Monday, July 18, 2011

Missed It By...That Much

"Peter Norbeck was a prominent senator (and later, governor) from South Dakota who fought vigorously for the establishment of national and state parks, forests and wildlife refuges, and for the preservation of the heritage of nature contained within them.

"Norbeck took a personal interest in promoting and developing the Mount Rushmore Memorial's Iron Mountain Road. He insisted on directing its route so none of the area's natural beauty would be destroyed. When completed, it passed through three rock tunnels, each framing a spectacular view of Mount Rushmore several miles away. A newspaper editorial asserted Norbeck 'has been a leader in the development of a new form of art.... In laying out these magnificently beautiful roads, he pioneered in the framing of natural scenery for the public. He found great pictures in nature and gave them to the world by building roads to them.'"

The road had pigtail turns (curling under itself) and bridges that possessed a very rustic look. It was unfortunate that we could not get photographs of these unique features of the road.

The 70-mile Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway through Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota has been named as one of the 10 Most Outstanding Byways in America. In addition to the Iron Mountain Road (first four photos above), the oval-shaped Scenic Byway winds through the most rugged real estate and includes The Needles Highway (photo above, on the right and all photos below), Horse Thief Lake Road, and Sylvan Lake Road.

"Buoyed by his substantial assets from his water drilling business, in 1905 Norbeck made the first automobile trip from the Missouri River to the Black Hills. On this trip, he first conceived the idea of establishing a state game park in Custer County in order to preserve South Dakota's natural game, such as buffalo and antelope, which were rapidly becoming extinct.

The next three photos show views of Cathedral Spires. At this overlook, we had the opportunity to walk around a achieve different views of these formations.





This stop also gave us a chance to make some final measure-ments. We had been able to make it through two tunnels with the mirrors pulled in and driving very slowly.














However, the third tunnel was going to present the biggest challenge. A sign indicated the width was 8'4", but even the readiness of that tunnel for passage was hard to evaluate, since the walls of the tunnel were not straight. So the distance was not uniform through the length of the tunnel.

This called for a more precise measurement of the width of our truck. With tape in hand, it looked like our truck was 8'2" wide at the dual wheels. Given the uneveness of the tunnel wall, the absence of rear view mirrors, and the darkness of the tunnel, we believed, in the words of Maxwell Smart, we had "missed it by that much."

"In 1913, Gov. Norbeck was influential in getting 61,440 acres of land in Custer County designated for a state game preserve. However, very few Dakotans were interested in this project. But he successfully prevailed on the legislature to provide resources to enlarge the initial park area, and then persuaded the federal government to transfer 30,000 acres of national forest land into the state park."

Frank Lloyd Wright visited the park in 1936 and called the Needles "...
an endless supernatural world more spiritual than Earth."

"To establish the park was only part of the job as Norbeck saw it. It must be made accessible to tourists. He spent days walking and riding over the area laying out roadways and trails. There are reports of the governor's trousers being badly torn and his legs scratched and bleeding. It was not easy to push his 240 pounds over rugged, heavily forested terrain.

"His first few years in the Senate were spent with minor conservation and park measures, and those which affected primarily his own state, but while so engaged he was preparing to deal with broader problems. In 1924 he obtained an extension to Custer State Park, which reportedly made it the largest state park in the nation.

"Norbeck had been an early advocate of creating a great national shrine dedicated to democracy on Mount Rushmore. He became a close friend of sculptor Gutzon Borgium who was commis-sioned to undertake the carvings of the presidential figures there.

"Although Norbeck was a rough-and-tumble well-driller and politician, he had an artistic nature and love of natural beauty which caused him to achieve national prominence in the field of park and conservation legislation. The federal Migratory Bird Act of 1959, the estab-lishment of Custer State Park and the Badlands National Park, along with the Mount Rushmore Memorial are all testimonials to his efforts. He also helped establish the Grand Teton National Park.

He once declared, 'I would rather be remembered as an artist than as a United States Senator'" (the quoted material is from aapra.org/ Pugsley/NorbeckPeter).