Leg 2: Drive across South Dakota, Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse

The Highlights:

On Monday we are up at 9 AM and packing to hit the road, when Murr throws out her back (OUCH)! She’s a trooper and we still make it out of camp at exactly 10:55 AM and we’re on the road for Mt. Rushmore. Murr is horizontal in the passenger seat, so I’m designated driver for the next 6 hours.

Route 90 in Eastern South Dakota doesn’t offer much, so we blast through as quickly as we can. I’ve planned a stop midway through the state at Chamberlain so we can stop at Dignity: of Earth and Sky. A 50 ft tall statue of a Native American woman in plains-style dress drawn from Lakota and Dakota culture, Dignity was erected in 2016 to commemorate South Dakota’s 125th anniversary of statehood. It’s way cool, especially the star quilt billowing behind her. She stands in front of the Missouri River, which cuts through South Dakota. Murray braves walking for a photoshoot. I imagine Dignity looks awesome lit up from the back at night – but I won’t get to see that on this trip.

Dignity: of Earth and Sky
Murr and Dignity
The Star Quilt

Back in the car and we still have three hours until we get to Keystone. The scenery improves – substantially. We are entering the Badlands — our vista is filled with rolling hills and granite crags. The winds are crazy! You can see the tractor trailers sway as we round gentle corners, and I count three accidents: One where the wind literally blew the 5th-wheel (aka, camper) off a truck, one Winnebago blown across the median, and an entire semi-truck (cab and trailer) pushed onto its side! Plus it eats into our fuel – we get a whole 10.1 mpg!

Tuesday and Wednesday are all about Mt Rushmore – from a helicopter (Tuesday) and then up-close-and-personal (Wednesday). It’s impressive and well worth the trip. And Murr and I both get our Mt Rushmore NPS Passport Stamps and Cancellations! YEAH. And yes, we are both twelve year-old geeks are heart!

The Black Hills
Western View of Mt Rushmore
Mt Rushmore from the Visitor’s Center
My First NPS Passport Stamps of this trip!

But the surprise event is a cloudy day at Crazy Horse Memorial. While it wasn’t on the original itinerary, as we posted about our trip we got many recommendations to visit, and thus we owe all our followers a big thanks!

Requisite Selfie at Crazy Horse

The Crazy Horse Memorial was the vision and dream of Chief Henry Standing Bear and the husband-wife team of Korczak and Ruth Ziolkowski. It’s truly moving – and I can’t do it much justice here, but I’ll give some basics:

Standing Bear wanted a memorial in the Black Hills to his cousin Crazy Horse. He reached out to Korczak Ziolkowski, a renowned sculptor and an original worker on Mt. Rushmore. Korczak agreed to move from his studio in New England to South Dakota in 1947, after enlisting in the Army for WWII. He and his wife Ruth spent the early years working on the land around the giant granite crag that would eventually become Crazy Horse. They built a home for themselves (and their eventual 5 girls and 5 boys) and a visitor center. The first dynamite blast for the monument was June 1948. Today the face of Crazy Horse is complete and the next phase of the mountain (5-10 years) includes his hand and forearm. Murray and I concede we may not live to see the full monument be done.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Standing Bear, Korczak and Ruth had a vision that was greater than just the world’s largest mountain carving, however. They wanted to preserve and protect the culture, tradition and living heritage of Native Americans. Standing Bear was educated in Chicago (yeah) and believed that the war to preserve Native American culture would be with words and ideas, not weapons. He envisioned a museum to store artifacts and educate on Native American history and culture; and an exhibition and performance center (where Murr and I take in some very awesome Dakota Hoop Dancing).

Tradition – Acrylic on Velvet from the Native American Museum at Crazy Horse Memorial
Murr Hoop Dancing With Kevin

What moved me most, however, was the vision and dedication that Standing Bear, Korczak and Ruth had to education. The mission is to establish an Indian University and potentially a medical training center. The University started small, first by giving $250 scholarship in 1978. The program grew, and in 2010 The Indian University of North America opened with the 7th GEN Summer Program. It is a summer residential program which provides students with 12 academic credits that transfer to a college of their course, work experience through internships, and professional development training such as public speaking.

In 2020 The University started the Wizipan Fall Leadership Program, a partnership with South Dakota State University that provides students 15 credit hours in resource management, global food systems, leadership and Native American studies. The program is open to Native American students throughout the United States and 100% of tuition, room and board is provided. Over the past eleven years, nearly 300 students from 20 Indian Nations and 20 States have graduate from The Indian University of North America. The 2021 session opens in September and enrollees will be fully funded by donations and support from the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation.

Crazy Horse: The vision and Now

I think I found my next contribution — and if you’re interested in donating too, click here.


Leg One – Chicago to Sioux Falls

The highlights:

  • 567 miles
  • 10 hours of driving
  • 3 tanks of gas
  • 4 States (Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota)
Teapot At Valley View before we leave for Chicago

Murr and I have cocktails on my deck the night before we leave, and that is a bad idea. I’m slow and just a bit hungover in the morning, but nonetheless we are up at 7 AM. After packing and doing a final walk through of the house, we are on the road at 9 AM. Thus our Epic Trip has begun! It takes two hours to drive out of Chicago towing #TeapottheTeardrop (Murr’s name for her camper, and incidentally one of the hashtags you can use to follow our trip on Instagram. You can also follow on Twitter (@GarthAFowler1, #GarthandMurrEpicTrip2021), Instagram  (@GarthAFowler) and Facebook (Garth A Fowler)). Then it is the long flat roads of Wisconsin and Minnesota until we cross over into South Dakota and find our spot at Sioux Falls KOA.

For those of you not in the know (like I was), Sioux Falls is a great little city (pop 195K). Day one we lounge around the campsite a bit and just before 1 PM we drive into Falls Park. Murr buys a bag of nuts at the local farmers market, and then we head over to the Falls Visitor center. There we met Josh and his canine companion, Echo. He’s on the tail-end of his own Epic trip, 2.5 months in a camper truck departing from Green Bay, WI and then hitting up the Smokey Mountains, New Orleans, multiple parks in the Southwest, up into Glacier, Yellowstone and now in Sioux Falls visiting family. He’s just released an album (Recluse and the Journey). A long day of posing for photos in the sun makes us tired and by 7 PM we are in the camper watching a movie and out early.

Murr Makes a Friend
Up Close and Personal with the Falls

On Sunday we drive through downtown Sioux Falls and Murr does some shopping for hats. Then we find a very cool art store (Sticks and Steel). Located in an old train depot, it is nestled in Sioux Falls’ Brewery Row, so afterwards we grab some nosh and beers at Remedy Brewery. Afternoon beers make one (me?) drowsy, so a little nap back at the KOA and we start our packing process by taking down the tent of Teapot. After sunset we hit the Arc of Dreams, a very cool sculpture in downtown Sioux Falls that spans the Sioux River. It’s next to Monk’s Alehouse, a craft beer bar where I find an St. Bernardus Abt 12 for a mere $6! Murr has a glass of wine. Eventually, it is 11 PM and needing to finish packing and checkout by 11 AM on Monday, we call it an end to the day — and our stay in Sioux Falls!

Sioux Falls get top points, and Murr and I seriously discuss coming back sometime in the late fall, or even the winter as I imagine it would be great to visit when it is a bit cooler and snow on the ground.

Remedy Brewery and the Arc of Dreams

Sarongs and Ninja Turtles Cakes

I’m part of tomorrow’s Do Not Submit online story telling event and I’ve been looking through old journal entries to find a good story. I came across this journal entry about a party my friend Julie and I attended when I lived in Seattle. The event started out with us getting free passes to see one of Heath Ledger’s first major films (trust me, it really isn’t worth mentioning) and then heading to a fashion show/Wednesday night gathering of the Seattle artsy crowd. I worked it down to a short story, but have decided to NOT tell it tomorrow. So I decided to post it here! Enjoy!

On a random Wednesday night, Julie and I find ourselves at a local fashion show and party held in an art gallery on Capitol Hill. The space was a true artist’s venue – eclectic, kitchy, full of somewhat purposefully unconventional (and uncomfortable) clothing.  Neither Julie nor I feel the need to own clothes that look like costumes from a “Fraggle Rock – LIVE” production, so we linger in the kitchen drinking beer from red SOLO glasses. We flit back and forth from the keg to the random people Julie either knows from hanging around the art-scene or just met for the first time that night. Everyone in some way fell somewhere just left of normal, but nonetheless were fun and usually had some most entertaining story to share.

Nick, for example, was wearing a busy-printed sarong and a simple gray t-shirt. Jules and I plowed into him as we were escaping from the kitchen with the last box of Little Debbie Strawberry Shortcakes. While filling our cups from the keg, I rummaged through the pantries of the shared kitchen and came across the box. I suggested we make off with the goods. To make amends, we offered to share our bounty with him.

“Dude,” he exclaimed while mawing through a Strawberry Shortcake, “when I was learning how to weld, I was taking classes down by the Hostess Reject store. And every day I use to go buy a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Cake” for twenty-five cents.”

Now there is an image for you – a sarong clad man with welding helmet and flaming torch, walking into the Hostess Reject Bakery to buy sponge cakes with plastic green frosting and stuffed with nuclear green filling. How did I not cough up my strawberry flavored cupcake?

And can we talk a minute about the fact that there is a Hostess REJECT store? And that our blow-torch wielding friend frequented it? What on Earth can be wrong with a Hostess cake? I mean, the things have a shelf life of years – literally.

When I was working at the Smithsonian one of my colleagues introduced me to the “T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S Site”.  It chronicled the adventures of two Rice University college students who had taken it upon themselves to subject Twinkies to all the scheming and devising that their electrical-engineering degree-earning minds could come up with, like being pulsed in a blender or microwaved. I distinctly remember that a store bought Twinkie – one that had somehow passed the-oh-so-rigorous quality inspections that Nick’s Mutant Ninja Turtle Cakes had not – survived a four story drop with nary a crack in its moist, spongy shell. Since Twinkies come in pairs, the brave second was the controI. I wonder how had the Ninja Turtle Cakes failed the ignominious Hostess Inspectors? Maybe it had not the correct fluorescent, nuclear green glow? Or the fluffy, creamy center had liquefied after only a mere 40 seconds in the microwave? And Nick dared to eat these.

“One day,” his story continued, “for my birthday I bought, like, 20 boxes of these things and then I went home and arranged them on a platter in this pyramid structure.” His eyes glazed over and I could tell that our innocent Little Debbie had somehow transported him to somewhere I, a Ninja Turtle Cake deprived Midwesterner, would thankfully never go. “All my friends came over and we ate them all,” he said. “It made me sick. They were so gross.”

Then he abruptly returned from whatever cream-filled nirvana he had been in and walked over to a lanky boy clad in a Speed Racer t-shirt and began talking to him, leaving me only to think to myself, “How could you be surprised that you got sick?”