Thursday, October 3, 2013

Rushmore, Tunnels, and Buffalo

Before I start today's story, I'd like to tell you about my recent blogger meet up.  Susan, who blogs over at Travel Bug, was visiting family here in Portland.  I commented on a post she wrote about the Columbia River Gorge (such a wonderful place!) and in her reply, Susan invited me to lunch.

This past Monday, Susan drove all the way in to downtown Portland (in pouring rain, no less) to have lunch with me.  We had a wonderful chat, and I returned to work with a big smile on my face.  I trade comments with many online friends, and it was truly wonderful to meet one of my fellow blogging sisters live and in person.  Susan, next time you're in Portland look me up, and let's go hiking!

Mt. Rushmore drive-by

OK, now set your way-back machine for mid-August.  I'm still playing catch up from my vacation to South Dakota.

One of my favorite day trips in the Black Hills is the Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway loops.  Way too much time had passed since I'd last driven these roads, so I blocked out an afternoon and declared we were going!  My sister volunteered to drive, and I convinced my hubby and son to come along for the ride.

The four Presidents, up close and personal

When you're visiting the Black Hills, there is one place you just have to go - Mt. Rushmore, of course!  However, the place has changed a lot from my childhood visits.  There's now a ginormous parking garage that charges a fortune to park.  Not wanting to deal with this, we instead chose a roadside viewing of the famous faces.

There's a surprise on the other side of this tunnel

Besides, there are other, cooler ways to see the monument.  Turning onto the Iron Mountain Road, the first thing one notices is there's a lot of tunnels.   And this one had a surprise on the other side.....

Ta-da!  Mt. Rushmore peekabo

Yep - there's those four presidents staring through the tunnel.  While stopped taking photos, a family from Texas pulled up and asked what "we-all" were looking at.  When they saw this view at the other end, the Texans were amazed.  Cameras came out, and I think they even beat me in the number of photos taken.

Yahoo!  Another tunnel!

Tunnels are awesome!  And in the roads of the Black Hills, tunnels rule.  Here's another great example of one found on the Iron Mountain Road.

Most of these tunnels have only one lane, and signs direct motorists to sound their horn before passing through, alerting any vehicles on the other side.  Growing up, I thought that's what you did before driving through any tunnel.  But after living other places I've come to realize it's just a South Dakota thing.

Underside of a Pigtail bridge

Besides cool tunnels, this road is also known for it's unique "Pigtail" bridges.  These wooden structures, stacked on top of one another, create some of the road's tight curves.  This entire highway was purposely designed to be driven slowly, allowing motorists to take in and fully appreciate the natural beauty of the land.  For more information about the Iron Mountain Road, check out this website.

Lovely green Black Hills forest

I couldn't get over how green the Black Hills were for the middle of August.  Usually everything is dry and brown.  It's been a wet spring and summer here, and the forests looked absolutely gorgeous.

Roadside buffalo sighting

Our curvy, scenery-packed road wound down through the granite hills, until we reached the grassy plains of Custer State Park.  Driving towards the park entrance, our vehicle was stopped by a line of traffic on the road.  Craning our necks to see ahead, my sis spotted the holdup.  Buffalo!

Custer State Park buffalo herd

A huge buffalo herd was roaming right next to the road.  And, of course, a few inconsiderate people had stopped their vehicles smack dab in the middle of the asphalt lanes to take photos.  We sat in the buffalo-jam for at least 15 minutes before the cars started moving again.  Ugh - tourists!

Although, when we finally were able to cruise by the massive beasts, I could kind of see why people had stopped.  These animals were magnificent!  I quickly shot a bunch of photos while my sis drove as slowly as she could.

The State Game Lodge in Custer State Park

We drove into Custer State Park proper, and saw a sign for the State Game Lodge.  It had been a very long time since I'd visited here, so a stop was in order.

Famous as the summer white house for President Coolidge

The State Game Lodge is part of the Custer State Park Resort.  This stunning stone and wood building was constructed in 1920, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  President Calvin Coolidge used this as his "Summer White House" in 1927.

My sis poses on the steps

Such a pretty place!  Nestled under ponderosa pines, the grounds were landscaped beautifully.  A huge rock staircase and porch circled the outer walls.  We all went inside and checked out the dining hall and gift shop.  And my sister and I snuck upstairs to take a peep at the rooms.

Annddd......another tunnel!

Then, back on the road again, for more - you guessed it - tunnels!  We saw a sign for the Needles Highway, and since it was on our way home, decided to take the scenic route once again.

The Needles

"The Needles" are the name of a collection of granite spires found in the Black Hills.  These narrow granite blocks rise up from the surrounding landscape in many interesting forms.  The Needles Highway is another windy, narrow road that was built for scenery, not speed.

Narrow passage on the Needle Eye tunnel

And, of course, there are more tunnels.  The granddaddy of tunnels, is the narrow passage at a rock formation known at the "Needles Eye."  The road threads through the middle of two sheer granite cliffs.  Only wide enough for one lane of traffic, it's especially interesting to see a large tour bus inch through.  (They do this several times a day!)

More cool granite spires

We began to run short on time, and my sis needed to get home and pick up one of her daughters.  So I only got a couple of short stops in the Needles to grab a photo or two.  Otherwise, I hung out the car window, snapping away with my camera.

This road winds right through the rocks

But I managed to get a few cool shots.  I especially like the perspective on this one.  It's not every road that you can get so close to large granite formations.

Sylvan Lake

The Needles Highway ends at beautiful Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park.  One of my favorite places in the Black Hills.  But there was no time to stop and explore today.  I was able to get a few final shots before heading home.

I'm happy I was able to do a little sightseeing, even if it was just for short while.  The Black Hills are an amazing place, full of interesting things.  Where else can you see a famous monument, wild buffalo, amazing rock formations, and of course tunnels, all in an afternoon's drive?

Sharing with:  Weekly Top Shot.


  1. It has been a long time since I have been there. SO cool and so beautiful! thosr tunnels are crazy in a tour bus, we were in one with our 4-H club and we kept wondering when we were going to get stuck, but we never did!

  2. Yes, Blog Friend meet-ups are amazing. I've had several and hope for many more in the future. Love your South Dakota posts. Another state I've yet to visit!

  3. Woah, that tunnel is too cool! I've never been there before, but I hope I can see it someday. How neat that you were able to meet up with a blogging friend!

  4. AMAZING (yes I did scream there)! SO hope I can one day see it all in person:)

  5. Linda,
    Wow! Thanks for the nice shout-out in your blog.

    Your blog today brought back memories of our trip to the Black Hills in August of 2012. I would love to spend more time there and would love to hike the Sunday Gulch Trail that starts at Sylvan Lake. See: for our take on the Needles Highway.


  6. As always, some stunning photos!! I love seeing the world through your camera and learning so much about other places that I probably will never visit. So .... again ....many thanks. Joan

  7. Wow, what a great trip. Your photos are beautiful.

  8. Awesome shots! I have always wanted to visit this area. Thank you for sharing ;)

  9. Reminded me of my post on same subject, though I like your shots of the Iron Mountain road better! Gives a great sense of place to include all the cars going through. Nice shot of the bison with the hillside too.

  10. Wow Linda, there is SO much here... I love the tunnel shots, very dramatic and the summer Whitehouse of Coolidge, I didn't know about that... Thank you for coming by sharing your creative photography on Weekly Top Shot #103!

  11. I used to work in CSP. Brings back memories!

  12. Beautiful shots. I love seeing those magnificent bison.

  13. I've only been to the Black Hills once (when we visited Mount Rushmore), but I was very impressed with the area's natural beauty. I could spend a lot of time there.

  14. Loved your perspective seeing Mount Rushmore! I was bummed, too, about the monument's layout, but we didn't take the time for an alternate view. Thank you for the better tour :)


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