On our second full day in the Black Hills we took to the road to travel the more popular and scenic routes through Custer State Park. I had been to this park many years ago during a road trip with my sister Barbara, daughter Shannon and niece Kyla. I thought Custer Park was so beautiful at that time, so I really looked forward to seeing it again. Custer State Park is known for wildlife and on that first trip we were looking forward to seeing as much wildlife as possible, especially the bison. After driving for awhile and not seeing any bison, we were starting to lose hope when we drove up a hill and encountered a large herd of perhaps a hundred crossing the road right in front of us. It was an amazing and magical sight that I have not forgotten since it was my best encounter with such a large number of these magnificent beasts. This time we did have close up views of a couple of loners but the herd was up on a hill away from the road. We were lucky to encounter this guy right next to the road.
Custer State Park is South Dakota’s first and largest state park and is named after Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer. The park features a variety of terrain including rolling hills of prairie grass, forests, lakes, streams and granite spires. One of the more popular drives is the wildlife tour route where it is possible to see bison, antelope, bighorn sheep, prairie dog towns, deer, elk, wild burros and mountain goats. On this recent trip our favorite animal encounter was with the wild burros.
They are friendly and come right up to cars, sticking their heads in windows. People get out of their cars to pet the burros and visit with them. I was very taken with this little baby burro, the only baby in the crowd when we drove up.
After completing the wildlife tour route we headed for Iron Mountain Road, completed in 1933 and considered a feat of engineering due to the terrain that it crosses including many mountain curves, switchbacks and tunnels that had to be blasted from rock. The designer of this road created the tunnels so that you could view Mount Rushmore with the four presidents in the distance as you drive through. I hope you can spot Rushmore in the picture below as we follow another car through a tunnel.
There were several different overlooks we could stop at with more wonderful views of Mount Rushmore and the hills and forests of the park. It was so windy the day we visited the overlooks that we felt we would be blown off the cliff!
After this road we tackled the Needles Scenic Highway, known for the tall, thin, granite spires that the road passes through. This road is even more narrow, steep and winding than Iron Mountain Road. We drove through several tunnels with the last tunnel, Needles Eye, the narrowest and most interesting. There are fantastic high rock formations around the tunnel area including a rock spire that looks like a sewing needle with an eye. We stopped before entering the tunnel and I walked through it so that I could take pictures of Mark driving through. Since the tunnel is so narrow, I had to walk quickly to avoid any cars coming from the opposite direction! As Mark entered the tunnel, I could hear scraping sounds. It turns out that our truck mirrors were hitting the sides of the tunnel! They were a little dinged up but at least not broken.
This road was completed in 1922 at a time when vehicles were much smaller and could better accommodate two vehicles. The size of our truck made it difficult but it was an exciting and very scenic drive, one of my all time favorite roads. Well, I thought it was exciting. Mark at the end was trying to recover his nerves and reported he probably would not look forward to driving that road again!
As always, thanks for reading and I will post more about our South Dakota travels soon!