Fresh out of Sturgis, we got settled into Rapid City South RV, aptly named for its location on the highway to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, our main attractions for the area. This is a 3 night stop for us, a chance to really recharge the batteries and do some touring. We’re still seeing profuse evidence of a very conservative population, up to and including whole stores devoted to Trump 2024 (yes, many of these folks seem convinced), heralded by billboards on the highway. It’s a notable observation, not because of the political sentiment, but that folks can apparently make a good living off of it. Who‘da thunk?
With 2 whole days to tour, we planned the first as a Mt. Rushmore to Crazy Horse round trip. We realize that there isn’t a lot to do at Mt. Rushmore other than staring in awe at the mountain, and then emptying your wallet in the gift shop (we didn’t). We had each been there before, at least 40 years or more earlier. And boy has it changed. I remember it being a single parking lot, very crowded, with limited parking for longer or larger rigs. And the Visitor Center was a single building affair with a large veranda at the back for viewing the sculpture. From the parking lot, to the veranda, ooing and awing, then a quick stop in the very small gift shop, back to the car was about a 20 to 30 minute deal. But the National Park Service budget has been very kind to them. There is now a 6 level parking structure, with elevators and ramps and a Disneyland-like crowd funneling system to get everyone to the front of a massive Visitor Complex that has at least 4 buildings, including an ice cream store, a restaurant, a gift shop, restrooms, and a Greeting Center. It’s still just the same few minutes to oooh and aww, but the hike from the parking to the viewing plaza, which is enormous, can take at least 15 minutes, if you don’t count the 15 minutes it takes to pay your automated kiosk parking pass.
Wendy remembers the thrill of the “first sight” as you drive into the monument on the windy mountain road.
And you can get some pretty nice views without even going into the “complex”.
Once in, and parked, and paid (the monument itself is free, parking is paid at $10 per car, $5 for seniors), you have to hike through the canyon of buildings, catching ever increasing glimpses of the faces as you progress through the “Sculptors Plaza”(Gutzon Borglum is the man) and the “Walk of Flags” where all of the states and territories of the USA are represented.
We knew it would be a quick stop, and we intentionally arrived a little before it opened at 8AM to give us plenty of time to get to Crazy Horse, where we were assured there was much more to do. We snapped the obligatory selfie and hit the road for a 25-minute drive to our next stop. On the way there, we found a very interesting view of George Washington from the highway.
Crazy Horse is a different deal. It has no affiliation with the federal government, the creators intentionally refusing federal funds as a way to stay clear of bureaucracy, intrusive oversight and regulation. As a result, the progress toward completion has taken many decades, and will likely take many more decades until it is done. We were both there the same 40 plus years ago, and although it has changed significantly (better parking lots, roads, and a museum/visitor center, some carving progress), it still gives off the same vibe that it used to. The aura of the place draws deeply on the Native American intention to honor their ancestors through the stone embodiment of Crazy Horse.
Just like Rushmore, you get an early tease before you arrive as the mountainous land gives way to a flatter valley.
We had been using our National Park Service Senior “Forever” Pass ($10 when we bought it 6 years ago, now $80) frequently to get into Glacier, Yellowstone, Custer, Devils Tower, etc. But we had to fork over $12 each to get into Crazy Horse. It really seems worth it. The story of the Lakota Tribe finding and hiring Korczak Ziolkowski, the polish sculptor who had assisted Borglum with Rushmore, and then negotiating the agreements and strategy for the development, is a powerful tale of the marriage of intent, desire, talent, and perseverance to achieve something deemed impossible to most. The result very adeptly captures and projects all that went into it onto the viewers.
For the best experience, we recommend the $4 one-hour bus ride to the base of the mountain. The raw power of the stone, and the effort required to tame it is easy to miss from a distance. And, as a bonus, our Lakota native driver, whose birth name translated to “Crying Boy” but he goes by his “white” name Gary, provided a non-stop diatribe about his family, his girlfriend’s family (a different tribe, not Lakota fans), Crazy Horse’s family, and his work history for the last 20 years. If you listened with a very open mind, you could cull quite a bit of Native American history and sentiment out of his narrative. We found it very entertaining and left him a nice tip. He had very authentic hair. He told us his favorite Lakota joke, giving us a sense of Native American humor. As a setup, the Lakota are considered, simultaneously, the low life of Native Americans, and the fiercest warriors. So, the joke goes as two old natives, a Crow and a Lakota, sit talking: Says the old Crow to the old Lakota, “We used to raid your villages and steal your women and your horses.” The old Lakota considers this for a while, and then responds “When we raided your villages we saw your women, and that’s why we only stole horses”. A little pee might have come out.
Next post: we reveal our Deadwood Day, and our bonus side trip, Wall Drug!
And here’s a tip from Tippy, a big Miles Davis fan.