Wednesday, September 11, 2013

South Dakota: Needles Highway

I'm happy to say that not everything in the Black Hills have changed in the last 30 years. One of the highlights of that trip three decades ago was driving down the Needles highway and so I made sure that was the way we took back to our hotel after leaving Crazy Horse Memorial. It is classic rugged country and a beautiful drive.

Along the route are at least six tunnels carved into rock that you must pass through that limits the size of vehicle that you can take on the highway. I was a full size conversion van with the extra little headroom thing on the top sneak through this tunnel with just a few inches to spare on the three sides not in contact with the road. He had to inch through this tunnel just to avoid the van from swaying enough to hit the rocks. I also saw full sized pickups that had to fold in their mirrors to get through this point.

This is the needle that give the highway its name.

All throughout the area are vertical rock formations sticking up here and there just inviting you to jump out and climb on them which we did every now and then.

As I drove (not while I was taking this picture of course), I had to go slow so I could take in the sights which were all around, including the rear view mirrors.

This is my second trip to this area and as I was staring off at scenes like the ones above and below, I realized that I didn't know much about the area. I know it was at the bottom of a gigantic inland sea at one point and that many of our country's prized fossils come from the area but I didn't know much contemporary history. I also have two 4th great grandfathers who lived for a couple decades each and are buried in the state. So I decided to buy a coupe books on the area. One is a history of some of the more notorious people who have lived in the area and another is a fairly well known book about the Great Westward Expansion told from the Indian perspective facing east.

Below is my parting shot if you may that shows Mt. Rushmore off in the distance. The most popular entrance for the Needles highway is right near the Mt. Rushmore memorial. In order to minimize the traffic going in my direction, I opted to go to the Crazy Horse Memorial and get on the other end of the highway heading into the traffic instead of with it. The rewards were great because we very rarely saw a car in front or behind us heading the same direction allowing us to drive a leisurely pace and not feel as if we were ruining someone else's vacation. We also had time to stop in the middle of the road and take pictures like the one below.


edifice rex said...

Very cool! The Dakotas, Wyoming etc. are the one part of the country I've yet to see and really hope to get out there at some point. I must admit, I never have had much interest in seeing Mt. Rushmore but would like to see the Black Hills and surrounding country. Thanks for sharing!

Ed said...

Edifice Rex - The Black Hills are a very beautiful area for sure. It reminds me a lot of the foothills of the Rocky mountains.

Leigh said...

I have to say that's pretty spectacular. I remember my dad going on a hiking/camping trip there with some of his friends, years ago. They raved about it. I see why.

woodysrockyridge said...

My all time favorite vacation was through South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. We camped in Custer State park. Stayed in the Irma Hotel in Cody for a couple of days. Spent a week at a guest ranch in the Absaroka Range just northwest of Cody and took a week through Yellowstone. I will always remember that trip as my favorite. My daughter was six, so everything was such an adventure for a little one who had never seen the beauty of this part of the country.

Ed said...

Leigh - It is beautiful country for sure. It also has the advantage of being north so it is cooler to visit during those summer months!

Woody - I've done many similar trips although mine always end up in the Wind River Mountains to the south of Yellowstone. They too are some of my favorite trips. The only one with more impact on me was my month of floating down the Grand Canyon.