Custer State Park, SD

The Road Trip Continues… Alaska to Pennsylvania

By the time we entered the Black Hills of South Dakota we had been on the road for 15 days, only one of which we spent in a hotel. We could put up and take down our tent with our eyes closed. We were road trip experts. But there were two things we weren’t prepared for: people and heat.

After spending so much time in the north, where we were still sleeping in a snow hat and gloves at night (in July), the heat of 90 degree days felt like being smothered. And it had been a long time since we had seen such thick swarms of people. It felt a little like wandering out of the woods into an amusement park. But, the scenery of Custard State Park made up for it!

Our destination was the home of Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and the scenic Needles Highway. While in the park we also spent time at Sylvan Lake and hiked to Harney Peak. For us, Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse felt too busy, so we looked at them from the road and moved along. Neat, but I’m glad we had more time for the Needles Highway and our hike.

The Needles Highway is awesome. The road, particularly the middle portion, switchbacks up and through granite tors that burst from the hills like candle sticks. The rock seems to have an artistic mind of its own. Each outcropping, stretches and bends and buckles in Play-doh-turned-rock kind of ways.

My favorite spot on the highway was the Cathedral Spires. A row of granite towers linked in a chain across the sky. It seemed like I should hear the trumpeted bellow of an organ at any minute. Another neat spots was a rock tunnel, that turned so sharply around a corner it looked like it was going to swallow the car trying to navigate its narrow channel.

We also loved our hike to Harney Peak. At 7,242 feet, it is the highest peak east of the Rockies and offers a wonderful 360 degree view from a historic stone fire tower perched amid larger boulders. The wind was blustery, whipping across the exposed peak, as we looked out across the Black Hills. Lovely.