Mt. Rushmore + Custer, South Dakota – Giant sculpture and tiny tunnels

Terry really wants to get a lift with the Unimog. Heather accompanies us with her car to Mount Rushmore to make Terry happy. Mt. Rushmore is another example of American gigantism – a sculpture masterly performance nevertheless. The faces of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln were immortalized into a rock in the Black Hills. Between 1927 and 1941, the 20 m high heads were blown, hammered and chiselled from the granite of Mt. Rushmore – the highest elevation between Rocky Mountains and Swiss Alps. The four presidents were selected on the condition that they especially influenced the fate of the United States of America. There were critical voices regarding sense or nonsense of such a mammoth project from the beginning. But they mainly criticized financial issues or the disfigurement of God’s Creation. It was not really a matter of interest that this is a sacred place of the Sioux Indians – neither then, nor today.

In protest the Sioux started just a few miles away an own project. Since 1948 the sculpture of the legendary Sioux warrior Crazy Horse is being created there, who will be including horse more than 170 m high and therewith higher than the four presidents altogether. There is not much more finished yet than the head. Since the Indians refuse any governmental support, the project that is financed just from funds is only slowly making progress.

The Iron Mountain Road called hwy # 16A from Mount Rushmore is said to be the most beautiful feeder to Custer State Park. To overcome the enormous elevation differences the road is partially built on wooden bridge constructions in a 270°-angle and imminently disappears in a tunnel like in a fantastic model railway landscape. The three rectangular tunnels are just big enough for Arminius; even oncoming drivers want to keep us from going through them. The tunnel measures are correct, we fit in without any roof damage, but for higher vehicles there would be little leeway. The Visitor Centre is closed, but at least they left some maps that supply us with additional information of the much more critical part of the drive: the Needles Highway. This road passes an area with steep rock needles, bizarre granite monoliths that attract climbers from all over the world. The crucial point of the highway is three tunnels that scale down in north-western direction of travel. The first one is pretty o.k. Tight, exiting, but sufficient. The second one is a problem, since it is in height and width extremely cramped. The indicated tunnel measures seem to allow thoroughfare, but we aren’t really sure if the measures tell the maximum allowed outside measurements of passing vehicles or the minimum tunnel’s headroom and clear width, what makes a big difference. We fold the side mirrors, otherwise there is no chance, and I walk in front to pilot Joerg through. To make it brief: It was the inner tunnel measures. The whole thing was especially thrilling since the tunnel is fairly long and narrows and widens three times. A couple of times I hold my breath when a slight movement of the steering wheel does not turn out as I thought. Then Arminius is gone through, without any scratch, and I am sure the next tunnel is at least nine inches too low for us. Fortunately another road escapes us from this trap.

We have a breather at Sylvan Lake, a very picturesque pond framed by granite precipices. Behind Custer City we find the National Forest Comanche Campground whose restrooms, garbage bins and pay station are closed for the winter but who allows complimentary overnight stay.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.