We drove over to Mt Rushmore again to catch the monument in the morning with the sun shining directly on the faces. We had gone in the afternoon the prior time and there were quite a bit of shadows. But our real mission for the day was to tour through Custer State Park and its three scenic byways – the Iron Mountain Road, the Wildlife Loop, and the Needles Highway. The Iron Mountain Road was designed first and foremost to take advantage of distant views of Mt Rushmore and other natural attractions. Roads often take the path of “least resistance”. Not this one; it’s mission is to get people to the sights. The road is famous for its “pigtail bridges” where you go right back around and over the road to gain elevation quickly. The road also has tunnels that frame a view of Mt Rushmore as you travel through them.
This byway connects to the Wildlife Loop where we actually did see a lot of wildlife. Custer Park is home to a herd of 1,500 bison that roam the Park freely and openly. We pulled up to a small group and one walked right past our open car window. There is an annual roundup in the Fall to keep the herd at its manageable limit. The roundup has become quite the attraction itself.
Along the way, we also saw, pronghorns and the ever cute, prairie dogs.
On the Needles Highway, the big attractions are a tunnel carved through the rock that is only 8’4” wide and the needle’s eye rock formation. We waited for half an hour at the tunnel hoping to see one of the tour busses that squeeze through this tunnel, but finally had to give up.