South Dakota - Badlands, Wall, Crazy Horse and

 Mount Rushmore

23rd - 25th June 2008

We left Nebraska and headed into the state of South Dakota at Pine Ridge.   We were bound for the Badlands National Park through the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.    

At Wounded Knee we turned off the scenic route shown on our road map to the Badlands, and went in search of the Monument to the infamous massacre of several hundred unarmed Sioux by the US Army in 1890.    Somehow we failed to spot the monument but drove through the village of Wounded Knee and got a glimpse of life on the Indian Reservation.    

The very informative White River Visitor Centre and its two friendly Lakota lady rangers gave us much more information about the history of the Sioux peoples.    We learned that the word Sioux was a collective word invented by the settlers for the various tribes of the regions, including Lakota and Dakota. 

We continued towards the Badlands becoming increasingly desperate in our search for fuel for Harvey.    Finally we tracked down the aptly named "Cowboy Corner", where their aging pumps were unable to keep up with the increase in petrol prices!

Arrival at the Badlands Park proved a little problematic.     We wanted to purchase the National Parks Annual Pass but the Entry Station's credit card machine was out of action, resulting in us being cleared out nearly all of our remaining cash to make our purchase.    

Sign of the times at Cowboy Corner!

Of course when we arrived at the campground, their machine was also out of order, so we needed cash to pay for the site.    Hmm.    Luckily by scraping together all our remaining change and searching under cushions on Harvey, we finally came up with enough money to pay $10 for the night!    Whilst the National Park Campsite was more like a parking lot than a campground, we had spectacular views from our spot.

Next morning we tackled a couple of short trails.   The first was a loop nature trail where we spotted a mule deer tucking into breakfast.      The next trail took us out into the Badlands themselves, where it was easy to imagine how trekkers regularly become disorientated and have to call on the cell phone for ranger assistance.    A Ranger told us that the biggest problem is working out which bit of rock the lost souls are looking at, so they can track them down.   Of course we had our handy GPS along, just in case.   The landscape was very surreal indeed. 

Another trail took us to see some of the many fossil remains located in the park.   Apparently fossils are still being spotted all the time by tourists, who then have to remember where they are to report the new finds to the Park Rangers.   

Mule Deer Breakfast

It sure is a big country - Harvey looking lost!

We drove along the Badlands loop road, feeling a little overwhelmed at the sense of space.     As we left the National Park we started to spot intriguing billboards, advertising all kinds of things from free iced water, 5 cent coffee to western gear and tacky souvenirs.    We were approaching the town of Wall and its famous Wall Drug emporium was making its presence known to all passing travellers, with billboards every few minutes.    Naturally we had to stop, along with all the other tourists, to see what the fuss was about.
The Hustead family bought the store in 1931 with Ted's inheritance.   They found that business was far from brisk in the small town located "in the middle of nowhere".   After five years of struggle, it was Dorothy's idea to advertise free iced water, to attract thirsty travellers from the busy highway nearby.   She began the roadside marketing campaign, which brought about the company's great success and transformation into the multi-faceted tourist emporium which exists today, still run by the family.    Wandering through this retail overload was hungry and thirsty work.  After viewing all sections of the store from pharmacy to western wear, tourist tat to art gallery, visiting with the selection of stuffed local wildlife, the performing T-rex and bucking bronco, it was time to enjoy the free iced water, 5 cent coffee and sample the not-so-cheap but tasty doughnuts. 

Phil washes down his doughnut with 5 cent Wall Drug coffee.

After this serious brush with retail therapy, we headed to Rapid City and tracked down Wal-mart, to stock Harvey up for a week in the Black Hills.    An hour later we were at the entrance to the Custer State Park in search of a campground.    We were told we were in luck, three spots were still available in the campground ten miles away.    We set off, wondering if they would still be there after we'd driven ten miles.     On the way we had a major wildlife fix, finding first a buffalo, peacefully grazing alongside the highway, causing a major traffic jam and then a flock of Bighorn sheep chewing the cud only about 20 feet from the road.     

We arrived at the campsite but found it wasn't to our liking, the sites were close together, the location wasn't particularly scenic and the facilities were somewhat lacking.    The Ranger had mentioned a commercial campground near the town of Custer where we would have to venture in order to empty Harvey's dump tanks, so we thought we'd check it out.    Despite it's unlikely name of Fort Welikit, the campsite proved to be far more scenic, convenient for the park and well equipped.   We settled in and sat down to plan our time in the Black Hills area.    On the way through the park to Custer we'd observed the natural beauty of the area and had decided to devote some time to exploring.   First however, we decided we'd better tick off the "big giant heads", we'd told everyone we were coming to South Dakota to see, Mount Rushmore National Monument and the Crazy Horse Monument.

We ignored the recommendation in our Rough Guide to visit Rushmore first and then Crazy Horse and later regretted this decision when the scale of the Mount Rushmore monument was somewhat overshadowed by the immensity of the Crazy Horse Monument we'd already visited.    However, it had to be said that both monuments were breath-taking.

Bronze miniature statue of the Crazy Horse Monument and the work-in-progress carved in the mountain behind.

(If you look very closely below the horse's eye drawn on the mountainside, the enormous yellow excavator shows the scale of the project!)

Progress of the monument since the start of work in 1948

The monument was begun in response to the Mount Rushmore monument, when Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear invited sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to design something fitting.   His fellow chiefs and he had decided that they "would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes too".     Korczak began work in 1949 at the age of almost 40, with only $174 to his name.    He believed the project should be built by the interested public, not the taxpayer and it was funded primarily by the admission fees charged, twice he turned down millions of dollars of federal funding.    The admission fee was well worth paying as there was an impressive museum of Indian heritage and artifacts as well as a craft centre with artisans from different tribes at work.   Despite the sculptor's death in 1982, the work is continued by family members.

We timed our visit right as tribal dancing was being filmed right in front of the monument.

Between visits to "big giant head" monuments, we made a stop for lunch at beautiful Sylvan lake in the Custer State Park.     Whilst there we spotted a likely location for our own "big giant head" monument!

Not sure that rock is big enough!

Beautiful Sylvan Lake

Lunch break was over and we were en route to the next monument, which was certainly well visited.    Portraits of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln were carved high in the side of Mount Rushmore by sculptor Gutzon Borglum as a memorial to the nation's history.   The images are said to represent the birth, growth, development and preservation of the country.   We were a little disappointed that part of the trail was closed during our visit, as Rangers were busy hoisting fireworks to the top of the monument in preparation for the up-coming July 4th celebrations (curiously being held on July 3rd) but that feat in itself was interesting to watch.

With all the tourist "must-sees" done in one day, we returned to our campground, tired but happy, ready to enjoy some of the regions natural beauty for a few days....
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