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Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

This 70-miles (112-km) drive offers breathtaking views of some of the Black Hills' most stunning scenery. The popular Needles Highway (SD Highway 87) and Iron Mountain Road (US Highway 16A) are both part of the byway. Needles Highway features tunnels, hairpin curves and slender granite pinnacles.The Peter Norbeck Byway winds through three granite tunnels on Iron Mountain Road. They perfectly frame the faces of Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the distance. Also on this wonderful route are three pigtail bridges, built in the 1930s, which have a corkscrew shape.

The Mount Rushmore National Memorial features the world's greatest mountain carving with faces of four exalted American presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. These remarkable 60-foot high faces, 500 feet up, look out over a setting of pine, spruce, birch, and aspen in the clear western air. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum began drilling into the 5,725-foot mountain in 1927. Creation of the Shrine of Democracy took 14 years and cost a mere $1 million, though it's now deemed priceless. The Avenue of Flags leads from the Concession Building to the Grandview Terrace. The flags of the 56 states and territories fly below the memorial. Here, the avenue provides direct and easy access to the Grandview Terrace and Presidential Trail, a half-mile walking trail that offers spectacular views of the mountain sculpture.

The Black Hills are in western South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming, covering an area 125 miles long and 65 miles wide.  They encompass rugged rock formations, canyons and gulches, open grassland parks, tumbling streams, deep blue lakes, and unique caves.

The Black Hills area has a rich, diverse cultural heritage.  Archaeological evidence suggests the earliest known use of the area occurred about 10,000 years ago.  Later Native Americans, such as the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Lakota, came to the Black Hills to seek visions and to purify themselves.  The Black Hills was also a sanctuary where tribes at war could meet in peace.

Exploration of the Black Hills by fur traders and trappers occurred in the 1840s.  In 1874, General George A. Custer led an Army exploration into the area and discovered gold.  Settlement of the Black Hills rapidly followed the discovery of gold.  The need for wood to build mines, railroads, towns and for use as a fuel increased demand for timber.  As settlement continued, agriculture and livestock grazing added to the area's economic diversity.

A series of large forest fires in 1893 focused attention on the need to protect the timber resource.  On February 22, 1897, President Grover Cleveland established the Black Hills Forest Reserve.  This land was protected against fires, wasteful lumbering practices, and timber fraud.  In 1898, the first commercial timber sale on Federal forested land in the United States was authorized in the area of Jim and Estes Creeks (near the town of Nemo).  Cutting began around Christmas 1899.  In 1905, the Black Hills Forest Reserve was transferred to the Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Two years later it was renamed the Black Hills National Forest.

The Black Hills National Forest Visitor Center at Pactola Reservoir includes exhibits on Black Hills natural history and a self-guiding nature trail.  It is open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Black Elk Wilderness is in the center of the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve.  The 13,605-acre wilderness was named for Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota holy man.  Congress established the wilderness on December 22, 1980; legislation in 2002 increased its size by 3,774 acres.

Harney Peak, at 7,242 feet above sea level, is the highest point in the United States east of the Rockies.  From a historic lookout tower on the summit, one has a panoramic view of parts of South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana, as well as the granite formations and cliffs of the Black Elk Wilderness.



Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway
Other South Dacota Scenic Byways
Mount Rushmore
More About Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway
The Most Beautiful Drives - United States

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