South Dakota is, according to Elliott, the most American state. It does fit the bill pretty well – prairies galore, lots of war veterans, the Old West and Homesteading, Native American Tribes, buffalo, and monuments like Mount Rushmore. After seeing Mount Rushmore especially, we couldn’t help feeling a bit high on patriotism. America is a great country!!
On second thought, though, we reserved some of our patriotic feelings about Mount Rushmore. After all, we know white men didn’t truly “discover” America. Sadly our country’s history involved forcing a lot of people off their land, even though they had been living on it for hundreds if not thousands of years. We also broke treaty after treaty with the Natives. To top it off, we built this huge monument to our country on the very lands we took from the Native Americans; lands they considered sacred and still do to this day. And while we can’t go back in time and change history, we can certainly try to make some sort of repartion. Enter the Crazy Horse.
At a time when the Lakota and other Native American tribes were suffering terribly, the Lakota elders asked famous sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski if he would build a monument to the Native American Tribes. Initially when the sculptor agreed he planned to design a monument the size of Mount Rushmore or smaller, but then later he decided to build the biggest monument in the world as a tribute to the Native Americans. The monument is a tribute to Lakota leader Crazy Horse, who fought for his people and then was tragically bayoneted under a flag of truce with the white Settlers. What better way to show them how sorry we are for what we have done; how much respect we have for them and their sacred lands. The monument will be 614’ long and 563’ high, and is far from complete. Mount Rushmore would be able to fit on Crazy Horse’s outstretched forearm!
In the beginning, Korczak worked on the monument by himself, carrying his equipment up and down the mountain each day. He had an old unreliable compressor which tended to quit whenever it felt like it, forcing him up and down the mountain additional times as it went “kaput kaput kaput.” These days, the work is carried on by Korczak’s wife and five of their children, and they continue to turn down any federal funds offered in order to keep the project true to its original intent.
There is no estimated completion date at this time, although work has continued steadily since 1947. When finished, the mountain-sized statue of Crazy horse will point to the sacred Black Hills. When asked once where his lands were, Crazy Horse famously responded: “My lands are where my people lie buried.” It is to these lands that he points.
For some more information on Crazy Horse, check out this site: http://www.crazyhorsememorial.org/facts.html
Next up we drove to Wind Cave National Park, home to one of the world’s longest caves. We took a short hike on the prairie and then signed up for the cave tour, where a park ranger took a group of us 100 feet down in an elevator, into the cave. I’ve been in several caves before, but I have never been in one that had its own elevator! The cave is named Wind Cave because it is quite large, and the air pressure difference between the air in the cave and the air outside creates an ongoing noisy wind at any entrance to the cave.
Wind Cave does not have many stalactites or stalagmites that are so often found in caves, but instead has several other unique features making it a very special cave. Rather than being a long single “tunnel” with just a few options to turn here and there, Wind Cave has many places where you can turn and continue on in several different directions. It twists back on itself and has several stacked levels as it descends. Based on measurements of the volume of air the cave can hold, scientists believe that only about 10% of the cave has been explored – and the explored area of the cave is already the fifth largest cave in the world! Wind Cave also contains a very large amount of “boxwork”, a delicate lattice-work of minerals that originally formed in cracks in the rock, and now are all that’s left as the rock has literally dissolved away over time.
When we left the cave we went on a search for more buffalo (yes, we were kind of addicted!). We drove through the park to a one mile long hiking trail that led to the highest point in the park, and we started hiking. At the top of a trail was a lookout tower which we decided to climb, despite the strong winds making us feel like we might just blow right off (and the signs saying “authorized personnel only”)! The views were totally worth it.
We hadn’t found any buffalo and we were feeling kind of bummed, so we reluctantly began our drive out of the park. Just before we exited the park, we found exactly one buffalo lying down, but difficult to photograph. We also found some pronghorn antelope that were much more willing subjects.
Instead of taking the twisty-turny sloooow roads we had driven the day before, we took a chance on a more direct route, assuming it would be dirt or gravel. Not only did the road turn out to be paved; a few minutes into our drive Elliott slammed on the brakes and I looked up to see what we almost hit – and there was an enormous buffalo crossing the road right in front of our car!! What a treat. He just hung out on the side of the road after he crossed, right by my window, so I could take some photos. What a nice buffalo.
After we were back to the main roads, we were excited at the thought of seeing Mount Rushmore again, all lit up in the night. Surprise! It turns out they don’t light Mount Rushmore in the off-season. Ooops. I guess there are a couple of downsides to visiting such great sites when it’s no longer crowded:)