Saturday, September 5, 2015

Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument

On Thursday we drove over to visit the guys at Mt. Rushmore.  Being South Dakota residents, we've had their picture on our license plates for more than a year, so it was time to meet them in person.

We drove a rather winding road from Custer State Park to the Mt. Rushmore area. Our first view of the monument was a surprise as we made a tight turn on the edge of the opposing mountain. There they were!  Just like their pictures.

After parking in the Xanterra (the concession management company) parking building, we walked up to the visitor's center and expansive viewing deck. We both enjoyed walking through the hall of flags. As we looked up we identified the states, but wondered why the Hawaiian flag looked so British.  

Google Answer: Hawaii was once an independent kingdom. (1810 - 1893) The flag was designed at the request of King Kamehameha I. It has eight stripes of white, red and blue that represent the eight main islands. The flag of Great Britain is emblazoned in the upper left corner to honor Hawaii's friendship with the British.

We listened to a nice young ranger give a talk, and then took the President's Walk down around the base to the sculptor Borglum's Studio and back up to the Borglum View Terrace.

One of the neat things about being  able to walk down below the sculpture, was to see the presidents from a different angle.

I couldn't help wondering what President Washington would think of Mr. Trump.

Or what any of them would think about the rhetoric being thrown about by the Republican party candidates, not to mention the media attention focused on Clinton and her emails.

Each of these four were both honored and vilified during their lifetimes. The nation turned a blind eye to their human failures, and recognized the strong leadership they showed in their administrations. 

Every four or eight years we see a new president take office. I often wonder what history will say about them in a hundred years or more.   Will anyone ever carve a mountain image of Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama?  

We will all be dead and gone by then, so we will never know. 

In the studio we learned more about how the mountain was carved, and looked at the artist's model. 

The sculpture was never finished. Work stopped when it became apparent the country was heading into WW2. But even with only the heads included, it is an inspiring sight.

As tourists in the Black Hills, our trip would not be complete without also stopping in to see the Crazy Horse Memorial.  The sculpture itself is clearly visible from the road, but there was much to read and see in the American Indian Museum, the Crazy Horse Visitor's center, and the artists home and studio.

This sculpture, a private venture, is many times larger than Mt. Rushmore. The original artist estimated it would take a hundred years to complete. It has been 67 since it was started, and although the artist  has died, his family's non-profit foundation continues the work.

We took the short bus ride to the base of the mountain where we got a little better view of the face. You can take a van ride up to the area below his chin, but it cost $150 per person. Not in our budget!

The plaster model is on display on a patio area where you can compare it to the work on the mountain.  You can see there's a lot left to do, but the fact that the mountain is now pretty much shaped like the sculpture means a lot has been accomplished!

We enjoyed looking at the many donated collections of American Indian artifacts and art work.  The walls were covered with paintings, quilts, war bonnets, and photographs. I was particularly delighted with all the beadwork on display.

The perfection demonstrated on this horse regalia was beautiful. 

We learned the first glass beads were brought to America in 1492. Before they had beads, the Indians used porcupine quills to create their decorative work. As an artist myself, I can imagine the awe and excitement they must have felt when becoming acquainted with the colors and permanence of the beautiful Italian beads.

While at the Crazy Horse Memorial we were lucky to catch an Indian Dance demonstration done by these two. 

The older Indian also explained some of the parts of their dress. My new fact for the day was about the long "flap" that hangs down in the back below their knees. When they walked, or danced in a crouched down position, it would drag on the ground and erase their moccasin prints.

I am presently reading a rather thick book about Crazy Horse, that we bought at the Little Bighorn Battlefield. Reading it as we travel through this area makes it all come together. 

I know it was another time, but I have never been proud of how the West was settled and what the whites took from the native people. But at the same time, America allowed slavery and women were not allowed to vote. The white men were the "illegal" immigrants of the day, many of them were not born on American soil.

Guns and technology made it possible. 


  1. I'm not so sure that sculpture will ever be finished. It seems any pictures of it that I've seen in the last ten years all look the same.

    On a more humorous note, when my family visited Mt. Rushmore in 1988, my oldest son was 16 years old and bought a tee shirt there. The front showed the sculpture, and the back gave an artists conception of the naked buns of the four famous gentlemen. He got kicked out of school the day he wore it there. ;)

    1. they should have hiim just turn it inside out.

  2. This is one place I hope to visit next year....I really can't imagine it being re-created again.

  3. It's always interesting to read your take on places we have been! We first visited Crazy Horse is 1972 on our first vacation after being married the year before. The only progress we've ever seen since is the face finalization. I'm sure there's more rough blasting done but frankly I doubt it will ever be completed. The dedication and hard work needed to create a monument like it or Mount Rushmore are hard to find in today's instant society.

    And on one of our return trips as a family unit our sons also enjoyed the "bumm" pose and bought postcards. I was probably too tight -laced to allow the purchase of a tee shirt like Judy! Coulda, shoulda!!!

  4. judith and meowmomma, we had heard stories of lack of progress and even misappropriation of funds away from getting the statue done. A man behind the info desk at the Visitor Center did a great job of discussing these things with us. (Judy I bet working there is more interesting than some of your NWR VCs!) He said that the original sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, originally estimated 100 years to be the minimum to complete the work. He worked on it alone from 1948-1960, than started adding his children to the project. We did not hear of anyone outside the family working on the sculpture. Also the sculpture is only one of several activities that compete for the non-profit foundation's funds, especially the creation of an educational/cultural center for Native Americans. Very long-term thinking / planning! I think they scaled it too large.

  5. It was just about a year we drove by that Crazy Horse Monument, stopped & took a pic from the highway. Kelly wasn't feeling well at the time & although we had planned to stop there we just continued on with our journey. Maybe next time..............

  6. We went there pre-rving with my parents in 2009 to see all of the area and really enjoyed it. We both have thought about workamping there sometime.

  7. I've loved our visits there... I think finally seeing something "in person" that I'd seen pictures of all my life made it special... like going to the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls.... all the other stuff you hear about it all just doesn't take away that awesome feeling.

  8. Loved the beautiful photo of the Indian dancers...We loved Mt. Rushmore and Crazyhorse....

  9. The beading on the horse outfit reminded me of the work you had done for the rv! Are you inspired to do some more?

  10. An interesting and wide-ranging blogpost. Thank you for the update on Crazy Horse Mountain. I wonder if it will ever be finished and indeed whether or not the geology will allow its completion.


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