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Rapid City, Mount Rushmore and Custer SD, Cody and Yellowstone WY, USA – 17 September 2014


The distance from Rapid City to Yellowstone National Park is nearly 500 miles and we expected it to take over 8 hours. But it was going to be much further than this because we wanted to go south first which would add a few more hours and miles to our trip.

Today was our first very early morning because we had such a huge distance to cover. So we got up at 6.00! We’d checked the night before and were told that breakfast was from 6.00 so I went down with some of the bags at what I thought was 6.30, and was disappointed to find that the hot breakfast hadn’t yet been put out. The receptionist confirmed that it would be put out at 6.00 and I pointed out that it was already 6.30. ‘No’, she said, ‘it’s only 5.30’! We’d gained another hour! I decided to keep this news to myself so that the girls could continue to get ready as fast as they could! So when Suzi appeared at 5.50 am, I asked her if she’d like the good news or the very good news!

And so it was that we left our hotel as the sun rose! Now that was a first!

It was still a bit dark when we reached downtown Rapid City where we wanted to see the City of Presidents. These are a series of life-size bronze statues of the country’s past presidents along the city’s streets and sidewalks.

The City of Presidents project began in 2000 to honour the legacy of the American presidency. Each of the sculptures is privately funded and the pattern of placement was chosen to maintain a coherent structure and eliminate any sense of favouritism or political gain. The city of Presidents is part of the Rapid City Historic District Tour.

Suzi was taking photos out of the car window which was pretty clever but she did slip out to take this one of Benjamin Harrison 1833-1901, second President of the United States from 1889-1893.

He was sitting on a bench, feeding some birds.

Leaving Rapid City behind us, we set off for Mount Rushmore, passing through Keystone on the way. I haven’t checked but we did wonder if it was in a town such as this that the movie, Keystone Cops, was made.

We passed heaps of tourist attractions on the way but we decided to be single-minded and focus on the things we’d chosen in advance. Suzi was sad when we passed a sign to a dinosaur museum!

And then we saw it up on the hill above us, the gigantic sculptures created by the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum.

Mount Rushmore, the President’s Mountain, is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was the brainchild of Doane Robinson, known as the ‘Father of Mount Rushmore’. His goal was to create an attraction that would draw people from all over the country to his state. By 1933 the Mount Rushmore project became part of the National Park Service. Borglum didn’t like having the National Memorial Commission oversee the construction but he continued to work on the project until his death in 1941. After fourteen years, the monument was deemed complete and ready for dedication on 31 October 1941.

The four presidents carved in the mountain are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The presidents were selected on the basis of what each of them symbolized. George Washington represents the struggle for independence; Thomas Jefferson, the idea of government by the people; Abraham Lincoln, the idea of equality and the permanent union of the states; and Theodore Roosevelt, the 20th century role of the United States in world affairs.

Leaving Mount Rushmore, we made our way very slowly through the Black Hills National Forest Park because it was a very windy, and very beautiful road.

Then we entered the Custer State Park.

The views on all sides were stunning and this lake and the reflections were simply beautiful, with no wind to ripple the surface of the water.

Every now and then we came upon deer by the side of the road and tried hard to get them to look at the camera!

Until this one kindly obliged.

Before setting off for Yellowstone, we made one last stop to have a quick look at the Crazy Horse Memorial at Mount Rushmore National Park. Learning about its history was a moving experience.

We learned that, in an effort to honour the rich heritage and traditions of Native Americans, Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear set out to carve a mountain just south of Mount Rushmore. In 1948, the two men agreed that this monument would be carved without any federal funding. Korczak and a handful of others began blasting the mountain and removing the rock.

Ziolkowski died in 1982. Since his death, his wife, Ruth, with seven of their children, working with the Crazy Horse Memorial foundation Board of Directors, has directed the work which continues to see exciting progress being made with each passing year.

The face of Crazy Horse was dedicated in 1998 and today precision blasting is carving out the features of his horse. When completed, the mountain will be 563 feet high. The monument is unfinished at the moment and looks like this.

Ziolkowski was born in Boston of Polish descent. Orphaned at one, he grew up in foster homes. He was completely self-taught and never took a formal lesson in art, sculpture, architecture, or engineering.

Lakota Chief, Henry Standing Bear learned of the sculptor when his ‘Study of an Immortal’ won first prize, by popular vote, at the 1939 New York World Fair. ‘My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes also’, wrote Standing Bear when he invited Korczak to the Black Hills to carve Crazy Horse.

Korczak arrived in the Black Hills on 3 May 1947 to accept the invitation. When he started work on the mountain in 1948, he was almost 40 and had only $174 left to his name. Over the years he battled financial hardship, racial prejudice, injuries and advancing age. Despite this, the monument can be seen from miles away and is a huge testament to his work and dedication.

A strong believer in the free enterprise system, Korczak felt that Crazy Horse should be built by the interested public and not by the taxpayer. Twice he turned down offers of federal funding. He also knew that the project was larger than any one person’s lifetime and left detailed plans to be used with his scale models to continue the project.

When completed, the monument will look like this.

One might ask why the Indians chose Crazy Horse for the mountain carving. The following was written in May 1949 by the Sculptor.

‘Crazy Horse was born on Rapid Creek in the Black Hills of South Dakota in about 1842. While at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, under a flag of truce, he was stabbed in the back by an American soldier and died on 6 September 1977 aged about 35’.

Crazy Horse defended his people and their way of life in the only manner he knew – by fighting, but only after he saw the treaty of 1868 broken. This treaty, signed by the President of the United States said, in effect:

‘As long as rivers run and grass grows and trees bear leaves, Paha Sapa – the Black Hills of Dakota – will forever be the sacred land of the Sioux Indians’.

Crazy Horse defended his people:

Only after he saw his leader, Conquering Bear, exterminated by treachery.
Only after he saw the failure of the government agents to bring required treaty guarantees, such as meat, clothing, tents and necessities for existence, which they were to receive for having given up their lands and gone to live on the reservations.
Only after he saw his people’s lives and their way of life ravaged and destroyed.
Crazy Horse has never been known to have signed a treaty or touched the pen.

Crazy Horse, as far as the scale model is concerned, is to be carved, not so much as a lineal likeness, but more as a memorial to the spirit of Crazy Horse – to his people. With his left hand thrown out pointing in answer to the derisive question asked by a white man, ‘Where are your lands now’, he replied, ’My lands are where my dead lie buried‘.

Red Cloud of the Lakota said in 1891, ‘They made us many promises, more than I can remember. They never kept but one: They promised to take our land and they took it!’

Experiencing this left a lasting impression on us all.

With the parks behind us, we set off on the long journey to Cody where we wanted to see the Buffalo Bill Center [sic] of the West.

We knew we were cutting it very fine and it was disappointing when we were held up twice with road worroadworksoads are being maintained, long stretches go down to one lane and when the area being repaired is 8 miles long, the wait can be up to half an hour!

In the event, we made it to the Museum with only half an hour to spare before closing which was disappointing.

But we managed to pick up a bit of history. William Cody, 1846-1917 was an American scout, bison hunter and showman. He started working when he was 11 after his father’s death and became a rider for the Pony Express when he was 14. He served during the American Civil War and later became a scout to the US Army during the Indian Wars, receiving the Medal of Honor [sic] in 1872.

Cody was one of the most colourful figures of the American Old West. Buffalo Bill as he was called on stage started performing in shows that displayed cowboy themes and episodes from the frontier and Indian Wars. He founded his Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1893, taking his large company on tours throughout the United States and, beginning in 1887, in Britain and Europe. Although he made money on these trips, he invested in risky projects and was penniless when he died.

One of the exhibits in the Centre was this rather impressive grizzly bear. We’re hoping we’ll come across one in the wild on our travels.

And so we embarked on the final four hours of driving across Yellowstone from east to west.

We had a glorious drive through the Park in the setting sun, most of it, fortunately in daylight!

And, to our great delight, we saw several bison, this one grazing right beside the road.

It was dark when we reached our destination for the night, the 320 Guest Ranch, Big Sky, Montana, USA. This is on Highway 191, Mile Market, 36 Big Sky, MT, 59730, USA, +1 866 835 2352, and we highly recommend it. Individual ‘rooms’ are actually log cabins set apart from the main part of the hotel. They are warm, well laid out and very comfortable. The price for the night for the three of us was £103 and we were very glad that we’d booked for two nights.

Rapid City, Mount Rushmore and Custer SD, Cody and Yellowstone WY, USA – 17 September 2014

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