On the road leading to Mt. Rushmore, we got our first glimpse of the four presidents. Wow! It was just like in the pictures! Mt. Rushmore is a National Memorial, and the town of Rapid City has built the parking garage, visitor center, and viewing area. They have done a fine job! The walk toward Grandview Terrace is lined with the flags of all fifty states and the amphitheatre is huge! We took the half mile "strenuous" hike (with 250 stairs) to see the best view of the monument. We tried to decide who might find the trail strenuous - perhaps the people we saw at the bad buffet in Kansas, people who are over 80 or 90, people who have a hard time walking on a good day, people who are carrying enough weight to be two people - but hopefully not the majority of Americans. Or else we are in real trouble!
While it was only 55 degrees when we started out, the sky was a beautiful blue and the sun was shining. We shed our sweatshirts and loved watching the people who were hiking (?) on top of George Washington's head. Now THAT would be a strenuous hike! We went to the sculptor's studio and learned what an undertaking this project had been, especially given the technology available at the time. What does it say about America today that the really difficult, almost unimaginable building projects (Mt. Rushmore, Hoover Dam, Biltmore House, the Mormon Temple, and the Empire State Building come immediately to mind, to say nothing of some of the bridges built - Golden Gate, Brooklyn, etc.) were built in the 30's and 40's under practically impossible circumstances, and they are still standing, still functioning, and incredibly beautiful, while buildings constructed now capture neither the fine artistic detail nor the skilled workmanship of that time. I don't even think they could be replicated, and OSHA alone would keep them from even being started. But I digress...
Leaving Mt. Rushmore, we took off for the Crazy Horse Monument. We thought they were crazy when they asked us to pay $20 to see a mostly unfinished sculpture, but we did it anyway. Once inside this very inspiring and educational complex, $20 seemed like a bargain. Korczak Ziolkowski started work on this colossal project in 1947 at the age of 38. SINGLEHANDEDLY, he labored for years, refusing to accept even one penny (and certainly not the $10 million the US Govt. offered him twice) for his work. The first year, he lived in a tent, built a log cabin for his home, set off the first blast, and built a 741 step staircase to the top of the mountain. Volunteer Ruth Ross helped with the staircase and in 1950 she became his wife and total partner. They had 10 children and wrote three volumes of detailed instructions about how to build Crazy Horse, since they knew they would not live to see it completed.
Korczak died in 1982 at the age of 74. He was buried in a tomb that he had built near the mountain. Today, seven of his children and his wife carry on with his (and their) life work. It is an incredible story that I can't begin to relate, so be sure you go to http://www.crazyhorse.org/story.shtml and read about it. Although I knew about this memorial in progress, I had no idea it had been being worked on my entire lifetime and before. Unbelievable!
While at Crazy Horse, we took in so much history, not just about the building project, but more Native American history and many fantastic exhibits. It is a lovely, well-planned complex and easily worth the money. We had lunch at Laughing Water Restaurant here - Kim had a taco on Indian Fry Bread and I had Tatanka stew with fry bread. Very good! We considered having the state dessert of South Dakota, kuchen, but our waiter described it as a "light cheesecake thing and the only flavor we have today is prune," so we passed on it and had chocolate cake instead. When we saw it, it looked more like a yummy custard pie. Oh well, there's always tomorrow! After lunch we continued our tour, going into the original part of the cabin Korczak built and seeing his studio. Words fail me here - please go to the website!
It is hard not to feel patriotic here in the 'City of Presidents' where the goal is to have statues of at least 40 presidents on the street corners of Rapid City, and it's a bit hard not to feel guilty for the way our white ancestors mistreated the natives here. From the glory of Mt. Rushmore and the immensity and inspiration of Crazy Horse, we rolled down into the town of Custer. We realized that when an area has a drawing card like Mt. Rushmore, which once you've seen it, you've seen it, there is room for what we fondly refer to as "Gatlinburg of the ______________ (fill in the blanks), in this case, Gatlinburg of the Black Hills, and there are about three of them! All these people have to have something to do, and given the strenuous nature of nature, it can't be just hiking the magnificent mountains. So we went to Bedrock, home of the Flintstones! We had learned from its website (told you we had done our homework - www.flintstonesbedrockcity.com) that it would not open until May 19, but we felt sure Peppy would be mad if we didn't at least try to see something there. As it turns out, we were able to see and photograph a good bit. Ya gotta love it!
From the kitschiness of Bedrock, we went to the serenity of Custer State Park and the Needles Highway. Oh, it was so pretty, and we absolutely could not believe how incredibly QUIET it was. For starters, there were hardly any other cars, and mine makes very little noise. We would stop to take a picture, and there was only the sound of the quaking aspens when the wind blew. The drive through the Needles tunnel (one lane, very narrow, not very tall) was an experience in itself. We had hoped to see some buffalo, but chipmunks were about the only wildlife sightings of the day. The sky had clouded up mid-day but it was pretty again by now and not too terribly cold. We had decided not to try to get to Deadwood and Sturgis, assuming that more Gatlinburgishness would await us. We might be wrong, but if so, don't tell us, because we're leaving the area tomorrow!
Our night in the lodge was rapidly catching up with me, so we returned to the hotel, downloaded pictures, and I crashed for an hour or more. Time to recharge! We had dinner at the coolest place - Sanford's Grub and Pub. They don't seem to have a website just about them, so here's their story, straight from an article about them:
Sanford's Short Story: Once upon a college exam, a few guys got together drinking beer, eating food and watching reruns on the boob-tube and began thinking of what the heck they were going to do with the rest of their lives. So, realizing what they do best - which is drinking beer, eating food, and watching T.V. - they decided to open a place called Sanford's. Now the only thing that stood in their way was designing the decor - itended up being the easiest job, however. After a few garage sales, digging through basements and a couple of junk yards, SANFORD'S GRUB & PUB was born.So what the heck, we did learn something in school!
Those are my kind of guys! I don't know it for a fact, but I'm guessing the name of the place came from a certain sitcom about a junkyard... I wish you could see pictures of the interior, because the ones I took won't begin to tell the story. You can see the menu if you google them. It was extensive and the place is an entertaining museum all by itself. Food is just extra! Not that it wasn't great - Kim had a Blue Moon or two and a salad and a fried chicken, broccoli, and penne pasta dish and I had a Moosedrool (a Montana beer) and "beef chunks in a circle" with mashed potatoes, Cajun corn, and a salad. While we fully intended to have a "fried Oreo sundae" for dessert, we were stuffed even while not cleaning our plates.
So now I've caught up and it's a good thing I had a nap, cause now it's late and Kim has been asleep for hours and I'm still typing. We're not exactly sure what we're doing tomorrow, except we know where we're having breakfast. I think from here on out, we're traveling with Road Food (Jane and Michael Stern) as our atlas. Hope you're hungry!
Jan (the stuffed, sated, sleepy, and caught up one!)