Sculptures at Large

Trip Start Apr 20, 2012
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Trip End Sep 01, 2012


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Where I stayed
Comanche Park Campground

Flag of United States  , South Dakota
Monday, July 23, 2012

After a few spits of rain in the night, we woke up and just relaxed in the tent for a wee while before getting up and heading out to explore. After a lovely breakfast, we drove back into Custer and headed North for Mount Rushmore and The Crazy Horse Monument. Our first stop was Crazy Horse and even from the highway we could see his face appear on a distant mountain. It is hard to appreciate the grandeur and scale of this mountain sculpture but it is many times larger than than Mount Rushmore. It is still a work in progress and appears to have many more years to run before completion. It was started in the 1950's (I think) by a Polish Immigrant from Boston who for the first 20 years (or so) worked on the project himself. This involved walking up and down over 500 steps every day while toting dynamite, drilling bits and rods and having to walk up and down the steps many times a day in order to restart the temperamental old generator. While he was working on the project he married and had 10 children. After his death, his wife and 7 of the children have carried on with the work. The monument exists as a non-profit organization and despite being offered several grants, they have all been declined because it is not in keeping with the principles of the project?!?!?! It is hard to remember the details of the scale of the sculpture, but it will be the largest sculpture in the world when (if) it is finally completed. What was enjoyable, as well, about the visit was the large and impressive collection of Native American artifacts, photographs, current artists in residence and Museum exhibits. I think that it certainly gave the kids a better appreciation and detail about the stories and lives of Native Americans. We all enjoyed our time there, but due to the busy schedule of today's touring, we had to move on to our next stop.
It was another 15 minute drive up the road, around a couple of bends and through some impressive rock spires in the Black Hills of South Dakota before we arrived at the next very historic and impressive mountain sculpture; Mount Rushmore. This was another one of Eli's requested destinations as it was a sight he had seen in his 'Landmarks of the World' book and he was the first one out of the car. I have to back up a bit and explain what a tourist destination this is and how much it has changed since 1997 when Jess and I saw it together. Since that time, there has been built: a several story parking garage, a huge paved entrance arch and pathway and a correspondingly gargantuan and monolithic visitor center, bookstore and souvenir shop complex. Nevertheless, nothing can take away from the sight and impressive grandeur of this mountain and the four famous American presidents whose faces have been carved and blasted out of the granite of the mountain. They are: George Washington chosen for his instrumental role and influence in the American War of Independence, Thomas Jefferson for his words in the Declaration of Independence; Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness; goals which have inspired and driven the direction and focus of this country, Abraham Lincoln for his role in uniting the country in the wake of the Civil War and the emancipation of the slaves and, Theodore Roosevelt for his direction and leadership and for recognizing the importance of the common man and the protection of special landscapes, i.e. the National Park Service. It was neat that tonight when we were talking about our day, both kids were able to rattle off the names of the four men on Mount Rushmore. 
After our visit we headed into Rapid City for a tilt at getting some internet at McDonalds in order to make some plans for the next day; this involved booking a hotel room for tomorrow night as after 7 days on the road and in a tent, we are ready for a shower and some air conditioning;  it has been in the high 90's the last few days. 
We then decided to head back to Custer and explore Wind Cave National Park this afternoon so that tomorrow we could pack up and head to Wall Drug and the Badlands. Yesterday we had driven past the local high school and noticed a couple of hundred tents pitched on the lawn and a sign indicating this was the 'staging area'. We had hypothesized that it was some sort of training exercise, but were not quite sure. Well, on the drive into Wind Cave we also saw several helicopters parked in another field and it was only after taking the final turn to the National Park, that it all dawned on us. There were several fire fighting crews on the sides of the road and a vast section of forest along the road to Wind Cave was either blackened or blackening and quietly smoking. Clearly, it had not been an exercise and all the tents were used by fire fighters as they battled this very recent blaze. This also explained where the smoky sky and smoke smell had come from last night as we were setting up camp and cooking tea. Anyway, things all made sense to us and we couldn't help but be impressed by the fitness and general hard work that it must take to fight fires in the woods in 100 degree heat while wearing all the fire fighting gear and carrying the necessary equipment.  So, we drove through this scene of recent charcoaling and came into Wind Cave National Park. The first animals we saw were prairie dogs and we had a great time taking photos of them and watching them standing on their mounds and taking turns alerting each other to oncoming danger. However, we then had a bit of a disappointment as the turn off to go to the caves and Visitor Center was closed. We could only speculate it was due to the recent and proximate fire. Oh well, we still saw prairie dogs and made it into the park borders. After all, this was the only park we had visited where we were unable to gain complete access, so overall we have been very lucky on this trip.
So, we headed back into Custer, got some groceries for the next few days including ground bison and bison hot dogs and headed back to Comanche Park and our tent for a quiet and relaxing evening where we had spinach and tortellini for tea and waited for the air to cool while watching impressive thunderstorms swirl all around us. What another action-packed and sight-filled day. 
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