Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Amazing Monuments of the Black Hills

Monday, August 1 - Wednesday, August 3, 2016
Rapid City, South Dakota

We park a third car in front of the motorhome on Monday evening. Piper's brake-assist and tow-bar install isn't done when we get out of the movie theater so we drive the loaner car home. 

Star Trek Beyond is very good - lots of action and lots of fun. It definitely needs to be seen in a more modern theater though - so much of the battle scenes are too dark to see everything. Still, a good way to spend a couple hours on a hot summer day.

Tuesday is a long and exhausting day - from the very beginning. 

The winds are at 35 mph for the morning drive into Gillette. Cross winds. Nasty gusts.

And after hooking Piper up, we get to do it again! We backtrack the 30 miles, and then another 170 miles of the same, with a short break with lower wind speeds between Sundance and Spearfish.

The big Sturgis, SD, motorcyle run starts next week, and we are already sharing the road with numerous bikes. The highway is dotted with dozens of RV parks - I've never seen so many in an area.

Construction at every bridge, a stop to check the tire the TPMS tells us is hot, and more construction in Rapid City adds even more excitement!

I'm very glad to pull into Happy Holidays Campground and be done with this trip! 

We're escorted to our site which shares a covered picnic area - two tables but very "snug". Gravel site is level with FHUs, 50 amp. Our satellite connects, and we have shade from tall trees. There are two large shower houses, basketball court, pool, laundry, cabins and small store. It's about 2/3 full.

Dinner at Stonewalls is the best we've had in a long time - I highly recommend it when you're in the area.

Because we extended our stay in Gillette, and have several reservations further east, we only have one day here. Clearly, not even close to enough for all there is to see and do.

Wednesday we head out early - today is going to hit triple digits.

The drive to Mt Rushmore is a testimony to the tourist-lure of the area. In 12 miles we pass a dinosaur museum, a presidents museum built to "look like" Independence Hall, a maze, 3 mini-golf courses, a Christmas emporium, a "mysterious" area, Bear Country, and at least 6 other places promising wonderful family fun. The town of Keystone is a street of all tourist-trap stores. It is an affront on the senses!

Fortunately, after we pass the giant KOA, the natural beauty of the Black Hills takes over. Soon we're in line to enter the national monument with a dozen other vehicles. A concession gets $11 for us to park in a nice covered lot.

Like Bear Lodge, that first glimpse of the faces on the mountain is amazing. It's such an American icon, we're excited to be here!

The first sighting
10 am mid-week summer crowd
Close up from the viewing patio - love Roosevelt's glasses
Green space around the monument softens all the gray stone
From all the state flags
we find our home state of California
Like the parking, the gift store and eateries are all concessions. The small information center store is the only place here where funds go to the national parks. I'm not a fan.

George's profile from Hwy 16 - can you imagine if you didn't know the monument was there.....
We continue on Hwy 16 to Crazy Horse Memorial which I'm even more excited to see. We learn a lot of interesting, and fun, information about this inspiring 67-year-long effort to complete a monument, a cultural center, and a university. There is no government funding, and in 2004 the Ziolkowski family felt they were less than 50% complete. 

Mt Rushmore would fit in the space that is Crazy Horse's head
1/34th scale model of the monument - Crazy Horse pointing to his home - "My lands are where my dead lie buried."
Work has moved to the hand
The face was unveiled in 1994
We watch the film on the history of the memorial - how Ziolkowski was chosen to make the largest stone sculpture on the planet, and how his family continues the commitment he made to Chief Standing Bear and the Lakota people.

After learning the history of the Black Hills while we were at Little Big Horn, and seeing the area ourselves, it is not hard to understand why this location was chosen for this undertaking.

The cultural center has an outstanding collection (actually filled with numerous donations from private collections) of framed art, sculptures and artifacts. 

Large oil painting of Ziolkowski
Black Elk's Dream is painted on a full-size tipi
Hand-painted drum
Bronze and textile art
Chief Standing Bear's original letter to Ziolkowski, nine years before the dedication of the site, and the beginning of the work
A poignant painting
There are a handful of vendors in the center. I have no plan to purchase anything, but I stop to look.

I'm so glad I did!

My very dear friend Greg's uncle, Ed McGaa, is an Ogalala Sioux author. I have read his best-selling Mother Earth Spirituality more than once. He is one of the vendors :-)

Uncle Ed telling stories 
Once the crowd lightens a bit I introduce myself and explain my friendship with his nephew. We have a lovely talk, and ten minutes later he's inviting us to park the RV at his place next time we're in the area. Sweet.

I purchase his book on Crazy Horse and Red Cloud and head out. What a great experience to meet this man in person.

Beautiful metal Nature Gates
From a different angle
One of the funny stories Ziolkowski tells in the film is about the old generator he used for the initial jack-hammer carving. Over 700 ladder steps above the generator took him to his work area. He would get half way up, sometimes all the way up, and he would hear "kaput, kaput, kaput" as the generator died below. Back down, then back up, one day nine times! He laughs as he tells the story, we laugh as well. But it likely wasn't as funny at the time.

The original Buda generator that began the work 67 years ago
After lunch at the large restaurant (the bison stew is wonderful), we return home. Everywhere we drive is stunning forest. 

I make a much-needed grocery run and we stay home for the evening.

Another long driving day on Thursday - no wind in the forecast!!

We will return to the Black Hills for a longer visit


  1. Dolly and I spent several weeks in the Badlands and Black Hills in our original Miss Adventure 20 foot trailer a number of years ago. Beautiful country. Even saw Devil's Tower. We hope to get back again before our travels come to an end. Your photos bring back memories. Be sure to get one of a prairie dog.

    1. Prairie Dog in the last post :-))) It's a beautiful area to spend a good amount of time!

  2. Being in the Black Hills around the time of Sturgis is crazy, is it not?! We could not believe the masses of motorcycles everywhere for weeks before and after the rally.

    Yes, this area deserves an extended stay!

    1. I wish I had taken a photo of the bikes in Keystone - both sides of the street for the whole town! Coming from the east there were soooo many trailers with bikes too.

  3. We sure enjoyed our time in the Black Hills...and were also especially impressed with Crazy Horse.

  4. I really enjoy your blog. I found you thru RVSueandcrew's blog and an so glad I did. I have Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills on my bucket list. I want to come even more now.

    1. Glad to have you aboard :-) You will love the area - be sure you plan to spend at least a week. There are dozens of RV parks and some boondocking in the national forest.

  5. There is so much to see and enjoy at Crazy Horse. We've been there three times and see something new every time. I can't imagine what Ziolkowski went through with that generator. Good he could look back and laugh:) Our friends shared, on our latest visit, that those beautiful gates were Ziolkowski's last work before he died. He was an amazing sculpture, as is his daughter that runs the foundation now. We so enjoy visiting:) Sounds like you are heading in the correct direction finally:) I must say that we were very glad to lose the winds. Safe travels as you come our way:)

    1. The gates are so pretty!! Didn't know about the daughter - how cool that she followed in his shoes. The family is pretty amazing. More wind today, will be very glad to be rid of it again :-)

  6. I must say all of the tourist stuff surrounding Mt. Rushmore sounds pretty tacky. :-( But we really want to visit the monument to Crazy Horse—and the cultural center there looks wonderful. The "kaput" story is so funny! How lovely that you met up with Uncle Ed! Fortuitous indeed.

    1. There are several campgrounds closer to the monuments which I recommend using - so you don't have to drive by all the silliness more than once! You'll love the cultural center :-)

  7. We happened into the Black Hills the week before Sturgis and vowed never ever again. If you come to Florida check the dates if Daytona bike week and avoid everywhere within about 90 miles. I'm not happy with alterations of any kind to the majestic Black Hills and doubt those admirable men were arrogant enough to be happy they are up there in stone but since they are, Crazy Horse deserves to be there too. The family's dedication to this monumental project is truly inspiring. Glad you are out of the winds.

    1. It is sad they couldn't have found another mountain to carve the presidents - given the history of the beautiful area. Perhaps somewhere any of them had ever been..... Crazy Horse however does make me feel better :-) We saw another few hundred bikes over the last two days driving - I cannot imagine being near Sturgis when all 500,000 are there this week!! Will avoid Daytona for sure.

  8. We happened into the Black Hills the week before Sturgis and vowed never ever again. If you come to Florida check the dates if Daytona bike week and avoid everywhere within about 90 miles. I'm not happy with alterations of any kind to the majestic Black Hills and doubt those admirable men were arrogant enough to be happy they are up there in stone but since they are, Crazy Horse deserves to be there too. The family's dedication to this monumental project is truly inspiring. Glad you are out of the winds.

  9. I think every traveler has to stop in South Dakota for a good picture. It's also a area to spend some time in during the summer. The weather usually is perfect. Well, at least it's not hot.

    1. True, I did feel "obligated" - but glad we did it! They said it was much hotter than usual so our timing wasn't great.

  10. Mt Rushmore was my first national monument, back when I was a little guy in the early 60's. Diana and I have been there twice. Always a great experience, even with the crowds....of which we were a part of. :)

    1. :-))) yes, we do contribute to the numbers! I can't believe I didn't see it until I was 60!!