took us past the State Game Lodge, which served as the Summer White House for President Calvin Coolidge in 1927.  Coolidge learned to fish while he was here, and ended up extending his visit because he enjoyed it so much.  He was definitely a lucky fisherman--lucky because the locals restocked the creek where he fished every night with fish from a nearby trout hatchery!
On the way back from the cave, we drove the Wildlife Loop Road.  This is the 100th anniversary of the reintroduction of bison (buffalo) into Custer SP.  They keep a summer herd about 1,300 buffalo which they round up every September, then auction off 400 or so to other places that want their own buffalo herds.  (The Buffalo Wallow Chili Cookoff is on the last day--I suppose that's what happens to the buffalo that don't get sold.)  Who would have guessed that critters so large were so practiced at camouflage!  We did see a small herd...those dark specks out toward the trees are buffalo.  Trust me on this.
We also saw more pronghorn antelope.
There were a whole bunch of people out in a field and we couldn't figure out what they were doing.  They were out there petting the "wild" burros.  Go figure!  (We also saw a small herd of wild horses but they look just like regular horses so I didn't take a picture.  If you want to see horses, take a drive in the country.)
I wanted to see more wildlife than we did.  I wanted buffalo roaming, and deer and antelope playing.  I wanted elk and coyotes, mountain goats and bighorn sheep.  I wasn't planning on seeing cougars up close, but if one was snacking on a camouflaged buffalo, that would have been okay.  However...they weren't hanging around the Wildlife Loop that day.

Iron Mountain Road

The next day we went to Mount Rushmore.  The Iron Mountain Road squiggles through the NE section of the park, then continues up to Keystone.  The road was built in 1933 when cars were much narrower, and when people were apparently unconcerned about drop-offs and lack of guard rails.  

All the maps list exact dimensions of each tunnel, so you have a chance to panic a little bit before you get there. It must be really hard rock because the road builders didn't make a lot of effort in making the tunnels very big.  Tunnel 3 is one of the larger ones:  13'4" (4.1m) and 12'4" (3.8m) high. They're all one-lane, so it's just you and the rock!  (Oh, by the way, the week we were here is the week before the big motorcycle rally at Sturgis, just a few miles up the road.  Actually, that would be all the roads because there are bikers everywhere!)
The road splits into an even narrower ribbon through the trees, then there's a major switchback after this tunnel, and then glimpses of Mount Rushmore. 
Tunnel 2 is a wee bit larger, but it's hard to tell.  It's certainly not a road we'd be able to take the 5th wheel on.
The road splits again, and then it's time for Tunnel 1, the largest one at 14'0" (4.3m) wide and 12'9" (3.9m) high, still not big enough to drag a trailer through.  Theoretically you can view Mount Rushmore through Tunnel 1, but my picture while we were in the tunnel didn't turn out very well, and George wouldn't turn around and go back.  (sigh)  
Another thing that the Iron Mountain Road is famous for is Pigtail Bridges, a form of bridge that loops over it's own road, like on this hairpin curve, allowing the road to climb rapidly. Then it was on to Mount Rushmore.

Needles Highway

Two days later we went to the Crazy Horse Memorial, back again through Custer SP up Hwy 87, the Needles Highway.  It's another mountain highway, with twists and turns and tunnels (6 through 4), but this time with the distraction of granite needles and spires and pinnacles wherever you look.
This road was built in 1922, so tunnels are even narrower.  Tunnel 6 is 9'0" (2.7m) wide, 12'3" (3.7m) high.  
They call these the "Cathedral Spires".  Aren't they great?
Tunnel 5 is the smallest at 8'4" wide (2.5m) and 12.0' (3.7m) high.  It's also pretty spectacular. The first picture is from a viewpoint nearby.  After you go through the tunnel, you go between some needles.  (BTW, it's not raining in the middle tunnel picture--it's bugs on the windshield.  We felt a responsibility to help reduce the large insect population of South Dakota.)
We had lunch at Sylvan Lake.
Except for the hanging on the edge of a cliff, Tunnel 4 at 10'6" (3.2m) wide and 10'7" (3.2m) high seemed relatively simple.  
A few more needles--but no more needle's eyes--and it was on to Crazy Horse.
More pictures of Custer State Park

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  1. Beautiful scenery ..... I love the tunnels and the bridge.


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