Mt Rushmore National Memorial’s four stony-faced Presidents may be one of America’s most visited sites but just 25 minutes away at the Crazy Horse Monument, dynamite and dreams are providing some stiff competition.
To some Indians, it’s desecration visited on their beloved Black Hills. To others, it’s an ambitious, flamboyant display of hope and nation-building. To the original sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski who was commissioned by Chief Henry Standing Bear and other Lakota leaders, it’s a work in progress that nature will ultimately hone over millennia.
By chance, our visit coincides with an evening blast. Coach parties are being bussed in and the carpark is filling fast. Above us is the enigmatic face of Crazy Horse – enigmatic in part because there are no known images of him – and strangely disembodied as at this stage, just his head has been carved. When completed this will be the largest sculpted object in the world and will depict the fearless warrior on his horse, one arm extended over his beloved Black Hills.
Since Ziolkowski’s death in 1982, wife Ruth and seven of his ten children have led the self-funded project designed to not only represent the spirit of the Indian nation but provide technological, scientific and culture opportunities.
There’s plenty of occupy us before blast off. More than one million visitors flock to the welcome center each year where an excellent film on Ziolkowski tells the story of this big picture sculptor who originally worked as an assistant on Mt Rushmore. To realize his dream to build the monument to Crazy Horse, he lived in a tent for the first seven months carrying everything on his back up 741 steps to the mountain top.
“When the legend dies, the dreams end. When the dreams end, there is no more greatness,” said Ziolkowski. His Indian Museum of North America holds thousands of artifacts, artworks and a moving photographic gallery where black and white portraits of warriors who fought at the Battle of the Little Bighorn stare steadfastly out of picture frames.
Around 7.30, the setting sun warms the wooden veranda where an Oglala Lakota Indian is limbering up for a storytelling and dance performance. “We’re one of the three groups who took out Custer,” he quips, “big feathers in our hats”. It’s his job to educate while sharing history and culture with the non-Native public. “We all got different wrappers,” he comments wryly.
As Crazy Horse gazes resolutely above, fine arts and explosive engineering commence on an industrial scale. A laser show “Legends in Light” pierces a dark velvet sky before carefully calibrated blasts are fired, igniting the mountain to the whoops and cheers of everyone. Fire, light, legend and drama, this is story telling in stone that will be retold for generations to come.
Crazy Horse Memorial is open year-round and is on Crazy Horse Memorial Highway (US Highway 16/385) between Hill City and Custer. www.crazyhorsememorial.org
While you’re there….
Base Yourself in Rapid City and shop Prairie Edge Trading Co & Galleries’ sublime collection of Native American art, crafts, books and music.
Eco-savvy travelers stay in sustainable luxury at Adoba Eco Hotel, 445 Mount Rushmore Road, Rapid City and dine on organic, local produce at their superb Enigma Restaurant. www.enigmarestaurant.com www.adobahotelrapidcity.com
Visit one of America’s most intriguing landscapes, the Badlands which French explorers called ‘les mauvaises terres a traverser’, bad lands to travel across. Rising out of the grassy prairie, buttresses of stratified rock, cones and ridges resemble a tumultuous sea of rock breaking onto a grassy shore. A 100km loop road follows the Badlands Wall and there are plenty of photo opportunities along the way. At Door Trail, rock formations resemble an abandoned, crumbling city and a pathway leads into a broken landscape of cathedrals and ramparts that the Lakota called Paha ska (white hills). Renown photographer Edward Curtis’s 1905 black and white photograph of Lakota Indians in full regalia riding their ponies through the Badlands provides an evocative glimpse back in time. Humans have occupied these arid hills for more than 11,000 years and this is one park you can really get amongst it as kids clamber over fragile formations! It’s rattlesnake country so stick to the path and try to beat the tour groups to the viewing platforms to enjoy the spectacular views in peace!
For some real-life aging rock stars, check out the 24th annual Deadwood Jam in Deadwood, South Dakota on Sept 12/13.
For more visit www.travelsd.com