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!!!
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!