We're not typically early risers, but today we were up at 6:30 a.m. to help Gervais feed protein blocks to the neighbor's buffalo herd. We learned about life cycles, herd interactions, and the sheer stubbornness of an animal so large that thee adults have no natural predators. We tried to move them with a pickup truck, but they simply avoided the truck and returned to their placid grass-munching.
We wound through the Black Hills and grabbed an early lunch at the town of Custer. This state has an interesting relationship with George Armstrong Custer, the famed gold-hungry Indian-killer who got a taste of his own medicine at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Despite the newfound sensitivity to Native American concerns out here, Custer remains a highly revered man. Custer would normally be crowded with tourists, but on this cold spring day it was pleasantly empty.
We then drove north a few miles to the Crazy Horse memorial, the great monument that more than 60 years after its inception still appears to be barely started. In 1939, in response to Mount Rushmore, Lakota elders asked sculptor extraordinaire Korczak Ziolkowski to carve an image of the defiant chief Crazy Horse into the sacred mountains of the BlackHills. He designed what will, upon its completion, be the largest stone sculpture on earth, taller than the Washington Monument and larger than the pyramids of Giza. Most of the Mount Rushmore carvings would fit into Crazy Horse's head. The entire mountain is to be carved; upon completion, viewers will have no idea that the 500-foot monument was once a natural peak. At the moment, only the face is finished, but the effect is already dramatic.
Korczak died in 1982,but the work is being carried on by his family and others. The project is funded only by admissions and donations and progresses at a snail's pace by modern standards. The dream plan depicts a small city containing a Lakota health and education center funded by visitors to the monument.The visitor's center is filled with Lakota artwork and cultural
artifacts, but I could only find one Lakota man on site. It is
refreshing to see the native people honored in this way, but it still feels somewhat like a sellout to the American ideal of human dominance over the natural world. Crazy Horse himself would never have tried to remake the mountains; the Black Hills were sacred in their natural form. At the same time, I could not help thinking of the great statues of kings above the river in The Lord of the Rings. What legends will
future generations create when they find Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore among the ancient mountains?
Having finally had our fill of Korczak's unfinished dream, we drove up a steep one-lane road to the Harney Peak trailhead. The snow lay deep on soil, rock, and spruce alike, so we didn't try to hike to the summit of South Dakota's highest mountain. We did enjoy the winter viewscapes before easing back through the hairpin turns.
Unlike most tourists, we didn't come out here to see Mount Rushmore, a monument both to our greatest presidents and to the European conquest of the sacred mountains of the Lakota people. However, our return route took us right past the site, so we thought we'd take a look. The fates decided otherwise, however, as a dense fog descended, shrouding the monument from view.