Saturday, September 2, 2017

South Dakota's Black Hills: The Stuff of Dreams

Mount Rushmore from the Walk of Flags

We are exposed to certain images as Americans. 
Images that are symbols of our nation and that make us feel a sense of community, a shared identity.
The Statue of Liberty.
The St Louis Arch.
The Golden Gate Bridge.
The Alamo.
I can picture each of them in my mind as I say the words and feel them in my heart as I envision them. How many times have we seen them in movies, in TV shows, in ads, in history books, or in news stories?
These places are part of our collective consciousness.
Fred and I were ecstatic at the opportunity to see them in person.
We have been privileged to spend the last 2 weeks in western South Dakota.
Seeing Mount Rushmore National Park in person is a dream come true.
There was no question that it would be our destination on our first full day in the area.

Mount Rushmore shrouded in clouds.
Rain and fog from the night before lingered as we left the brown and gold plains surrounding Rapid City and drove into the lush Black Hills. We climbed the hills past the small town of Keystone that reminded us of Lake George, through the switchbacks that helped us up the mountain, and under bridges that are cut right through the mountain.

The clouds lifting.
When we arrived the mountain was completely shrouded in clouds. It was eerie knowing that those big faces were hiding in the clouds. We watched closely as the breeze picked up and the clouds slowly drifted away from those giant faces. Washington appeared first with his long nose and tall brow, then Lincoln's bearded chin. Jefferson next and then finally Teddy squished in the back of the group.

View of George Washington from the Presidential Trail.
We walked the Presidential Trail in order to get closer and to view them from different angles. The .6 mile walk through the wooded areas below the faces was beautiful. 422 stairs help you across the steep parts.
When we reached the Visitor Center again the clouds had passed and the sun was out, giving us an entirely different perspective of the mountain.
Doane Robinson was the South Dakota state historian in 1923. It was his idea to create sculptures on the granite needles of the Black Hills in order to attract visitors to the area. His original plan was to have sculptures of famous western figures carved into their surfaces. 
Sculptor Gutzon Borglum was consulted as creator of the project. He refined the idea of the figures to be immortalized, feeling that they should be impressive in life and in history. He chose Washington as the father of the country, Jefferson as the face of expansion, Lincoln for holding the country together and Roosevelt for shepherding us into the 20th century.
Carving began in 1927 and finished in 1941. It took 14 years for 400 workers to complete the project. Using dynamite, jackhammers and precise measurements they created 4 faces that stand 60 feet tall and can be seen from miles around.

Mount Rushmore at night after lighting.
We were honored to see them once more in the evening for the lighting ceremony. There is an amphitheater below the faces with a small stage. As the sun started to go down we took our seats. A Park Ranger told the story of the writing of the National Anthem. We then enjoyed a program of patriotic music and a short film about the creation of the monument and its meaning to us as a country. Toward the end of the film the lights on the mountain turned on. Those amazing faces were glowing in the night sky.

Fred taking part in the flag lowering ceremony.
The Park Ranger then invited anyone who had served in the US Armed Forces to come up on the stage as the flag was lowered. Fred was invited to be one of those that received and folded the flag. He was proud to participate.

Mount Rushmore framed by a tunnel on the Needles Highway.
 Mount Rushmore occupies a prominent place in the Black Hills. The faces are able to be seen from several places on the Needles Highway. There are dramatic scenic overlooks that afford viewpoints to look at them from afar. Needles Highway is a National Scenic Byway. It is 14 miles of road constructed specifically to show the needle shaped granite spires at their best. Needles is an amazing and sometimes terrifying drive of S-turns, Pigtail bridges and rock tunnels. Three of the tunnels frame Mount Rushmore in the distance as you drive through them.

Crazy Horse
There is one more face in the Black Hills, that of Crazy Horse.
Crazy Horse is a Native American hero of the Oglala Lakota but his image serves to honor all Native American heroes. He was a famous warrior and strategist, resisting the efforts of the American government to push his people from the Black Hills in violation of a prior treaty.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is a dream of the the Oglala Lakota, specifically Chief Henry Standing Bear who wanted the world to know that Native Americans have heroes too.  Mato Naji (Chief Standing Bear) recruited sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to bring the project to life.

The Crazy Horse model and the carving in the background.
Korczak started the project in 1948 with a budget of $147. He married Ruth in 1950 and together they had 10 children. Those children grew up working on the mountain and many of them still do. Korczak died in 1982, Ruth in 2014 but their dream lives on.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is a private not for profit project accepting no government funding. While impressive, the memorial is more than a monument. Monies received from tours of the memorial and private donations support the sculpting project, the Indian Museum of North America and the Indian University of North America, all of which are located on site.
The carving has been going on for 69 years. Crazy Horses face if complete. Current work is on his outstretched hand and on his horses mane. When complete the sculpture will be 563 feet high and 641 feet long.  There is no projected date of completion.

Mount Rushmore
13000 SD-244
Keystone, South Dakota

Crazy Horse Monument
12151 Avenue of the Chiefs
Crazy Horse, South Dakota

Needles Highway
Custer, South Dakota

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