Rushmore and the Iron Mountain

We took a “sub”excursion, if you will, from our excursion to Custer State Park in South Dakota. On day four of our stay we decided to head out to see Mount Rushmore which is only about a 45 minute drive from the park. If you ever visit Custer you owe it to yourself to make that short drive to see one of the country’s most famous memorials. One aspect of this outing that really intrigued me was the drive to the monument.

We were able to take a scenic roadway all the way from Custer State Park to Mount Rushmore. It’s Highway 16A which is nicknamed The Iron Mountain Road. The road is 35mph the whole way and with good reason – it is nonstop twists and switchbacks. If you owned a sports car, it would be pretty cool checking out the performance and cornering ability required by this road, but then you wouldn’t be able to do proper justice to all the beauty that the path has to offer. The highway winds through the mountains and valleys and features three massive wooden bridges called pigtail bridges that are very picturesque and impressive architecturally. But the highlight of this route is the tunnels.

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Like the Needles Highway, this road features three one lane tunnels that have been blasted through the granite mountains. But as an added bonus the tunnels of the Iron Mountain Road were designed to frame Mount Rushmore in the distance. So, assuming you are driving towards the monument, when you enter the tunnel, you can see the presidents’ faces in the distance perfectly framed by the tunnel opening. It has to be pretty difficult just constructing a road like this in the first place, but to plan it out so that the tunnels perfectly align with the view of the monument in the distance is really impressive. There’s also supposed to be lots of wildlife along the way, but alas they did not show themselves when we passed through.

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After a couple of turns off the scenic drive, we arrived at Mount Rushmore. The entrance to this place is pretty grand. It was kind of slow when we visited, but I imagine that in the summer months that the expansive parking areas can get really full. After paying our entry fee, we walked down the long path that features the flags of all 50 states and leads to the viewing area. And there they are… Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln. I kind of thought it would look bigger closer up. Without anything for scale it’s hard to get a feel for the magnitude of this sculpture. Just as I was thinking this we noticed workers walking around on top of Roosevelt’s head. They were smaller than his nose! Amazing! I was even more interested in how the sculpture was designed and constructed. This is where the visitor’s center paid off. You could spend hours in the visitor’s center learning all about the construction of the monument as well as the artist and the original workers and how it’s maintained. Really intruiging stuff. Apparently cracks are a big problem and have to be constantly filled and monitored. Who knew?

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On the way back to Custer State Park we stopped in the city of Custer because Pam’s sweet tooth was tingling. Didn’t expect much but we were pleasantly surprised to stumble upon Custer County Candy Company. Kind of weird to find such a specialty shop in a small town like this, but it was awesome! Lots of handmade chocolates and fudge as well as candies and sodas. We were in heaven! What a great way to top off a fun outing!

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