Sunday, March 21, 2010

Needles Highway

American Nomad Archived Entry 

August 27th 2009

Today was a jam-packed day as we braved the roads of the Needles Highway, picnicked by Sylvan Lake, took a hike and embarked on the Wildlife Tour once again.  

My mom and I woke up at seven.  The air was frigid and it was all I could do to warm up. We drove to Legion Lodge to split an affordable breakfast of two eggs over medium with bacon and hash browns.  

After breakfast we drove into the town of Custer to do laundry at The Lost Sock, a nice coin laundry.  While waiting for our clothes to tumble, my mom and I organized our car (we brought way too much stuff!) and planned our day.  

We finished up the laundry by ten-thirty and proceeded to travel to Sylvan Lake via the Needles Highway.  

The Needles Highway is considered one of the most scenic drives in America and is a must when visiting Custer S.P.  The Highway follows a fourteen-mile route filled with hairpin turns as it transverses through spectacular scenery of meadows, mountain vistas, birch, aspen, the elusive limber pine and most importantly rugged granite peaks. A mix of wildlife such as deer, turkey and the occasional mountain goat inhabit the area.

The highway is named for the needle like granite formations, which fill the topography of the northwestern region of Custer State Park. The term Needles refers to the eroded granite pillars, towers, and spires, which have been chiseled by years of erosion and geologic change. 

The roadway was carefully planned by former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck, who marked the entire course on foot and by horseback.  The U.S. Senator from South Dakota at the time of the highway's construction, Peter Norbeck, wanted to create a scenic Black Hills roadway that travelers could enjoy at a slower speed. He wanted visitors to enjoy the beauty and wildlife in the area, without hurting the natural resources of the hills. Construction was completed in 1922. It's important to note that impatient drivers looking for a sixty to seventy mile per hour speed should stay clear of this spectacular parkway.  With curves and roadside cliff side plunges, The Needles is meant to be driven at a maximum speed of twenty miles per hour.  I had to put our car in second gear in order to avoid over-braking as unexpected curves crept up on us.

I can honestly say this is one of my favorite things we've done in Custer thus far.  The scenery is sweeping and rock formations such are unique.  I particularly enjoyed 'The Needles Eye,' a granite spire, which rising forty feet in the air and has a four foot wide slit.  

There are plenty of turnouts and scenic pull outs for photo ops.  Many of Custer's best hikes and rock climbing spots are centered in The Needles.  I recommend Little Devils Tower, a moderate 6 mile round trip hike, which ascends Harney Peak (tallest peak east of the Rockies).  The trail is tough, but worth the effort for views of the Cathedral Spires, a unique Needle formation and prime geologic example of joint-controlled weathering of granite.   

It took us an hour to reach popular park tourist spot Sylvan Lake, considered the 'crown jewel of Custer.'   Sylvan Lake is positioned  in the northwestern corner of Custer State Park in an idyllic spot amidst Mountain peaks, a lush valley and man made lake surrounded by natural granite blocks of stone.  It was created in 1881 when Theodore Reder built a dam across Sunday Gulch.  In 1895 a Victorian Hotel was built on the property.  The original hotel burned down in 1935 and the Sylvan Lake Lodge was rebuilt later that same year under the advisement of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who surveyed the area and suggested the Lodge should be placed in it's current location to accentuate the surrounding scenery.

The Sylvan Lake Lodge is situation on a ridge overlooking the lake and a forest of pine and spruce.  The architecture is modern rustic with lots of native granite stone and hardwood.  I highly recommend touring the hotel's interior, particularly the large lobby, which is scattered with leather vintage chairs, a high ceiling and picture windows, making you feel like you're in a majestic tree house.  The lunch and dinner menu within the lodge is a casual gourmet with a quality wine list...Not hungry, but up for a cocktail or just a soda, step onto the large porch, breath the mountain air and take in the view of Sylvan Lake.

Following a brief tour of the Sylvan Lake Lodge, we drove to the lake, nabbed a parking spot and set up shop at a nearby picnic area for a lunch of cheese wraps, juice and raisins.  We are running low on cash as we still have another week before we get paid so budgeting on food has been key.

After lunch we hiked around Sylvan Lake and enjoyed the beach.  Sylvan Lake offers swimming, hiking, rock climbing and lots of picnicking opportunities.  It is home to a old-time general store and the nearby historic Sylvan Lake Lodge.

After two hours of picnicking, hiking and relaxing the mosquitoes got to be too much (50 bites in half and hour) and we decided to head on over to the Game Lodge district and Park Visitor's Center...for the next portion of todays excitement stay tuned for another entry!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for visiting! I enjoyed reading your post about your adventures - mixed in with the history of the area. Delightful!

    Thank you again!
    Katlyn Richter
    Office of Tourism