"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china." Charles Dickens

October 25, 2011

Native Americans' Day–Day 4

The Black Hills of South Dakota live up to their name and we saw their full beauty on the fourth day which dawned clear, cold and sunny after the previous day of rain. On our way to the Crazy Horse Memorial, after a hearty breakfast, I suggested we go back to Mount Rushmore (a slight detour) and see it in the morning light. We weren't disappointed.

Between the gloom and the beginning affects of my feeling the altitude, our initial visit to Mount Rushmore was, well, not the bright spot I had expected. For you 1950s architecture and **North by Northwest movie buffs, there is a new visitor's center (although the original may have been copied in studio for the movie shoots). It works, it is beautifully executed but it was different. But what was jarring was that I missed my father in an unexpected way and got a bit, well, verklempt. We were retracing parts of his month-long trip with me in 1984. He always said that "Everyone should see Mount Rushmore before they die." [And along with that you could insert the Grand Canyon, Mount Rainier, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, etc.––I had been with him to some of those sites on our 1984 trip but not all.] So I got overwhelmed by a feeling of nostalgic longing for my father all over again: it has been almost nine years to the day that has passed [October 27, 2002]. It was also one of those moments in the years since his passing that I have felt him here with me. [Fortunately, I have a very loving and understanding husband and children!]

A movie still from North By Northwest.

So on the fourth day, thanks to a slight departure in the itinerary (always important to remain flexible!), we were able to see Mount Rushmore in the cool, bright early morning light. There is a particular view, that we discovered as we approached from the south side, where Washington's profile appears through a gap in the trees and rocks. At another spot, below the visitor's center on the road, we pulled over and a very kind couple from Ohio took our group photo. Of course we all had to be photographed in various ways in front of the backdrop: it's just what you do on vacation!

We arrived at the Crazy Horse Memorial by 10am in time for their special Native Americans' Day ceremony. South Dakota is the only state to officially recognize the second Monday in October––aka Columbus Day––as Native Americans' Day and we were lucky to have timed our trip to coincide with this celebration. They also said that there would be a blast on the sculpture following the ceremony, weather depending. [I took some photos of it, but it is so large a sculpture that the blast is hardly detectable at the base of it.]

Now for the purposes of scale, let me note that the small opening you see in the above photo–under Crazy Horse's outstretched arm–is ten stories tall, the size of a modest city building. The four presidents on Mount Rushmore would not only fit on the sculpture but be dwarfed. The Korczak Ziolkowski family has been working on this monument for the past fifty years and will be working on it at least fifty more. We told our boys that they will be able to bring their grandchildren here one day to see it finished. It was somewhat humbling to look at such a thing, like a great Egyptian sphinx magnified many times, and realize that we will not live to see its completion (well, unless we both make 99 and 106!).

The monument faces to the east and Crazy Horse said that "my lands are where my dead are buried," in 1877. To him, the Black Hills were his spiritual and physical home. Today there are many tribes in the region, including the Sioux. Several of the Lakota Sioux nation were represented at the ceremonies doing various dances and/or speaking. It was a moving experience as well as one that we don't have every day in our part of the world.

Eli insisted that we stop at this tourist spot so he could take a photo, or two.
I am so happy that our children share our warped senses of humor
and see the beauty in the little things, even if this woman reminded him of his mama!
This isn't logging: the Black Hills are victim to a specific kind of pine borer that is destroying its forests.
The Native Americans see this as a severe environmental, even spiritual, warning to all of us
as the Black Hills are sacred, holy lands to their culture and the birthplace of the Lakota Sioux nation.

You come back when you're ready!


**NOTE: Hooked on Houses is one of my favorite web sites of all time. Of course the author included a blog post on North by Northwest!


  1. Exactly the same day my Mom passed away. October is a rough month

  2. What a marvelous journey and it is so touching that you remembered your father as you took it.

  3. So glad you gave some scale for the Crazy Horse Memorial, as I could never have imagined the size. That is truly amazing!

    I would have thought that hillside had been clear-cut...very sad. Will have to read up on the pine borer.

    Love the "old lady on patrol"! HA


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