A July 2004 trip
to Black Hills by btwood2
Quote: South Dakota’s Black Hills have attracted people throughout time. Sacred Paha Sapa to the Lakota, tantalizing 1870’s gold seekers with the elusive promise of wealth, and more recently, providing inspiration in its sculptable mountains for two HUGE man-made monuments in granite, Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse.
In pioneer times, there is really no getting around that Paha Sapa were illegally seized from the Lakota in violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, after gold was discovered in 1873 in the Black Hills. The courts are still dealing with this reputably tangled and highly emotional case.
Among the first attractions we visited after our arrival in the Black Hills, both Mount Rushmore and especially the Crazy Horse Memorial were unforgettable. For families with children, the Black Hills rival any Disneyland – the "rides" are just a bit more spread out. A list of 49 family approved attractions, all hyperlinked, can be found at blackhillsattractions.com, a website run by Black Hills, Badlands & Lakes Association in Rapid City.
The Paha Sapa are also a paradise for nature lovers, once you get off the main roads. Although the forests are predominantly ponderosa pine, birch and aspen grace the hills with their lighter greens, and wildflowers abound, especially purple bee balm while we were there. Wildlife are abundant and often visible.
As we drove and walked around in the Black Hills, I was filled with mixed feelings: awe and appreciation of the landscape, tinged with melancholy about the history that hangs heavy in the Hills, and peppered by frustration with the multitude of blatant touristy "attractions" and tacky billboards that litter the sides of the well maintained roads and highways. Yet the feeling I just couldn’t shake was the underlying sense of wrongness that this tourist wonderland with "something for everyone" has been advertised, dug up, blown up, carved, tunneled, roaded, built on and profited from when these hills in fact, and probably more clearly than many other illegal land seizures, do not even belong to "us".
After gazing upon the faces and people-watching for a while, we walked down the steps to the Borglum Viewing Terrace, where a sculptor was supposed to be working. His materials and sculpture were there, but no sculptor. So after waiting a short while, we continued on to the Sculptor’s Studio. There, a park ranger gave an informative presentation about the history and construction of the faces, in front of the original small-scale model of them carved by Gutzon Borglum. This sculpture includes their torsos as well as their heads, as Borglum intended also for the mountain carving.
The original idea for mountain carvings in South Dakota came from state historian Doane Robinson, who had envisioned sculptures of famous heroes of the West (such as Lewis and Clark, and Red Cloud) as a way to increase visitation to the Black Hills and South Dakota. In 1924, he invited Gutzon Borglum, an already well-known sculptor from back East, to select a site in the Black Hills for this purpose. Mount Rushmore was chosen, but Borglum wanted to sculpt presidents of the United States, and his will prevailed. George Washington, father of the nation, Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln, who preserved the union despite Civil War, and Theodore Roosevelt, monopoly-buster and conservationist, were selected.
Work began in Fall 1927, and continued through the Depression with federal funds, although financial problems often arose. Borglum, an inspired but highly temperamental artist, alienated many supporters in 14 years of work, and died in March 1941. His son Lincoln continued supervising work on the faces until October 1941, but funds were finally cut due to World War II.
Back to the present day, we walked the half-mile wooden walkways and steps that comprise the Presidential Trail loop, which got us closer to the faces. As we returned, thunderclouds grew thicker and an ear-splitting burst of thunder sent little ones scurrying for their moms. Somehow, during our visit, we entirely overlooked the Lincoln Borglum Museum and Giftshop, underneath Grand View Terrace.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 22, 2004
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
13000 Highway 244
Keystone, South Dakota 57751
"I do think they got one helluva raw deal." So said Korczak Ziolkowski about the Lakota Indians, after he was approached by Henry Standing Bear just before the onset of World War II. He asked Korczak to create a carving of Crazy Horse in the Black Hills, so that "the white man would know that the red man has great heroes, too." Ziolkowski, a sculptor of Polish descent who was making a name for himself back East, went on to serve in the Army in 1943, getting wounded at Omaha Beach. In 1946 he chose Thunderhead Mountain as the site for the Crazy Horse sculpture, and in 1947, began his biggest project. In 1950, Korczak married Ruth Ross, 18 years his junior, and they began their family of 10 children, 7 of whom would remain on the mountain in their adult years to continue the project after their father’s death in 1982.
Fast forward to 2004. Crazy Horse’s head was completed in 1998 and now blasting continues to slowly flesh out his body and horse. The scale dwarfs the Rushmore Four, whose heads are 60 feet high. Crazy Horse’s head is 90 feet high, and the complete man and horse will be 563 feet high and 641 feet long. Crazy Horse’s outstretched arm will be the length of a football field. Ruth Ziolkowski continues to live and manage the project in her studio-home, part of which is open for viewing.
Give yourself plenty of time to explore this huge complex. Begin at the Orientation Center, and watch the film describing this project. Check the bus kiosk early for a tour to the mountain’s base; afternoon thundershowers sometimes cancel the rides. The Indian Museum of North America contains four wings full of wonderful cultural works and art. For views of the mountain, go to the Wall of Windows indoors or the Viewing Veranda outside. Hungry? Enjoy an Indian taco or bison stew at the Laughing Water Restaurant. Don’t wait too long before finding out when the Lakota dancers are scheduled to perform. Wander through the sculptor’s opulent home and showrooms. At the Native American Cultural Center, artists and craftsmen create and sell their works. Downstairs, there’s a good collection of Edward Curtis photographs, and lectures. Outdoors, a dramatic sculpture of fighting stallions, and 46 foot long Nature Gates, containing 270 distinct silhouettes of animals. Whew! You’re not done yet. Return to the gift shop to select a souvenir of your day at Crazy Horse Memorial.
Crazy Horse Memorial
Highway 385, 4 miles north of Custer
Black Hills, South Dakota
Plenty of Native American people, including Lakotas, seem to endorse the project. The dancers from Rapid City that perform several times a day are wonderful to watch, and their performance ends with a Circle Dance, including all in the audience who wish to participate. But while the drummer/MC is explaining the dances, the loudspeaker announcing orientation film showings and bus departures keeps drowning him out or forcing him to pause. I’m sure it’s not meant to be disrespectful, but it is. The museum is literally brimming over with breathtaking art, crafts, clothing, jewelry, and cultural items of American Indians. Most of these have been donated to the museum by individuals and tribes. As I continued to wander through the displays, and eventually through the sculptor’s log studio home where his wife still lives (Korczak died in 1982) and has her office (she is CEO of the private non-profit Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation), I begin to get more of a feeling that this memorial’s existence is at least at much to glorify the memory of Korczak Ziolkowski as it is to "show the white people that Indians have great leaders, too". The line between honoring and glorifying may not be so fine.
Don’t get me wrong. The remarkable Korczak Ziolkowski and his almost single-mindedly dedicated family undoubtedly have done much good calling attention to wrongs that were done to the Lakota. A scholarship fund has provided $500,000 through 2003 for Native American students. The Foundation is affiliated with Black Hills State University, providing classes, and outreach programs for teachers and local schools. Their stated goals surpass the "mere" completion of a sculpture that will be the largest sculpted human and horse in the world. The Ziolkowski family is dedicated to higher education and improved health care for Native Americans, and long-term Foundation goals include establishing the Indian University of North America campus on the mountain, including a Medical Training Center.
Besides viewing the traditional dancers, we attended a wonderful talk and reading by oft-published and highly awarded writer Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, at the Educational and Cultural Center. Weekly lectures or performances are given here.
And yet, certain questions kept popping up in my mind… 1. Why are a white man and his descendents making a memorial to represent the great leadership of the Native American people of this nation? OK, it was explained in the orientation film that Lakota elder Henry Standing Bear invited Korczak to carve the Crazy Horse memorial back in 1939. But since that time, 2. Why hasn’t the project been transferred more to Lakota/Native American artists and put under Lakota control? 3. Why is another mountain of the Sacred Rock Nation continuing to be blown apart and reshaped to glorify human beings? 4. Why doesn’t Crazy Horse have stronger Indigenous facial features? In life, he was pure Oglala-Brule Sioux. But to me, the sculpture’s facial features look like he’s at least part White. 5. Why is Crazy Horse pointing with arm outstretched, using index finger? Most traditional Indigenous peoples would not do this. They would point using a more subtle combination of eyes, face, and lips. 6. Why does the sculpture of Crazy Horse make me feel like he is furious? After gazing at the many images of Crazy Horse on the mountain, in the Wall of Windows, on the Viewing Veranda, in the Display Room, and watching explosion after explosion in the orientation movie and video, I get an almost visceral feeling of pure and unrelenting rage that emits from "him". 7. What is this personification into rock of the supposed Spirit of Crazy Horse doing to the actual Spirit of Tashunka Witko ("his horse is crazy")? In the midst of all of this, how can his true Spirit find rest? 8. Most paradoxically of all, most historians agree that for spiritual reasons, Tashunka Witko consistently refused to allow anyone to photograph him; Korczak based his Crazy Horse’s facial features on descriptions given to him by elders who had seen him alive, and maintained that what he was attempting to represent was spirit, not form.
Indigenous American people’s opinions about the Crazy Horse Memorial vary from hearty endorsement and participation in the project, to a more middle of the road view of guarded acceptance and not questioning the elders’ decision in approaching Korczak, all the way to calling it a "desecration" and "monstrosity". Read Dorreen Yellow Bird’s column in the Grand Forks Herald for a moderate view. My Two Beadsworth provides a very thoughtful editorial on the subject. Retired professor emerita Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, a Crow Creek Sioux, minces no words in her opinion of the memorial. But better yet, visit the memorial yourself, and make up your own mind.
We were already visually plagued by billboards advertising "Rushmore Borglum Story" on our way to Devil’s Tower, marring an otherwise beautiful drive. But that was nothing compared to what we encountered once we arrived in the South Dakotan Black Hills. Businesses from the touristy town of Keystone are probably the worst offenders, both within their city limits, as well as all over the hills. Even the RV parks we stayed at were offenders. We’d already made reservations and had no other place to stay, so we couldn’t very well boycott them. But we didn’t go see "Rushmore Borglum Story" in Keystone, which likely has hundreds of billboards out there, some double-barreled, catching drivers coming and going (example in photo below). Boycotting doesn’t work very well though, unless you get large numbers of people to participate.
What else can I say? There are plenty of ways to advertise besides billboarding. It’s bad enough when they spoil city and town views, but to have their ugly forms standing in such profusion blocking natural scenery such as pine forests, granite rock formations, and lakes is almost sacrilegious. Some googling reveals that I am not alone in my distaste of excessive Black Hills billboards. One disgruntled resident in a letter to the editor of the Rapid City Journal calls them the "Billboard Hills" . Senator Tim Johnson took Bressler Outdoor Advertising Agency to task in 2002 for placing large billboards near Black Hills National Cemetery. From Insiders Guide: "…in some ways Black Hills Insiders have a bit of an identity crisis. We cherish and brag about our area’s natural beauty and fascinating sights while tolerating a profusion of billboards that mar the view and a fair number of embarrassingly tacky roadside attractions". It’s a contradiction that begs solution.
Passing through more rugged country is the 111 mile long Centennial Trail. Beginning in the prairie grasslands north of the Black Hills, Centennial Trail cuts through Black Elk Wilderness (only foot and horse travel allowed) west of Mount Rushmore, and continues south through the entire length of Custer State Park, ending in Wind Cave National Park. You’ll find a variety of developed and primitive campgrounds along this trail. The agencies involved publish a trail users guide you can find at visitor centers. The Mickelson and Centennial trails are but 2 of 38, covering 465 miles in the Black Hills National Forest. Its 1.2 million acres contain 31 developed campgrounds, and they also allow dispersed camping in most of the forest. Pactola Reservoir, Deerfield Lake, and Sheridan Lake allow boating, fishing, swimming, picnicking, and camping.
We took a number of scenic drives through the Black Hills. Iron Mountain Road, running 17 miles southeast from Keystone to Highway 36 in Custer State Park, features 3 "pigtail" bridges and 3 tunnels. These unusual wooden rustic bridges were conceived and designed by self-taught architect and builder C. C. Gideon. Each bridge loops around to a tunnel, a picturesque method of dealing with a steep elevation change. The road also splits up into one-way lanes on occasion, making its way through stands of light barked birch trees. At the summit, there are far views of Mt. Rushmore, Peter Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, and Black Hills National Forest.
We drove Needles Highway at waning light, bathing the dramatic spired granite peaks in warm evening colors. Thankfully, there were many pullouts. Around every bend, the views of these pointed igneous granite formations change. Their core is believed to be 10 miles deep. The "Eye of the Needle", pictured below, was formed by the forces of wind, rain, freezing, and thawing. Both Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway are part of Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, a loop drive through the heart of the Black Hills. Thankfully, no billboards have been allowed to be placed on the best parts of these drives.
Purple bee balm was blooming in every meadow and alongside the roads. Looking up, we’d often see solitary hawks or eagles sailing in the high breezes. Off road, we saw striped squirrel and tiny chipmunks. If we’d gone out further on the trails, we might have seen white-tailed and mule deer, although some white-tails occasionally visited the campgrounds. The hills are also home to coyote, bobcat, elk, and mountain lion. White mountain goats were introduced to the Black Hills in 1924, and like to climb the peaks around Rushmore and Harney.
Rodeo, New Mexico