Thursday, September 13, 2012

Crazy Horse, Custer State Park, and Mount Rushmore


Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012

This has been the most amazing day in South Dakota! If we missed anything, I don't know what.

We had made a list of things to do today, and that went out the window as soon as we checked out of the Best Western. We drove to the Black Hills National Forest, in wonder at the beauty of the woods and mountains.

Instead, we went to the Crazy Horse Monument. We had been there in 2007, but since the work on Crazy Horse continues year-round, we wanted to see if we could see a change in the five years that we've been gone. Korczak Ziolkowski and his family have been working to produce the largest sculpture in the world into a mountain. Ziolkowski was personally chosen by chiefs of Indian tribes to be the sculptor of this monument to a chief that they hold sacred.

When the sculptor died, he left his wife and ten children living out in the Black Hills with a not-nearly-finished sculpture started in the mountainside. His wife took over the reins to manage the work on the project and seven of his children have spent their lives right there in the Crazy Horse place, working on the monument. Much of the sculpting is done using dynamite, so it is important to know what they are doing.

We really didn't see much change in the five years, but when we go home and check our photos, maybe we will see a new indentation. We did notice that the horse's ear and eye have been drawn onto the wall of the rock, so a plan is in progress. I had my binoculars along, and they helped enormously, as I could see people up on top of Crazy's arm, and I watched them bring materials up in bags by using cords and pulleys.

Did I mention that this monument will be 563 feet tall and 641 feet long when it is done? Crazy Horse's head measures 87.5 feet tall and his arm is 263 feet long. It is larger than Mount Rushmore by a long shot.

We watched a welcome movie telling us about the selection of Ziolkowski and video of him while he explained how hard it was to start this sculpture without enough tools or helpers. Some of it was pathetically funny, especially when he told how he had to climb up to the mountainside nine times in one day since his compressor kept dying on him.

There is no federal funding for this monument, and the family doesn't want any. It is entirely dependent on donations and money made from visitors and sales at the monument.

When we arrived, there was a September 11 ceremony going on near the parking lot. A piece of The World Trade Center has arrived at Crazy Horse, to be put on display. A marker has been made to commemorate 9-11 and it was being dedicated today. Bagpipe players were there to play at the end of the ceremony, and a crowd of tourists, including us, stood politely for the service. A room is being added to the ever-growing center, to house the 9-11 memorial.

The entire operation seems to have magnified in the five years, with the addition of several rooms of Native American artifacts, displays, and some Indian vendors selling jewelry in the welcome center. We also found that for a donation we could bring home a rock that was dynamited off the mountain. We selected a few for the garden, and laughed about how clever it was of them to figure out a way to make money and have the public take away their debris at the same time!

Randy and I ate lunch on a picnic table on the deck of the center, right in front of Crazy Horse........ a full view while we ate food from the Laughing Waters deli and snack shop.

I bought a lovely necklace made of unikite beads and silver. I always ask lots of questions when I am purchasing things from Native Americans, because I am interested. The lovely woman who had made my necklace was a widow of a full-blooded Lakota Indian. Her name is Joanne Winterchaser, and I enjoyed saying her beautiful name as much as I enjoyed purchasing her work.

Custer State Park, named in honor of George Custer (as in Custer's Last Stand at The Little Big Horn) is in The Black Hills. It is also a wildlife preserve. We had driven through it on a previous trip, vying with motorcyclists for lane space. Today there was none of that, just lots of ordinary tourists such as we are. Occasionally we stopped at scenic overlooks, but sometimes we just looked out the window. The mountains are so beautiful, and the rocks and mountains of rock are absolutely amazing.

Our main goal today was to see the buffalo herd that is inside Custer State Park. Two rangers told us where to see “the herd,” but we never quite saw it. We did, however see several buffalo either wandering about aimlessly, standing roadside looking mean and scary, or copulating, we think.

We also saw herds of antelope, a majestic elk buck that sauntered across a prairie, a coyote that was circling the copulating buffaloes, and a million prairie dogs doing their busy little things.

Yes, we were this close, and yes, we were in the car!!
Our pass to the park is good for an entire week, and we might drive back in to find “the herd,” or not.  Nevertheless, a few calm buffalo managed to cross our path, appearing out of nowhere, as we drove out of the park.

In 2004 we stayed at a very old hotel in Hot Springs. , It is the Braun Hotel and Steakhouse, and is reputed to serve a really fine steak. We tried to call to get a reservation, for old time's sake, but they did not return our call. We drove down to Hot Springs to investigate. We walked into our fond memory, found “no vacancies” on the main desk, and decided not to have dinner there. I wonder if we should stop revisiting places that were wonderful the first time around...........................

So, wanting to book a room and go on with our evening plans, we drove to Custer (named for that same George Custer, ) which is a town of 1,800 people. It had appealed to us this morning as we drove through. We are currently in a Choice Hotel in the middle of Mount Rushmore Street, and to my dismay, the internet service is not good, which is why it will be published late.

We had dinner at the Sage Creek Grille a few blocks from our motel. Upscale and very lovely. Artwork for sale is all over the walls. Wonderful wine list, and many good choices for beer. The food, however, is the star of the grille. It is hard to believe that such wonderful cuisine is in such a tiny town. Randy had steak au pouvre with caramelized onions and a layer of tofu over it. It was amazing. I ordered another buffalo burger, and this one was even better than the other. My side dish, though, was the best little bowl of chili I've ever had in a restaurant. It had, along with beef, mushrooms, and black beans, some corn and julienned carrots. Our waiter was excellent, and if we lived there we'd be going back frequently.

Not a great shot, but the best I could do in the dark...
Mount Rushmore is twenty miles from Custer, and it's a long twenty miles, but we had decided we wanted to see it in the evening when they light up the mountainside. When we arrived and parked in the new parking deck, we could see that Mount Rushmore was totally darkened. There was a speaker telling about the glories of each president portrayed on the mountain. I finally sat down on the area facing the mountain to listen to the speech. We had been there in 2004 and also in 2007, and apparently, in our absence, they have added a huge auditorium down at the bottom of the mountainside, and also a movie screen. Little did we know that while we were sitting on the ground waiting for the lights to go on, there were hundred of people in an amphitheater, and they were seeing a movie while we just heard the script! Once the lights were turned onto the faces of the four presidents, we realized it, and tried to take some pictures of the lighted-up faces. If even one is good enough to show you, I will add it when I finally get to post this.

The program continued with anyone who had ever served in the armed forces being called down to the stage, saying their name into a microphone, and being recognized for serving for our country's freedom. I asked someone who told me that this is done each night. Since our eleven dollar parking pass is good until December 31, we might go back while we are here, but in the daytime hours.

Back to our motel, we are just about to hit they hay, as they say out here in the western areas.

My favorite shot from today, if I can post it, is of the model of Crazy Horse that the sculptor made to show how it would look when it is done.  It lined up with the actual monument in the background, so you can see the two together.