South Dakota: Day 6

Today was our day of touring the Black Hills.  We were able to cover pretty much all the major stuff in the Central Hills – I had no idea there was so much to do here!

We started our day at the Crazy Horse monument that is currently under construction.  For those who may not know, the carving was actually started back in 1948 and all that’s done is his face.  I didn’t know this until visiting, but there is A LOT more to the sculpture than the face.  It’s going to be a huge sculpture of Crazy Horse on a horse, pointing to the Lakota lands.  When completed, it will be the largest sculpture in the world!  For a size comparison, all four of the heads at Rushmore (they’re 60-feet tall), fit in Crazy Horse’s head.  Because the Lakota and the family responsible for the creation of the monument refuse to take federal money (they’ve been offered it twice), the progress is only at the speed of private donations.  So, basically, it’s likely that I will never see the completion of the sculpture!

We spent about an hour – which is not nearly enough time – walking around all of the exhibits, which include Native American artifacts, artists who were selling their work, and the artist’s studio and home.  There was going to be a blast later in the afternoon, but we had other places to go, so we couldn’t stay for that.  John and I did pick out a small rock from the pile of rocks they collect from the blast site and then “sell” (you put in however much you want).  We had to pick a small one because we had to watch the weight of our luggage for the return trip.

The one thing I didn’t like about Crazy Horse is that we were really far away from the sculpture itself.  We could have paid an additional fee to take a bus down to the base of the mountain, but the main museum and viewing areas are almost a mile away!   I wish we could have gotten closer.  I think it would have made the sculpture seem even more extravagant because we could see how big it really is!

From Crazy Horse we drove down through Custer and then headed up to Sylvan Lake where we ate lunch at the resort lodge.  It was so nice to have salad on the menu and to eat something green for a change!

After lunch we drove on Needles Highway, including driving through some pretty narrow tunnels (John was nervous driving through in the “boat” we had for a rental car).

It’s named Needles Highway because of the rock formations in the area – they look like Needles.  My favorite formations were the Cathedral Spires area (pictured below).  Most the second half of the drive looked pretty similar to driving through the mountains back home.

The next part of our drive took us down south through Custer State Park on a “wildlife loop” that was, I’m assuming, supposed to give us some great views of animals.  Well, it was a bit disappointing.  We saw a few prairie dogs, antelope and one herd of buffalo right at the end.  I guess the upside is that we saw some pretty cool clouds in the sky.

After an already long day, it was time to go to Mt. Rushmore (and cross off one of the items on my bucket list)!  It was a long, windy road, and we hit an afternoon thunderstorm, but we got to drive through one of the tunnels, and as we did, you could look straight ahead and see the monument!  There were two more tunnels we went through before arriving there, and we also drove on the “pigtail” bridges, as the road circled back on itself several times (just like a pig’s tail!).

Compared to Crazy Horse, Mt. Rushmore seemed to be more impressive, at least to me.  I’m not sure if it was because we were able to get up a lot closer to it, making it look a lot larger, or because of when it was built and the techniques they had to use back then versus now.

We didn’t spend a lot of time there, because we would be back later that night for the ceremony and lighting of the faces, so we drove back to Hill City for dinner at Alpine Inn.  This place serves two things for dinner – either a 6 oz. filet mignon or a 9 oz. filet mignon.  Both were wrapped in bacon, and served with a lettuce wedge, baked potato and Texas toast.  The best part?  The 6 oz. was only $9 and the 9 oz. was just $11!  There was a bit of a wait, especially since we had a large party, but it was worth it!  I think this was the best meal, by far, that we’ve had on the trip.

After dinner, we went back to the hotel, changed into warmer clothes since we knew it would be cool at Mt. Rushmore and then headed back out.  My aunt, John and I found a place on the Grand View Terrace right in the middle to watch the ceremony and lighting.  The ceremony started with a short speech from one of the rangers about the monument (I missed most of it because I was getting ice cream) and then they showed a film about the monument and the four men depicted and why they were chosen.  The lights then started to brighten the monument and they closed the time with a flag ceremony, playing of the National Anthem, and honoring veteran and active military by asking them to come up on the stage.  It was really neat to be able to see Mt. Rushmore in a different light – one that isn’t usually seen when looking at photographs – and to witness the ceremony they put together.

We drove back to the hotel and crashed at the end of another long day!  Tomorrow, we’re off to yet another state!

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