Lakes and Tunnels

View of Mount Rushmore Through the Scovel Johnson Tunnel

Today, we enjoyed some of the dreams of Peter Norbeck, former governor and senator of South Dakota. In addition to founding Custer State Park, he wanted to build two roads in the park that we drove today, the Needles and Iron Mountain. He laid out their routes, but when he showed his plans to the engineers, they all said that it couldn’t be built. Finally, he approached Scovel Johnson with his road plans, who replied, “If you can buy me enough dynamite, I can build your roads.” I guess that Norbeck got the funding. 

We started with the Needles, which was built before Mount Rushmore. It is named for the rocky spires that hem its path. They are favored by rock climbers and we saw a couple of parties ascending them. Both roads are narrow, winding and steep. They both have three tight tunnels that exclude anything bigger than an SUV and they had to pull in their mirrors to get through. Another feature of these roads are their pigtails. These tight two-seventy degree turns include a bridge that is both passed under and over. Each road is little more than a dozen miles in length, but with frequent stops along the way and an extra long lunch stop at Sylvan Lake, it took us all day to traverse them.

At Sylvan Lake, we lunched with a bus load of YMCA day campers. This was our second alpine lake of the day. We also toured Stockade and Horse Thief lakes. They were another Norbeck idea. We walked the trail around the lake and when we finally arrived at the boat rental, we found that they had no kayaks or canoes for us. We somehow consoled ourselves with ice cream.

On the way back, after we passed up Mount Rushmore, we took Iron Mountain. It was just as twisty and turnery as Needles. It was also built after Rushmore was made, so its three tunnels are aligned for a perfect view of the monument. Johnson said, “Building the tunnels was the easy part. Building the road in-between them was hard.” Interestingly, Calvin Coolidge came out to the Black Hills, at the insistence of Norbeck. He had only planned to stay for three weeks, but ended up staying for three months. At the end of which, funding for the construction of Mount Rushmore was requested by the president. 

4 thoughts on “Lakes and Tunnels

  1. I hope to travel the world like you one day. Everytime I come over here it’s an escape. Your blog has always felt so Adventurous. Thanks for all your support, Gastradamus

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