Alaska 2008

Rapid City, SD

21 June 2008

General Information

Destination Map

Photographs and Commentary
Click on pictures to enlarge

Today turned out to be one of the nicest days we had so far on the trip (not that any have been bad). Our goal today was to go into the Black Hills, southwest of Rapid City (navigate through the Google map above for more information). The sky was clear and the morning temperature was around 70 degrees. In the Black Hills the temperature never rose above 76 degrees. When we returned to the campground in the afternoon, the temperature was in the mid to upper 80's.

Our first stop was Mount Rushmore. The monument was designed by Gutzon Borglum and construction began in 1927 and was not completed until 1941. Borglum's original plan was to have the presidents carved from the waist up. However, this never came to be as Borglum died before the work could be completed. So why were the four presidents selected? Washington represents the birth of the nation since he led the country through the revolutionary war and was our first president. Thomas Jefferson was selected to represent the expansion of the country. Jefferson more than doubled the size of the country when he purchased the Louisiana territory from France. Theodore Roosevelt represents development because he was a champion of conservation of the country's natural wonders. Because he saved the nation during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln represents preservation.

Next we drove to Custer State Park, a few miles south of Mount Rushmore. The route twists through the Black Hills and twist is an understatement. There are several "pigtail bridges" on the route where the road crosses over itself. Another interesting feature of the route are several single lane tunnels cut through the granite. The signs at the entrance of the tunnel advise drivers to honk their horns to warn other drivers. I keep wondering if they have the windows rolled up, the air conditioning and music on, will they be able to hear the warning. I wonder how many accidents they have in the tunnels. The only blessing is that most people drive very slowly on this route. Within Custer State Park there is a loop road called the Wildlife Loop which we drove hoping to see representatives of the many animals that make this place their home, The first animals we encountered were the wild burros that inhabit much of the park. These burros are descendents of animals used for rides in the park. They were turned loose when the burro rides were discontinued. They have thrived on their own and tend to come out and beg for food. We saw a few Pronghorn antelope and a number of buffalo. There are supposed to be over 1,500 buffalo roaming the park. In one of the pictures below you see one of the large male buffalo wallowing in the dust. After he rolled for a few moments, he got up and headed on to the road right to where we were parked. I didn't want to have to explain the buffalo dents on the truck to the insurance company and moved on, letting him have the right of way.

Our final destination was the Crazy Horse Monument. The project was conceived by Standing Bear, a Lakota Chief, who contacted Korczak Ziolkowski, a sculptor who won a prize for one of his sculptures in the 1939-40 New York World Fair. Ziolkowski began the work single handedly in 1949. He worked on it with his wife and children until his death in 1982. His wife and seven of their ten children are continuing the work. The pictures below show what was accomplished in the first 60 years of work. Based on that progress, one would think that they may have to work another 60 years to complete it. Ziolkowski's grandchildren will probably have to finish the project. When finished, the sculpture will dwarf Mount Rushmore (where Ziolkowski was an assistant to Borglum). The statue will be three dimensional, with a height of 563 feet. Crazy Horse's arm will be 263 feet in length and his head 87 1/2 feet high. All of this work is being done with private funds. Ziolkowski turned down ten million dollars in potential federal funds. He was a strong believer in private enterprise and wanted this to be project to be built through public donations.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore by Susie

Picture by Susie Hess
George Washington
Thomas Jefferson Theodore Roosevelt
Abraham Lincoln
Susie Sam

Custer State Park


One of the many single lane tunnels carved into the Black Hills on the route from Mount Rushmore to Custer State Park (Picture by Susie)

Pronghorn Antelope Pronghorn
Pronghorn antelope
Bison Bison wallow

Bison with bird

American Bison (commonly called Buffalo). Note the bird eating ticks off the back of this large male (picture by Susie)


One of the many wild burros in the park

Crazy Horse Monument

Crazy Horse Monument

The monument after 60 years of work

Crazy Horse Head

Crazy Horse Head

Horse head outline

Outline of where the horse's head will be

model and mountain

The monument model and mountain in background

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