The Pactola Gang told us about the most scenic route to see Crazy Horse and Rushmore and all that.  Everyone else in the country has exagerrated the hills we experience.  Like “Oh my lawd!  You ain’t neva gonna make up that one!”  and two hours later we’re looking down on them from 5,000ft higher.  The guys at Pactola, though, understood how badass we are and played coy about the hills.  They told us about the Needles Highway and the loop that goes from Crazy Horse to Rushmore and the pigtails and all that.  About the hills, they were just like “Oh yeah, you’ll definitely see a lot of this” and wove their hand up and down like you do out the car window when you’re a kid.

With no worries in our heads we set out to see Crazy Horse.  The scale of the monument is impressive.  Although the sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, bit off more than he could chew and not enough people saw his vision, as grand as it was.  The first blast was in 1948 and all they have accomplished since is the face of Crazy Horse and some of the arm.  The money they have been spending on the visitor’s center and restaurant and all the other surrounding buildings would be much better spent on finishing the actual monument.

So we left Crazy Horse in his inflicted state of disarray and rode back down the hill to catch the Needles Highway.  The Needles are some more geologic upheavals the Black Hills offers.  They are granite formations that just stick straight up out of the ground.  The main attraction is a naturally formed needle’s eye.  I guess there was only one pinnacle with the eye but the whole highway was littered with jagged granite protrustions.  And, of course, windy and curvacious map lines which means windy and curvacious and high elevation climbs.

From the highway we caught Iron Mountain Road.  Or the Iron Maiden road as Ken kept calling it.  Iron Mountain Road is probably the funnest road we have taken thus far.  For me at least.  It includes the Pigtail Bridges.  The guys at the lake kept trying to describe it but all I really got was that they curve around and the tunnels frame Mt. Rushmore perfectly.  Iron Mountain Rd. has a lot of switchbacks and after about a couple hours of climbing on a steep grade I understood what they meant.  There are 3 different tunnels and each one is perfectly aligned to view Washington, Jackson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln in all their granite glory.  As you come up over a steep hill and look through a tunnel large enough to fit a tour bus, there they are.  Not as large as Crazy Horse but more grandiose.  I recommend this view from a couple miles away over the $20 entry fee just to get up close to the monuments.  For an extra ten bucks they let you pick Washington’s nose.  I also wondered if drivers heading the opposite direction knew what they were missing by not looking in their rearview mirror.  It was pretty magnificent.  Sure it’s just a bunch of dead presidents’ faces carved into the side of a mountain, but you can’t deny the enormity or daunting labor it must have taken.  So we saw that, then the pigtails!  The Pigtail Bridges is what made it such a fun road.  They make up part of the descent of Iron Mt. Rd.  There you are, climbing up a huge mountain, you see Rushmore, cool, the boring and foreboding prarie is just past the mountain, ugh, then as you start to pick up speed going down you see that the road curves under itself!  Like a curly fry!  Or….a pigtail!  It was glorious and dizzying and entertaining and everything else that makes up for such a brutal uphill.  Then, on the way down we startled a wild turkey crossing the road.  I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a wild turkey before but they are the funniest and most amusing animal sound in the kingdom.  We’ve been hearing them while camping at night and can’t help but mimic them every random while.  The lil guy we startled on the road didn’t make any noise, though.  But Ken and I sure did!  We bellowed out turkey calls for the next mile.  There is no way to describe it in words.  “Gobble” just doesn’t do it justice.  We followed Iron Mt Rd to it’s end and stopped in Keystone to get a cup of coffee for the ride home.  There, a guy named Sludge or Slaw or Sloth or something I didn’t catch told us about where to see some big-horned sheep and mountain goats, but that required us going back up all the hills we just came down.  So we made our way back to highway 16 then on to catch 385 to take us back to Pactola Lake.  As luck would have it, we came across a pack of mountain goats and big-horned sheep grazing on the side of a mountain.  And we didn’t even have to backtrack.

pictures coming soon