In-Spiring Rocks Stand Tall; Narrow Tunnels Squeeze…The Needles Highway of Custer SP

It’s impossible not to feel awe when traveling through the towering Cathedral Spires of South Dakota’s Custer State Park. They so impressed Peter Norbeck, the governor of the state from 1917-21, that he personally scoped out a route on foot and horseback that would feature the best views. Known as the Needles Highway, it’s also famous for its narrow tunnels hewn out from the granite rock. We visited Custer State Park on our RV trip around North America last fall. All photos in the blog are taken by either Peggy or me unless otherwise noted.

They tower above Custer State Park, silent sentinels made of granite. Once they were chosen as the site for the presidential carvings that dominate the nearby Mt. Rushmore, but the granite lacked the solid mass that was needed. It may have been a gift, given their outstanding beauty. While I like Mt. Rushmore, I prefer these rocks au naturel.
Photo along the Needles Highway of Custer State Park by photographer Peggy Mekemson.
Visitors to the Cathedral Spires of Custer State Park wind their way through the granite pillars on a narrow, curvy road that barely accommodates two larger vehicles on sections.
The road provides up close and personal views of the granite monuments.
Every spire has its own personality.
Towering spires like this gave the Needles Highway its name.
Rock garden with breaching whale?
Rock climbers look for challenging rock faces to scramble up in the Cathedral Spires. Peggy and I just looked for faces.
Our active imaginations have no problem finding them… The nose, small mouth below it, eyes above, and baseball cap gave away this fellow. (There’s a chance he had a duck billed platypus on his head instead of a cap.)
This photo illustrates just how narrow tunnels are along the Needles Highway of South Dakota's Custer State Park.
Part of the fun of the Needles Highway is maneuvering along the narrow, curvy road. The tunnels bordered on scary. This sign announced that one tunnel was 8 feet, zero inches across. Our truck is 8 feet, zero inches across! Fortunately, our mirrors folded in by 7 inches on each side. I had 14 inches to squeeze our large F-150 through. Woohoo! I almost peed my pants. My normally talkative driving advisor was strangely silent. She may have been praying.
Beware, all ye who enter here! Once you start, there is no backing out.
The ‘light at the end of the tunnel.’ The road snaked off to the left.
Even this larger square tunnel seemed skinny.
I thought this photo was interesting. I didn’t spot the colorful abstract until I was processing our photos. It’s a reflection off the hood of our truck showing the exit and road of the square tunnel. At least that’s what I assumed it was. Maybe it was a gateway to another world with a monster bird hoping to dine on Curt and Peggy a la carte.
I’ll conclude today with two more photos. This one with its gnarly old dead tree…
And a closer view of the ‘Cathedral Spires.’

Next Monday, May 15, Peggy and I will be back in Egypt with a trip out to the ancient city of Memphis, near Cairo, where we will visit the colossal statue of Ramses II lying down, and then return to Cairo for a tour of the Museum of Egypt, which was out the back door from our hotel. There will be more of the history of Ancient Egypt, some treasures from the tomb of King Tutankhamen, a cow goddess, and much more. (So much that I may turn it into two posts.)

The Monday after that, May 22, we will take you on a tour of even more colossal monuments than Egypt has, the presidents on Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. It’s located 10-15 miles north of today’s post on the Needles Highway.