Monday, June 29, 2015

The Black Hills

After days of driving across the flat featureless corn fields and prairie the Black Hills were a welcome sight! Almost as soon as we were back on I90 in Wall I could see the mountains in the distance! As I drove they got closer and closer and finally I was off the interstate and driving right into the heart of the mountains! The familiar landscape with hills and curves and trees and rocks was refreshing like ice water on hot summers day! The Black Hills are sacred to the Native Americans and instantly I understood why. Driving up to our campground was sweet relief from the days of nothingness!

After we got settled at the Oreville Campground (National Forest Service), my dad made a at least temporarily successful attempt at making my fridge work on propane and we'd had lunch we set out to explore.

Our first stop was Crazy Horse Memorial. Crazy Horse was a Great Chief who was killed by a white soldier unprovoked, during a time of what they thought was peace. The memorial is still unfinished - they have been working on it since the 1940's and only have a fraction of it completed. It's going to be huge when it's finished. The statue is the Native American's answer to Mt. Rushmore, and since this statue is so much bigger and grander, it kind of seems like the Native Americans are sticking their tongue out at the white man! I enjoyed visiting here and learning about the Native Americans and seeing the work being done on the statue!

Next we were heading to Mt. Rushmore, but we took the scenic route through Custer State Park. The park has it all, tall mountain peaks, streams, buffalo, prairie dogs, open spaces! We stopped at two overlooks to take in the view. You don't have to get up too high to see beyond the mountains to the flat plains. We were at the top of Mt. Coolidge and there was a big thunderstorm nearby, the thunder was reverberating off the mountains and the lighting was dramatic! As we drove the rest of the wildlife loop the storm lingered, but it never rained, so it just added to the atmosphere! We saw a few prairie dogs, a huge herd of buffalo and some deer! The park looks a lot like Yosemite with all the granite and evergreens and also Yellowstone with with wide open spaces and buffalo!

It was a longer drive around Custer State Park than we anticipated, but soon we were on Iron Mountain Road headed for Mt. Rushmore. Iron Mountain road is very narrow and twisty with several low rock tunnels. Through some of the tunnels you get your first views of the sculpture, however the sun was in the worst possible place and the faces were all washed out.

Mt. Rushmore itself reminds me of the National Mall in DC. And, everything that is there would be more appropriate in Washington rather that out here. The viewing area of the sculpture is a grand marble walkway lined with flags from every state, when you finally get up to it there is a huge amphitheater where they put on a nightly light show. Everything there is designed to accommodate huge crowds, there are multi level parking structures, large restrooms with flush toilets, warnings about firearms, - a stark contrast to Custer State Park with its limited development and outhouse facilities. The whole place screams "look at us white people we are the best and we know it." I didn't like it one bit.

I know there are two sides to every story and I'm trying to figure out what the justification was for building Mt. Rushmore in the first place. I know that Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt were great leaders and they did great stuff for our country, and they deserve to memorialized in a grand fashion, but why this? Why here? This land was scared to the Native People, it's holy and revered, and we came in and not only took it from them, but defaced it, scarred it, and then millions of people flock here every year to look at the great statue. It just seems all kinds of wrong. Because of its location, Mt. Rushmore seems to me to be of a symbol of a lack of respect and understanding for other cultures. It highlights for me, not the greatness of the Presidents, but one of our biggest mistakes. I'm not sure what we can do about it, how to apologize or beging to make it better.

After Mt. Rushmore it was time for dinner. We drove into nearby Keystone and discovered a great little Indian and Nepali resteraunt! The samosas and curries were awesome! Then we headed back to the campground, our plans to stop for groceries scrapped because it got too late!


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