Top 10 Breathtaking Feats of Architecture and Design in the Black Hills | Black Hills Travel Blog

Top 10 Breathtaking Feats of Architecture and Design in the Black Hills

  • Top 10 Breathtaking Feats of Architecture and Design in the Black Hills
    Top 10 Breathtaking Feats of Architecture and Design in the Black Hills
Thursday, July 22, 2021
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The Black Hills and Badlands offers a unique palette of natural building materials and historic context for impressive built environments—often molded into the surrounding landscape of mountains, granite and ponderosa pine. Read on for ten of the most stunning feats of architecture and design that can only be found here.

Bridges, Tunnels and Roads

Beaver Creek Bridge

Located in Wind Cave National Park in the Southern Black Hills, the deck arch bridge, made from stone, is the only bridge of its kind in South Dakota. The stunning bridge was built in 1929 to provide visitors direct access from the park to the developing Custer State Park, and specially designed to appear as though it was stretching from the canyon wall naturally. It rises an impressive 115 ft and reaches 225 ft to the other side of the canyon. You can spot this landmark only 2 miles north from the Wind Cave visitor center, or directly adjacent to the Centennial Trailhead.


Iron Mountain Road

This iconic scenic drive was built, rather than shaped naturally, but save for the pigtail bridges and carved tunnels, you'd hardly know it. All 314 curves to this road are designed to showcase the landscape of granite, mountains, sweeping views and the Black Hills National Forest. In addition to showing off the land surrounding it, the road was also built to be taken at a leisurely 20 miles per hour, as the mastermind behind the project, Senator Peter Norbeck, explained, "this is not meant to be a superhighway, to do the scenery justice you should drive no more than 20 mph and to do it full justice you should simply get out and walk."

Three curly pigtail bridges and three impressively carved tunnels, each designed to frame a view of Mount Rushmore, make up the highlights of this memorable 20-mile journey. The most well-known of the three tunnels is the Doane Robinson tunnel, named for the South Dakota Historian, who conceived the idea for Mount Rushmore. If you're traveling from Keystone to Custer State Park, the next tunnel will be the C.C. Gideon Tunnel, named for the man who designed, among other things, the State Game Lodge and the Pigtail Bridges. Finally, your last tunnel is the Scovel Johnson Tunnel, named for the man who built the Needles Highway, did survey work on Iron Mountain Road and contributed to the layout of Sylvan Lake.


Keystone Wye

Built in the late 1960s, this unique bridge is an interchange of U.S. Hwy 16 and 16A. Six glued, laminated timber pieces make up the tri-level bridge that greets visitors on the way to the cities of Keystone and Hill City from Rapid City. As a promotional film from the South Dakota Department of Transportation explains, "Just as plants and wildlife complement the environment, so must the structures which we adapt complement the environment with pleasing aesthetic designs." In other words, the standout bridge was designed to complement the surrounding environment of the Black Hills National Forest. 

For a closer look at the impressively large timber beams, visitors can also stop by the Sitting Bull Crystal Caverns. Three leftover beams stand in a pyramid structure at the once attraction on Hwy 16, unused because the truck carrying them to the site tipped over, and worries arose that the beams may be damaged. Initially, the beams were set aside for a "Rushmore Memorial Arch Park" that was never completed but nonetheless stand as a sculpture project that complements the bridge. 


Sculptures, Carvings & Statues

John Lopez Sculptures

John Lopez's rusted, metal sculptures can be spotted stopping traffic all across the Black Hills. Specially made from discarded chains, farm equipment, automotive parts, sheet metal and welding scrap, the Lemmon born sculptor's pieces are intricately designed to pique the eye's interest from a macro and micro level. The artist has been commissioned to create artwork across the globe for public art pieces, art shows, fashion designers and more. 

Several of his notable sculptures can be found in his hometown of Lemmon, including the Ed Lemmon memorial at Boss Cowman Square, the sculpture of Hugh Glass fighting against the bear outside the Grand River Museum, the Lemmon Cowboys and the Triceratops cowboy.

Additionally, there is also the Iron Man and T. rex in Faith, Iron Star on Main Street Hill City, and three to be found in Rapid City. Take your time to admire the pronghorn at Outdoor Campus - West, the bison "Dakotah" at Dakota Steak House and the Sand Hill Crane at Rapid City Regional Airport.

Those traveling through the region can also stop at Kokomo gallery and sculpture garden, where the artist showcases his work in the city of Lemmon.

City of Presidents

Across Downtown Rapid City, 43 life-sized statues of the former U.S. Presidents are immortalized in bronze. Many of the eye-catching figures have been created by local painter and sculptor, James Van Nuys, as well as Lemmon sculptor, John Lopez. Explore the downtown art and architecture scene in Rapid City and snap photos with all the Presidents from George Washington to 44th President, Barack Obama and his daughter Sasha. The ambitious city sculpture project is one-of-a-kind and is a must-see for all Black Hills visitors. 


Crazy Horse Memorial®

Emerging from granite and iron in the Southern Black Hills, Crazy Horse Memorial® is the world's largest mountain carving in progress. The dream began in 1939 when Chief Henry Standing Bear invited sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to create a tribute to the North American Indians to show that "the red man has great heroes, also." 

The work is ongoing on the sculpture, financed by admissions and contributions, and fueled by the promise that Ziolkowski made to Standing Bear. A group of dedicated mountain crew members works hard to carve the Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, upon his steed. When completed, the granite sculpture will be 563 feet high and 641 feet long. Carving continues to focus on the left hand, left forearm, right shoulder and hairline of Crazy Horse and the horse's mane and head. 


Public Spaces

Dinosaur Park

While it's unclear where the idea originated from, Dinosaur Park, and all of its original concrete dinosaurs, still stands today as eye-catching landmark standing tall over Rapid City, delighting children of all ages. The park's sculptor, Emmet Sullivan, completed the project in 15 months and with a budget of $25,000. He devised his own method of construction, setting two inches of black pipe in cement for the framework, and then covering them with steel mesh and adding on more concrete. Once built, the dinosaurs took nearly three months to paint their vibrant green color. 

The park is located on a ridge of sandstone that encircles high above Rapid City, also known as Skyline Drive. As you stand at the top of Dinosaur Park, you can catch spectacular 100-mile views, even catching a glimpse of the Badlands to the east. Don't miss an opportunity to witness the scene yourself and experience this free attraction that's sustained for nearly nine decades.


Main Street Square

Main Street Square in the heart of Downtown Rapid City is a unique public space, in addition to holding one of the city's major art displays. Situated on the northeast corner of Sixth and Main streets, the Square's interactive fountain delights all ages in the summer. In the winter, the fountain is transformed into an ice skating rink, while all year-round concerts and festivals are held at the location for the community to come together and support downtown businesses. 

The Square's Sculpture Project: Passage of Wind and Water is made up of 21 large chunks of ancient granite integrated into the design and landscape of the plot of land. The granite pieces along Main Street are specially dubbed, the "Badlands Tapestry Garden," while the granite along Sixth Street has been given the title of the "Black Hills Tapestry Garden" by the Square’s landscape architect, Deane Rundell. 

Stone sculptor Masayuki Nagase, who was trained in Japan, was chosen from a pool of 88 international artists to be the project's sculptor. His abstract design uses two major visual themes: wind for the Badlands, water for the Black Hills, and explores the region’s history of continuous and often rapid transformation. 


Sanford Homestake Lab/Mine

The mining history of Lead, South Dakota, is on display at the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center, where you can learn about what was once the deepest and most productive gold mine in the Western Hemisphere. For over 126 years, miners pulled more than 41 million ounces of gold and 9 million ounces of silver from the mine. Now, the historic location hosts Nobel Prize-winning experiments in the more than 370 miles of tunnels from the surface. During your visit, in addition to learning the mine's history and resurgence as a groundbreaking scientific site, you'll also have the opportunity to stand on the very edge of the Open Cut portion of the mine that extends 1250 ft down.


Sandstone Buildings in Hot Springs

35 historic buildings in Hot Springs were built with pink-toned sandstone in the late 1800s and early 1900s, still standing today and carefully kept in the small town of Hot Springs. With most of the stone coming from one of the 27 local quarries, including Evans Quarry, the commonly found stone was perfect to raise the western town and prove that the buildings would remain nearly 100 years later. Constructed during the Victorian era, not only are the buildings a marvel of stone-work and history, the architectural style is a sight to see all on its own. Step back and time and experience a taste of life 100 years ago when you visit these incredible buildings.

Share the architecture and design of the Black Hills with this week's Fan Photo Friday contest. Submit your photo here. 


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