Skilled, Adventurous, or Crazy?

Black HillsMy reminiscing didn’t end in the Badlands.  The memories continued as Al and I moved on to South Dakota’s Black Hills and Custer State Park.

Not only did my childhood family of five visit this area umpteen years ago in dad’s new Motorhome, but four years ago my daughter and I visited during a gals road trip.

Mount Rushmore
My daughter, Ashton, and I visit Mount Rushmore

Mount RushmoreAshton was in college at the time and enjoying  a break before heading off to Sydney, Australia, for a semester abroad.   She and I hopped in my little red Toyota Tacoma and made the five-hour drive from Fort Collins, Colorado to Custer, South Dakota.

Ashton and I had such a fabulous time during that visit that I couldn’t wait to return to the Black Hills someday.  And return I did in early September……… with hubby in tow this time.

The three-day Labor Day weekend was nearing and since we were traveling via Plan B, without reservations, we had concerns about a place to stay.  After an exhaustive search, we ended up finding a place to park at the Elks Lodge in Rapid City.  The lodge offers ten RV sites on a first come, first serve basis and had an open spot for us.  It wasn’t the picturesque setting I usually crave, but the lodge was really nice and even located on a golf course.

Pronghorn – Custer State Park, South Dakota

With the RV parked, Al and I ventured off exploring Custer State Park.  Shortly after entering the state park, we needed to stop for pedestrians bison in the cross walk…. smart guys, huh!

Bison, Custer State Park

A managed herd of about 1,300 bison roam freely throughout Custer State Park.  The herd is one of the largest publically owned herds in the world.  Bison are huge and can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms).  During the third week of September the park holds a Buffalo Roundup.  This is an event I’d love to attend someday.

Black Hills, South DakotaDuring this recent visit, we spent a great deal of time in the truck taking in the sights by driving the scenic byways.  The first was the 18 mile Wildlife Loop Road that twists and turns through rolling prairie and ponderosa pines.

As the name implies, we saw plenty of wildlife on this scenic loop during this visit as well as previous visits.  From buffalo…..Wildlife Loopto Pronghorn, and prairie dogs, to free-loading burros.  You know how you’re never suppose to approach wildlife or feed them?  Well such is not the case with these entertaining burros.Burros

Custer State Park
During my visit with Ashton, we shared an apple with this cutie

Burros Custer State ParkIt’s ok to bring them goodies.  Keep it healthy though.  I forgot to bring the bag of carrots that I purchased especially for these guys.  Once this burro realized I had no treats to offer, he was on to the next car.

Unlike other wildlife, the burros hang around one particular area in Custer State Park and a ranger at the visitor center is more than happy to brief you on that location and the do’s and don’ts.

After our successful wildlife viewing, we stopped at Stockade Lake for a picnic lunch.  It’s a beautiful lake that allows boating and has a wooded campground.   As pristine as Stockade Lake was I couldn’t wait to show hubby Sylvan Lake.

Sylvan Lake
Sylvan Lake, South Dakota

As a fourteen year old gal from Illinois, I thought Sylvan Lake was the most beautiful place that I had ever seen.  My brother and I hiked and explored all around this little mountain lake.  We were intrigued with the granite rock and boulders and the clean, clear, cool water.Black Hills

We even rented one of those paddle boats.  While my brother and I exercised our legs, my dad sat on the back with a fishing line in the water.  Yep, dad brought his fishing gear. Nothing like trolling via sustainable energy;  as long as brother’s legs and my legs held up that is.  Dad was great in giving directions on where he wanted us to paddle and gave no thought to our weakening leg muscles.

Needles HighwayOn my recent trip to Illinois, dad and I shared some laughs as we reminisced about this trip.

After giving hubby the tour of Sylvan Lake and sharing some of my childhood memories with him, I had one more memorable item on my list that I had to show him for Al to fully comprehend.

We ventured over to scenic Needles Highway; named after the needle-like granite formation located just past Sylvan Lake.  There are two one-lane tunnels along this stretch of road.  Tunnel #5 is 8 feet 4 inches wide and 12 feet high.  My dad drove his brand new motorhome through this tunnel back in the early 1970’s.  I remember my mom begging dad not to go through the tunnel and covering her eyes in fear.  As children, we thought dad could do no wrong and found humor in mom’s dramatic behavior. Needles Highway

As Al and I waited for on coming traffic to clear the tunnel, we pulled in the side mirrors on the F-250.  When it was our turn, I slowly drove through the tunnel all the while I kept repeating, “I can’t believe my dad drove the motorhome through this tunnel”.   I now understand why mom freaked out.  I asked myself, was dad a skilled driver?   Did his sense of adventure push him?  Or was he just plain crazy?

In dad’s defense I must add, dad did do his homework before driving through this tunnel.  He spoke with a ranger.  He jotted down all the dimensions on both tunnels and verified the Motorhome’s size.  He also discovered a tour bus once a week would travel this route.  I guess with that tidbit of information, that sealed the deal for dad and through we went with inches to spare.

Needles Highway
If a tour bus could fit, so could dad’s motorhome.

As Al and I exited the tunnel, we were greeted with stunning views.  Needles Highway traverses through rugged granite mountains, a diverse forest, and mountain prairie.  This is a beautiful drive not to be missed, but a lot less stressful and much more fun in a small vehicle!

Needles Highway
another view of Tunnel #5 as a vehicle enters

Needles HighwayThe next day hubby and I explored Iron Mountain Road.  This scenic drive connects Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore National Memorial.  “Experience the road that engineers once said couldn’t be built.”  This road was built in the 1930’s and considered an engineering marvel at the time.Iron Mountain

There are three tunnels to pass through and each one frames Mount Rushmore in the distance when entering from Custer State Park.Mount Rushmore

Iron Mountain Road is another very fun and scenic drive not to be missed.  For anyone interested in engineering, construction, or design, this is a captivating road.  I loved all the log bridges, the tunnels, and the views.

Black Hills
We had just driven through the above road and tunnel before looping underneath

Next up, more Black Hills adventures!             Custer State Park Map

RoomMates PJ2003SCS Happy Halloween Peel & Stick Wall Decals
Lina & Lily Halloween Bat Print Infinity Loop Scarf Lightweight (Grey)


62 thoughts on “Skilled, Adventurous, or Crazy?

  1. Those tunnels would stress me out for sure — maybe even in a little car! I would be behaving dramatically, just like your mom. 🙂 But wow — what gorgeous scenery. No idea that area had those cool cathedral spires! I think of that as something you can only find in the west. Adding to our list…

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    1. There’s something about the Black Hills that screams “America”. It’s a must. There’s some great campgrounds that are perfect for small trailers. You won’t be disappoint 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful Captures – Great Post – thanks so much for sharing 🙂 I love this area and was glad to share it with my boyfriend (now husband) – Custer State Park is a favorite of mine – on that trip we saw Custer, Rushmore, and Devils Tower. There is some AMAZING and BREATHTAKING Places in the United States! Happy Week – Enjoy 🙂


    1. Thanks Renee. You are so right; amazing and breathtaking. We didn’t make it to Devils Tower, but definitely will on our next time through and there WILL be a next time 🙂


  3. While we were there we did a hike that brought us back around Sylvan Lake, with wonderful views. I will admit to being nervous about going through the tunnel with our dually. What a great place to visit!


    1. I would be nervous with the dually also since it’s wider than our truck and that was already bad enough. We did do the easy hike around Sylvan Lake but didn’t do Harney Peak this time. It was Labor Day Weekend and way too many people 🙂

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  4. I had a great childhood and enjoy remembering it. Looks like you’ve had a grand time on each of you Black Hills visits and you got some great shots. We’ve been to the Black Hills twice and it’s one of our favorites. I wasn’t real comfortable taking our mini van though the tunnels so I cannot imagine a motorhome or tour bus doing it – the bus sure fills the hole.


  5. I think the tunnels require some skill, being adventurerous and a little bit of crazy. We took our Nissan NV camper through the tunnels when we stayed at Custer this year. I loved this post with the intermix of you family trip and today. Thank you for sharing. We didn’t get to the needles this time, but will next time.


    1. Thank you Karen and you must drive Needles Highway next time. The drive is beautiful and maybe even take in a hike to Cathedral Spires. We weren’t able to get in much hiking during this trip but another visit is already in the plans.


  6. Loved the photograph in the Saloon! I hope you had a chance to break up a barfight and say to at least one customer, “Sorry, Mister! Folks don’t take kindly to strangers in these here parts.”


    1. There’s a lot of things to see and do in the area. Places that would actually hold the attention of teenagers. But, also a place to get away for a little romance 😉


  7. Loved this post, especially as you reminisced about previous visits to the Black Hills. Isn’t it fun how traveling to a place you visited as a child can bring back so many fond memories? We too traveled to the Black Hills when I was child only my two brothers and I were in the back seat of a Ford station wagon. What I remember the most is the views through the tunnels on Iron Mountain Road! Henry and I have visited the area twice in our RV and camped in Custer State Park for one of the visits. We also saw a bus go through that tunnel on a really foggy, misty day. I couldn’t believe it either!

    Reading your posts about the area brings back fond memories for me!

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    1. Glad I could conjure up childhood memories for you. I think it’s the perfect place to take kids on a vacation. I wish we had taken ours when they were younger. Like you, I’m sure we’ll be returning so we can explore more of the area or just sit and take in the beauty.

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  8. I get the shivers thinking about squeezing thru that tunnel in a bus. John would have to drive,cancel I’d be curled up in a ball in the front seat with my eyes squeezed shut. No thanks!


  9. Well I think Sylvan Lake is beautiful too! That tunnel is interesting…I wouldn’t dare drive through it myself with a motorhome. I have terrible distance judgement! Loved seeing the bison as well. How lovely to revisit places from your childhood travels and share it with family. As you’ve written it can bring back some humorous and special memories! 🙂


    1. Each visit to the Black Hills has turned into another special, and memorable trip. And although my travels have taken me to some drop dead gorgeous places, I still think Sylvan Lake is a beauty not to be missed.

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    1. I think what makes Tunnel #5 more challenging is the length. Hubby and I went through another really narrow tunnel but it was quick and short and thus less stressful.


  10. Like father, like daughter:) That was crazy seeing that bus go through that tunnel…crazy!! Not to mention your dad and you!! Wow!

    I never tire of seeing the bison…love, love them!


    1. Well, I personally would NEVER drive anything bigger than our F-250 thru that tunnel. So dad wins! Bison, pronghorn, burros, goats, and sheep…. oh my!!! Love it 🙂


    1. The tunnel wasn’t too bad with the F-250, but I certainly wouldn’t want to attempt it with anything bigger. I would highly recommend a visit to the Black Hills. You wouldn’t put that camera down, I promise 🙂

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  11. WOW! You just added a few more things for us to see when we return to SD. Places & byways I had never heard mentioned before. Your father sounds like a real character. I’ll bet he’s a very engaging man to know. By the way Ingrid, you and your lovely daughter could pass for sisters.


    1. Awe, you are too kind…. eating it up, considering I’m thirty years older than her. I think the thing we enjoyed so much about the Black Hills was the laid back pace in which we explored. There’s so much beauty to see but we didn’t feel a need to see it all on this trip. And yes, dad can be a character, no doubt.


  12. Holy Schlamoley!!!! I cannot imagine driving the motorhome through that…reminds me of a place near Chattanooga, TN called “fat man’s squeeze”…However, it was just for people, NOT vehicles…Thanks for taking me back to that beautiful place….


    1. I know, isn’t that crazy? When Ashton and I saw the tour bus go through the tunnel we couldn’t believe it. I think we rate the Black Hills as one of our top favorite places.


  13. Don’t you love the memories of Dad! Mine had an atlas in his view every evening on the sun porch…wish we had a motor home back then! You girls are “hot”….a very special beauty! Thx for reminding me I really need to branch out!!!


    1. Thanks C and yes, love the memories of those childhood vacations. There’s an interesting tale behind dad’s motorhome but I need to get my hands on the photos to go with the story. One day!

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  14. Wow, that tunnel is a very tight fit. No wonder your mom was on tenterhooks. I wouldn’t like to be a bus passenger going through, either. 😯 Those rock formations are so amazing, and Sylvan Lake is breathtakingly beautiful.


  15. Ooh! Going thru this tunnels would be a white knuckler!
    I’m so glad to read you call them bison, opposed to the incorrect buffalo. Moo! 🐂


  16. What stunning views of the Sylvan Lake and the Mount Rushmore! The shot of the bus driving through the tunnel, Wow! Thank you for the tour, Ingrid. 🙂


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