The Road Trip Chronicles: Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and Crazy Horse

Hello Travelers!  Last week on The Road Trip Chronicles, I left you all in Wall, South Dakota.  I’m so sorry about that.  I’m here now to welcome you back in the car and take a trip to the Badlands with me!

Badlands National Park:

The Badlands lie between the White and Cheyenne Rivers in southwestern South Dakota.  Claimed to be one of the most breathtaking and architecturally surreal sites by geologists, and even Frank Lloyd Frank, the Badlands don’t disappoint.  The park consists of ravines, ridges, and cliffs in a variety of colors shown in the sedimentary stripes.

The Badlands are also home to a wide population of bison, coyotes, bighorn sheep, deer, fox, eagles, pronghorns, and prairie dogs.

To be honest, I’m not sure what this animal’s name is.  We found a herd of them trekking down the cliff.  It might be the bighorn sheep, more likely just a mountain goat.  Here’s one up close.

Here’s one I talked off the ledge…literally!

And yes, of course we have cows in Wisconsin, but this one just begged me to take his photo!

These critters were EVERYWHERE!

Our first bison sighting!!!

I promise we get a lot closer in Yellowstone, but this was a big deal at the time!

A Swift Fox – Isn’t he cute?

More shots of the beautiful Badlands!

Next stop:  Keystone, South Dakota – Mount Rushmore

Keystone was established as a mining town, known for the Holy Terror Gold Mine, discovered in 1894.  Lovely name don’t you think?  The discoverer/owner of the mine, William Franklin named it such for his wife.  I just love romance stories!  Still, the mine brought in $70,000 worth of gold per week, so not such a bad present after all!

It wasn’t until the early 1930’s that Gutzon Borglum started working on the models that would become the four presidential faces that now look down over the Black Hills.

Fun Fact:  Did you know that in the original sculpture model, Jefferson’s head was to the left of Washington’s?

True.  There are several theories about the change in arrangement of the presidential faces including that Hugo Villa, an assistant sculptor blew away too much rock around Jefferson, thereby requiring the men to start over – a setback that cost them roughly $10,000.  Or perhaps the granite they were working on had too many fissures in that section.  Some speculate Borglum overheard a woman complain that “Mr. Borglum would never carve two men snuggled up to each other like that,” causing him to blast the mountain out of political correctness.  But more likely, Borglum didn’t like the design and adapted his creation.  

-Trivia information from Mt. Rushmore and Keystone by Tom Domek and Robert E. Hayes

I wonder what it’d be like to have my face on a mountain…

If you check out Mount Rushmore on vacation, I highly recommend checking out the Visitor’s Center/Museum.  Great photograph collection and info on the construction of the monument and the crew that helped to build it.  It was both daring and dangerous for the miners that helped Borglum construct his vision.  One of my favorite sections of the museum included old interviews with some of the crew years after the opening of the monument.  One miner talked about climbing up the face, literally, of the mountain and having to lean back and straighten your legs to walk up while others at the top helped hoist you with a rope around the waist.  Instinct would have you lean forward, for fear of heights, that would cause you to slip.  He said many fellows were dragged by the rope, scraping their very noses against the mountain!

Crazy Horse Memorial:

The Crazy Horse Memorial was one of my favorite things this day.  The story behind its creation is a deeply moving one full of dedication and hard work.

It was a Polish immigrant raised by foster care named Korczak Ziolkowski who met with the Lakota Sioux Chief Standing Bear in 1948.  Korczak was a self taught sculptor, and after winning a contest at a fair, was contacted by Chief Standing Bear to construct the memorial that would tell everyone, “We have heroes too.”

Korczak was in his 30’s when he began the memorial, and he worked on it until his death.  His body is buried at the foot of the mountain, and it is his wife and children who continue to progress on the mountain’s transformation.

To give you an idea of its size, all four of the presidential faces of Mount Rushmore could fit within the head of Crazy Horse!  In the 40’s when Korczak started the blasting, there was a 90+ step staircase he would trek up and down each day.  Occasionally, the generator he used to power his tools would wind down as he climbed halfway up the steps with 50+ pounds of tools on his back and in his arms.  One day, Korczak recalls, he had to climb up and down those stairs nine times to continue his work!

This is what the memorial will look like when it’s finished.  You’ll have to forgive the awkward photo, normally this is pulled out on the deck of the museum and shops, but it had poured rain right before we got there and they had it covered under this awning.

You can see there is MUCH work left to do.  The foundation actually measures the work in decades and tons of rock removed.  The newest improvements included blasting out the hole beneath his arm and much of the rock in front where the horse’s head will be.

The project is a slow moving one requiring great skill, and safety, with the dynamite blasts.  And it will take longer still because Korczak, and now his family, refuse financial assistance from the government.  The memorial is entirely funded by public donations.  Korczak was a true believer in the American Dream, a place where anyone can start a project, work hard, and accomplish something truly great.  The family now abides by this dream.

I love the story behind this mountain.  A story of grandeur all around.  Crazy Horse was a nobel warrior who fought for his people during some of the most difficult times in American Indian history.  His memorial now points to the land “where his people lie.”  The Black Hills.  His likeness is not actually known, and Korczak created it with the help of Chief Standing Bear and other tribesmen who knew him.

Thanks for sharing in my travels and mini history lesson!  Have any of you visited these places?  What did you think?  What did you love about the stories behind their creation?  Or if you haven’t been to see them, which one do you want to see first?

Still more to come!  Stay tuned for tales from Deadwood, South Dakota, the old time – and possibly present day – haunts of Wild West characters like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane!

24 responses

  1. Loved the travel to the Badlands. I haven’t had the privilege of going in person, so seeing this pictures were wonderful.

    1. Thank you Shirley! I wish I could blow the photos up and really show how expansive the whole thing is. Hope you get to go someday, it’s well worth it!

  2. This is beautiful and I am jealous all of a sudden! Just kidding, but I do miss being able to travel and drive as I once did. Seeing all these vistas brings that back and I do miss it. Lovely pictures, Miss Jess. I have never seen the Giant Heads that close. They are really quite spectacular! I loved the way you described them. Be safe on the road. I too, enjoy your exuberant voice and fun. Thanks for the tea, Jess. Mary.

    1. Thank you! If you’re missing the road you should take mini trips around the area. Joe and I did that a day and checked out Niagara Cave. Fun little trips help tame my cabin fever!

  3. Have I visited any of these places? Hmm…maybe once or twice…

    Great shots. I especially love the mountain goat staring down at the majesty of The Badlands. And I’m jealous that you got to see a buffalo – it’s the one thing I missed last year. Grr!

    Anyway, thanks for posting and sharing. Love to hear about your travel adventures!

    1. I thought of you on the road trip. What a bummer you didn’t get to see any buffalo. You’re gonna be so jealous when I post the Yellowstone pics!

  4. Great ‘documentary’, Jess! The Badlands really are fascinating – we were actually just there, also, on the way to visit Bill and Sara. An FYI, that was a mountain goat, and those little ‘critters’ that were everyone are called prairie dogs. They are considered by locals to be a real nuisance – I can tell you they’re target practice for many in WY as they wreak havoc on folks’ property! Again, thanks for taking us along. As I have said in the past, you are such a gifted writer…. 🙂

    1. I knew the prairie dogs, and suspected the goat, but wasn’t sure. Thanks Dorie! I knew someone would clue me in.

      Next time you head west I volunteer to come and just carry your luggage. Oh and a seat by the window please!

  5. What amazing photos, Jess! You and Joe are quite the photographers! I’ve never been to these places but always wanted to go. The badlands is a gorgeous area and I love that you were able to see so many critters! Prairie Dogs are so cute, did you ever see a prairie squirrel? They loo a lot like chipmunks. I saw them whenever we went to Valley of Fire Park picnicking in Vegas.
    Okay, MORE! I can’t wait to hear about Deadwood!

    1. I think we did see a prairie squirrel but yah I thought it was a chipmunk. And I even commented on his absurdly long tail. How funny.

      Seriously, you better be planning a road trip!

  6. Been to Rushmore twice, but I missed the Badlands both times. Now I see what I missed.

    BTW, who wears a dress on vacation?

    1. Who doesn’t? They’re easy to pack! 😛

  7. Your face would be adorable on the side of a mountain! 😉 I love the photos, Jess. Little beats standing so close to wildlife in their natural habitat. I haven’t yet made my way to the badlands or Mount Rushmore—a shame, considering how somewhat close I lived growing up. Seems like an awesome and worthy adventure.

    1. How close were you? Anything else out your way we missed?

      The wildlife was definitely my favorite thing. Especially in Yellowstone!

  8. Wow, it’s just crazy to me what people get a passion for and take on as life projects. I didn’t realize the eyes in the president’s heads were so realistic! And the Crazy Horse Memorial is just insane! What a beautiful piece of America, thank you for sharing it!

    1. There’s a 20 minute introductory video you can watch at the Crazy Horse Memorial and it sealed my admiration for Korczak immediately. I loved seeing real footage of interviews with him and all the photos with him and Standing Bear. So inspiring!

  9. Jess! This is just awesome! Your pictures are spectacular, and the historical trivia is quite intriguing! A visit to Mt. Rushmore is definitely on the bucket list – but I must ask, does the visitors’ center still look the same as it did in North by Northwest?

    1. No. I don’t think so. But that is my FAVORITE Hitchcock film and I did want to climb to the top and pretend I was Eva Marie Saint. My Hollywood crush is Cary Grant, so that adds to it! LOL

  10. OMG, Jess! I’m so jealous of your road trip. Those pictures are amazing.
    I also can’t see Mount Rushmore and not think about North By Northwest 🙂

    1. That’s it! I have to watch this movie again! But I have a feeling it is going to lead to an entire Hitchcock themed marathon!

  11. I love your photos, Jess! My family and I traveled through the Badlands and Mt Rushmore a few years ago, but we stood along the Badlands at sunset. Wow, what a dramatic landscape! Thanks for sharing.

    1. I can only imagine. That would be breathtaking! The layered sediments in the cliffs and the setting sun. Wow, indeed! You should post those photos!

  12. Love this! I do my travel vicariously through you and Karen Rought, LOL. I think your face would look lovely on a mountain. Maybe some sculptor will do NYT Bestsellers one day, and you’ll be there. 😉

    1. OMG! I would so visit that site whether I was on it or not! Too fun!

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