After leaving Mt Rushmore, we began our exploration of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway: 70-miles of road that follows tight, hairpin curves through rock tunnels, over spiraling bridges, among towering granite pinnacles, picturesque lakes and pine-clad mountains. It's easy to see why this particular stretch of road makes an appearance on many lists of the most outstanding byways in America!
Iron Mountain Road (Hwy 16A)
"I believe in human ingenuity – that when we decide on a task to be done, no matter how daunting it may seem at the beginning, we are able to unleash human ingenuity and human innovative capacity that was unknown, and takes us to a solution."
~ Christiana Figueres (Costa Rican diplomat)
One Man's Extraordinary Vision
This national scenic byway is named after a man who was responsible for the enduring legacy of many of the Black Hills' breathtaking features. Peter Norbeck is a definitive example of the difference that one person with a clear vision and determined resolve can make!
The son of Scandinavian immigrants, he was born in 1870 in a tiny dugout shelter at his parent’s homestead in eastern South Dakota. He went on to become Governor of South Dakota and to serve three terms as a U.S. Senator. He called President Theodore Roosevelt his “idol and ideal,” and like Roosevelt, he was a steward of the land and vigorously promoted conservation efforts. His persistent desire was to preserve natural beauty, while making special places accessible for many people to enjoy. His legacy includes Custer State Park, Norbeck Wildlife Preserve and the Mt Rushmore National Memorial. He also helped establish Badlands National Monument and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
A Masterpiece of Art & Engineering
Norbeck wanted visitors to enjoy the unspoiled beauty and wildlife in the area, without hurting the natural resources of the hills. In order to achieve this, he pioneered a new form of road building - where the road itself was a work of art. He searched for and surveyed routes that would bring visitors up-close with the Black Hills' forests, rocks and streams, while allowing them to experience the area's "grandest views".
"He found great pictures in nature and gave them to the world"
~ From a newspaper editorial at the time of Norbeck's death
Building scenic roads through the mountains in the early 1900's wasn’t exactly easy. Refusing to be deterred by conventional engineering standards and the many who said it couldn't be done, he assembled teams of engineers who combined remarkable ingenuity, determination and resolve to make it happen. When asked by Norbeck if it was possible to build these roads, engineer Scovell Johnson replied, "If you can supply me with enough dynamite!" And so Norbeck did.
A tunnel blasted through the mountain is placed to perfectly frame the four faces of Mt Rushmore in the distance!
"I would rather be remembered as an artist than as a United States Senator"
~ Peter Norbeck
An Invitation to Slow Down
Norbeck wanted to create a scenic roadway that travelers could enjoy at a slower speed. His intention was to encourage visitors to engage their senses and take the time to enjoy the natural beauty surrounding them. The experience is best enjoyed when you roll down the windows and breathe in the fresh scent of the ponderosa pine forest; get out of the car at the many scenic stops and run your hands over the contours of the granite rock; turn off the stereo and appreciate the soothing 'background music' of a creek winding it's way down a valley and the rustling of the pines in the wind.
"You're not supposed to drive here at 60 miles an hour:
To do the scenery half justice, people should drive 20 or under; to do it full justice , they should get out and walk."
~ Peter Norbeck
A Gateway to Wild-ness
Much of what you see from the Scenic Byway is preserved as wilderness and wildlife havens. The 1964 Wilderness Act describes wilderness aptly as areas "...where man himself is a visitor who does not remain".
A plaque at one of the scenic pull-outs along Iron Mountain Road reminds us that wilderness "is important to you because it offers unmodified natural settings for conservation, preservation, recreation, biodiversity, mental and spiritual restoration and historical discovery. Wilderness areas also can be used by scientists as yardsticks to measure changes in the developed world, because in wilderness, PROCESSES OCCUR FREELY."
71,000-acre Custer State Park, established in 1919, is one of the few places in the world where you're able to see an abundance of wildlife in their natural habitat.
The 35,000-acre Norbeck Wildlife Preserve was established by Congress in 1920, for the "protection of game animals and birds and to be recognized as a breeding place therefore." Here, the needs of the wildlife come first.
The 13,426-acre Black Elk National Wilderness Area is named for the Oglala Sioux spiritual leader, Black Elk, and is sacred to many American Indians. In this area he said, "There, when I was young, the spirits took me in my vision to the center of the earth and showed me all the good things in the sacred hoop of the world." Black Elk rose above the conflicts of history to speak about the importance of places containing the qualities of natural beauty, solitude and spiritual values.
"There is a road in the hearts of all of us, hidden and seldom traveled, which leads to an unknown, secret place."
~ Chief Luther Standing Bear
Already, my visit to the Black Hills was showing me that getting more in touch with wildness - inside and around myself - was the perfect antidote to balance the stress and unhappiness that creeps in so insidiously with our modern, "civilized" lifestyle!