Monday, September 3, 2012

Custer State Park - Iron Mountain Road

Today we decided to do the Iron Mountain Road, which technically is only 40% within the park, but is another one of those "must do" drives.  Some people do all three of the drives, Wildlife Loop, Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road all in the same day, and that is very possible to do.  However, we decided to split them up so that we could enjoy that which each drive offers....and not try to soak it all in into one long day.
The map above is of Custer State Park, and the northern part of the map, outside of the dotted brown lines, is outside of the park.  Today our drive was the highway 16A in the upper right third of the map.  The town of Custer is to the far left, middle of the map, which is where we are staying. If you click on the map, or here, you can see a PDF of this map and enlarge as you wish.

One last thing before I get started...Marcia wanted everyone to know that the fire(s) in South Dakota are 60 miles to the south of us...but that Smoky Bear did have a message for all...
So we are not having any type of fires, and we hope everyone else follows too.  Things are very dry around will be nice to move on on Wednesday.

One thing we are always on the lookout for is wildlife.....we did pass a lone buffalo before we got to the Iron Mountain Road...but the only other wildlife we saw along this route was....
 ....this flock of Turkeys in the field below (and a few other flocks which we did not stop to get pictures of.) 
And to think....we thought all the turkeys were gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina for some sort of convention....I guess these ones missed the bus....  Another thing we were looking for were the "Begging Burros" of Custer State Park.  We did not see them on the Wildlife Loop, and we did not see them today either.  Then I saw a picture of them Burros...which is another term for Donkey....and then I realized that they did make the bus....and I know that they are "begging" for more of our "wish you luck on that one" from us, that is for sure! 

Not long after you leave Custer State Park, and you come to a real nice turn out which show much of the Black Hills to our north and west.
Above is a good view of the Black Hills to the west.  The highest peak, center right, is Harney Peak.  Below is a blowup of Harney Peak and you can just barely make out the Fire Tower which I talked about in the Needles Highway posting a few days ago.

Above is a picture of Mt. Rushmore, and below is a blowup of the Presidents on Mt. Rushmore.  We saw many picturesque views of Mt. Rushmore which are shared further along in the blog.
We now start driving into the mountains and among the trees.  There are no "cliffs" like we had on the Needles Highway, but there were many sharp turns, and even some 270 degree turns where we went under the highway we just went over.
Above is the first of three tunnels along the route.
 And not far from that tunnel is another viewing area of Mt. Rushmore (above) and Harney Peak (below).  Remember from the previous Needles Highway post, Harney Peak is the highest point in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains.

 Above is another view of Mt. Rushmore, and below is another tunnel.
Below is the first of three or four of the 270 degree turns where you go under the highway you just went over.

Above is the approach to the third tunnel, which is shown below.  If you look closely through the tunnel, you can see Mt. Rushmore.  
That is one of those "wow" things as you go through this tunnel.
And above and below are the other two bridges associated with the 270 degree turns.

 And since we were so close to Mt. Rushmore, and we already had a parking pass for the rest of the year, I figured we might as stop and visit it again.  But first, we stopped in Keystone, which is just 3 miles from Mt. Rushmore National Memorial, and get some lunch at Subway.
The crowd was not too bad....and there was a group of Harley Bikers from Sweden, like around a dozen of them, who were there.  I wondered if they brought their Harleys with them, or if they rented them here in the States or what....but I sure wasn't going to ask them.  I took the picture below before they all showed up.

 Mt. Rushmore is different to look at during the day, with the sun at your back, instead of in the evening when it is off to the left of the Presidents.  Today was a clear, blue day, and it made picture taking very easy.
As we continued our drive, now to the west, along highway 244, I got another look at Harney Peak from the north looking south.  You can just make out the Fire Tower at the top, although now I am shooting towards the sun, so the contrast is not as good.
With such a clear day, I suggested that we extend our drive back up highway 87 the 6 miles or so to Needles Eye, and they we would take Highway 89 back down to Custer, and Marcia agreed.
This time Marcia got a picture of "Needles Eye" as I drove by, and caught this female rock climber trying to climb up the Eye (above).  While I turned the corner and maneuvered the long tunnel (below).
And then we stopped to enjoy the view of the was so peaceful and the views were lovely.
 Below is a look above the Needles Eye Tunnel, and another climber had made it to the top of another rock formation close to the tunnel.

 And as we enjoyed the peace and quiet looking out above, Skruffy started barking and barking, and then we see why....there were a bunch of Chipmunks running all around the rocks behind us, driving her nuts while she sat in the car looking out the window.  
This is a view directly to the south.  In the middle right is the town of Custer.  You can see the skies to the south have signs of smoke from the fires which are right along the Nebraska and South Dakota boarder.  One of those peaks along the left is the lookout that we were at during our Wildlife Loop Drive which we talked about in a previous posting.  Staying in Custer was a good is fairly centralized for visiting Custer State Park, and not that bad to get to Mt. Rushmore or even to Rapid City.

So we turned around and went back through the tunnel, and stopped to see what progress the climbers has made.
Above near the tunnel two have reached the summit.  By the talk one could hear, it seems that this is a person helping another person who is learning to climb.  There are two people in the picture.  Below, the female climber has made some progress, but not very much.  She was tying off with ropes and had a helmet, so she would not hurt herself if she did fall.

 Above is a view of her from the back side of the "Eye of the Needle", while below is one last shot of the rookie being guided down from the top of the rock they were on.
We had a wonderful day....and for our last day we have one more thing to do, and that is to visit Crazy Horse, which is only about 8 miles from the RV Park.  Then it will be time to prepare for our move to the Badlands.


  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences! We are a family from Holland and will travel through Custer this summer with a rental RV. that is about 12'4 ft high. Would it be possible to pass through the tunnels that you come across on the Iron Mountain Road?

    1. No, the clearance is something like 10 feet, maybe less. You can make it up to the tunnel and turn around however.

    2. Hi there,
      we just returned from our RV holiday on a C24, max. height 12'00'' (the top of the A/C in the midline of the unit). The official minimal clearance of the tunnels on Iron Mt Road is 12'2'', concerning the second tunnel, which is the lowest.
      So I built a device to fix in the midline of the roof front of our RV, with a LED torch combined with a laser pointer at about 12'2.5'' which I switched on before entering the first tunnel, and my wife went through the tunnel guiding me with hand signals and taking fotos.
      The result: the width of the tunnels is no problem, and the tunnels are higher than officially declared (estimated about 13' in the midline).
      On the other hand, it is not possible to pass the Needles Eye Tunnel without risking severe damage, we did not try it, because it's definitely too narrow. You can visit Needles Eye when you enter the Needles Hwy from the west, heading for Sylvan Lake. There's plenty of space to turn around your RV in front of the tunnel, and it's absolutely worth the trip.
      Podlaha, July 3,2017


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