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.