Beyond Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore is a national treasure, and a must see attraction, but the South Dakota Black Hills offer so much more.
If you have never visited the Crazy Horse Monument, it is well worth the trip. The monument not only memorializes the famed Oglala warrior, but it brings history of the American story to life. Families can enjoy learning together, while they take in majestic vistas.
Often billed the Eighth Wonder of the Modern World, the Black Hills of South Dakota, hosts a grand tribute to the warrior, who defeated Custer at Little Big Horn. Crazy Horse, whose true name was Tashunkewitko, lived only 33 years before his passing, yet he remains one of the most highly respected and celebrated Warrior Chief’s of all the Native Americans named in US History.
It seemed fitting to build a monument of tribute to the man who fought courageously for his people, even unto death. Perhaps inspired by nearby Mt. Rushmore, a plan was developed to carve his image in stone. The chosen form of warrior upon his steed would be immortalized in the very earth that Crazy Horse tried to preserve, along with his people. Proceeds from the monument help build cultural and traditional training for Native Americans, as well as working to preserve their cultural history.
As a child, I visited Chief Crazy Horse’s Monument. I was awed by the sheer size and scope of the project. Men worked with jackhammers and ropes, as we watched from observation platforms far below. An intricately carved version of the finished product was aligned perfectly so one could see the overlay. It gave a wonderful perspective to what the finished product would be. I remember feeling excited that this was happening in my lifetime. That was in the 1960’s, when Native American civil rights were daily news, so for me, it was exciting that a Native American was honored is such a way. I vowed I would return as an adult to see the finished product.
A megalithic undertaking takes years. This I understand, but I looked forward, with great anticipation, to seeing a finished or nearly completed version of what I had seen as a child. It had been decades, after all. I should have looked it up before I visited, but I did not want to ruin the anticipation of the finished product. My heart nearly broke; when I saw little, if any, progress had been made. For Pete’s sake, Mount Rushmore took only 17 years from inception to completion, and there are four Presidents immortalized there!
I saw crowds paying admission, and donation boxes scattered about, but overall, I would have to say Crazy Horse was no different to my childhood memories. I have no idea who, or what, is responsible for the non-existent progress, but I find it appalling that after nearly 50 years, a memorial for a brave, proud, and celebrated part of our American story sits, gathering dust. If you have seen it once, you haven’t missed anything.
I would love to return to the Black Hills to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial, when it is finished, but I doubt that will be in my lifetime. I hope that by the time it is completed, there will remain Native American Cultures to promote. Still, Crazy Horse is well worth a look, along with several nearby attractions, which luckily for me, still draw me to the region.
Although not as impressive in size, monuments to Sitting Bull and Sakakawea (Sacagawea) are close by. This is thought to be the actual burial site for the Native American leader and spiritual guide, Sitting Bull, whose monument was designed by the same man that designed the Crazy Horse memorial. Back in the 1920’s schoolchildren raised money to build the monument to the woman, without whose help the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition would surely have failed.
South Dakota may not have made the top 10 on your vacation wish list, but all it has to offer might surprise you. Even hard to please relatives will find it hard to resist the simple elegance of the region. Rich in tumultuous history, awe-inspiring scenery, and some very colorful stories, you will not regret a trip to the Dakota Hills.
Immerse yourself in history with a visit to any of six National Parks, and more than 50 State Parks. Of course, Mt. Rushmore is one of the most famous American treasures, inspiring a profound sense of patriotism. The hike to the popular, yet remote, viewing areas going up the hillside is very strenuous, and you should bring water, but if you feel fit, it is an incredible view.
Visit historic Deadwood, a gold rush town from the 1870’s where the likes of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane used to stroll. Immerse yourself in cowboy lore, or visit a casino in this legendary town. If military history is more your thing, do not miss Custer National Park, and a visit to the Little Big Horn, where Custer took his last stand.
Opportunities for cultural and historical exposure litter every corner of the state. Prehistoric artifacts, early native traditions, as well as the history of the gold rush and early settlers, are discovered readily. Try an overhead view with a helicopter ride over the area. Prices really vary, so check out different venders, but the experience is well worth the investment.
View American Bison roaming the ranges of their ancestors, but in far smaller numbers. Visit Bear Country USA and drive your family through a wildlife park featuring bears, and approximately 20 other North American mammals roaming free. Close up encounters are a daily event and no two tours are the same.
Tour a wild horse sanctuary, or be mystified by the Cosmos Mystery area. Visit the home of Laura Ingalls the woman whose life inspired the “Little House on the Prairie” stories. South Dakota offers a surprising array of activities for every interest.
For those seeking the great outdoors, there is no need to be bored. Fishing, hunting, horseback riding, golf, biking, off-roading on a rented quad, motorcycling, wildlife viewing and winter sports, in season, offer an endless supply of outdoor fun. Seasonal changes, especially the fall foliage, are breathtaking.
The Crazy Horse Memorial Monument may be moving slower than a glacier, but you will find some wonderful opportunities and adventures in neighboring areas. Please see Crazy Horse, if you have never had the chance, but otherwise, skip it and find some new memories of the Black Hills. You might even go home with some authentic Black Hills gold.