Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Deadwood - the Black Hills

Doane Robinson had a vision - carve famous figures into the granite of the Black Hills to attract more tourists to South Dakota because "tourists soon get fed up on scenery unless it has something of special interest connected with it to make it impressive."

He enlisted the help of artist Gutzon Borglum to help "carve" the heads into the granite that would become Mt. Rushmore.

Mt. Rushmore is impressive.  I am not sure if you see the heads as you approach from the road to Mt. Rushmore because that road is up the side of a mountain and I had my head covered because I am terrified of heights.  Studies show that those afraid of heights are soothed by covering their heads with sweatshirts while being driven up the sides of mountains (I made this line up about studies).  As a note, I originally typed "while driving up the sides of mountains."  I had to correct that.  I am quite sure studies would show that people careen off the sides of mountains if they cover their heads with sweatshirts while driving. 

You park in a huge parking ramp and then walk along the Avenue of Flags (all 50 states are represented and Pearl and I took our picture at New York) to get to the incredible visual of Mt. Rushmore.  

You are able to see Mt. Rushmore as you walk from the parking ramp but Pearl was looking down watching her step as we walked.  The walk wasn't treacherous but she's a safety girl.  Once we got to the Grand View Terrace, we sat down.  Mom looked up and exclaimed, "Pauline, look at the faces."  She was stunned.  It is a sight to behold.

To think that Borglum and his men "carved" this sculpture primarily using dynamite is incredible.  Each presidential head is six stories tall.  The carving began in 1927 and was finished in 1941.  We were there in time to celebrate 75 years - a year older than Pearl!  Over the 14 year period, 400 or so people worked on the monument, according to information presented at the National Memorial museum and gift shop.  Unfortunately, Gutzon Borglum died several months before the memorial was finished.  His son, Lincoln, had to finish the project.  The monument was declared complete on Halloween, 1941.  Eerie!

Avenue of Flags

As you leave the Memorial,
you see Washington in profile.

Pearl did comment that we were seeing "more stones" as we drove from Badlands National Park to Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands.  Well, yes.  We are in the mountains.

After Mt. Rushmore we thought we would visit the Crazy Horse Memorial.  Night and day.  Mt. Rushmore seemed to be organized and well taken care of.  Crazy Horse seemed, well, crazy.  First of all, the fee to get into the memorial was ridiculous!  

The Crazy Horse Memorial was commissioned by the Lakota to "preserve the culture, tradition and living heritage of North American Indians" according to the brochure.  The memorial is not even close to finished.  In fact, if you weren't told what it was, you would have no idea what was being carved.

And the story is just bizarre.  Korczak Ziolkowski, an artist who worked alongside Borglum on Mt. Rushmore was commissioned to sculpt the world's largest sculptural undertaking.  He started in 1948 and won't be finished in my lifetime.  He died in 1982 and most of his children are involved in continuing this project.  

The videos and other materials in the museum stressed that no federal or state funds are accepted for this project.  Everything is done via donations, grants and fees to the memorial.  This isn't just a memorial.  We were able to visit the Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Education and Cultural Center.  We did see information about the Indian University of North America.  It is an interesting complex.

As someone who works in communication I have to express disappointment with the marketing communication materials.  We were treated to a lengthy video that detailed the family.  No offense, but I don't care what the children of Ziolkowski are doing and who does what at the memorial.  Tell me about the Native American heritage.  Sell me.  I left bored and disappointed.  That nearly never happens for me at historic monuments and memorials.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse will be carved pointing "in answer to the question posed by a white man, "where are your lands now?""  His response, "My lands are where my dead lie buried." He was chosen because he was known to never have signed a treaty, according to the memorial brochure. For more information about the Crazy Horse Memorial and the mission of the complex, please visit the web site here.

I will say that I felt a certain sadness and despair visiting Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorials in one day.  While Mt. Rushmore was a stunning site and a testament to artistic invention, it left me feeling hollow.  I had to think that the Native Americans in the area had to be disturbed that the Black Hills - their sacred hills - were marred by the faces of four white men who likely represent to them death, destruction, defeat, arrogance, and oppression.  Sure enough, when I returned from the trip, I looked up several articles on the subject.  I am still struggling with how to process that information.  

Our next stop was Deadwood.  The ride to Deadwood was serene, idyllic and picturesque.  We decided we would return to the Black Hills because there are many recreational opportunities including a rail trail.  I am a huge supporter of rail trails (converting old railroad lines/tracks to multi-use trails).  For more information about rail trails, please visit the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy web site here.

Deadwood was just hot, hot, hot.  The heat wave of Badlands continued.  It was nearly 100 degrees.  Walking through town was painful.  It didn't help that it is a tourist trap.  I expected a certain degree of kitsch, but come on now.  I might think differently if it was 20 degrees cooler.  Perhaps not.

We also encountered for the second time our "pace car," if you will.  When there is road construction of any consequence, rather than have flag folks, they have a car that you follow.  For example, we wait our turn for the car with official markings and some sign on the back to lead a group of cars through.  It then turns around and you follow it through the construction. Then turns again and continues all damn day, I would guess.   It seemed to me an inefficient way to get the job done, but this isn't my area of expertise so I will reserve too much judgment.

The white truck with the orange sign on the back is our
truck to follow through the construction zone.

After our time in South Dakota - seriously one of my new favorite states - we were off to Montana.  This was the object of the trip for Pearl.  All the rest was just filler.  Tune in next week for Glacier National Park and points east en route to this magnificence.

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