Pics for the day
Stayed at the Holiday Inn Express
in Custer, SD. The second (and last) time I stayed at the same hotel for two nights on the trip.
What I never understood was why they were called Holiday Inn Express
. The idea of an "express" hotel just makes me think you need to sleep fast or something. Even if you set that joking aside, it just makes the hotel sound cheap and stripped-down, like the "express" versions of fast food restaurants you find in food courts. Don't know what they were thinking when they chose that brand name. But it turns out to be a very well-appointed hotel. Luxurious decor, very nice breakfast, comfortable rooms. There's even a beautiful waterfall out back (behind the big plate glass windows in the lobby/breakfast area):
Oh, and a nice little sitting area behind the elevator with comfortable chairs and a lovely view of... the vending machines:
The hotel also happens to be directly across the street from Flintstones Bedrock City
amusement park and campground. (Large picture here
.) All the buildings are done in the style of the cartoon. It was kind of cool to look at, though I wasn't overly tempted to explore further.
My first stop for the day was the Crazy Horse Memorial
. It's a 100-year project to carve a sculpture in honor of Sioux chief Crazy Horse out of a mountain in the Black Hills, which were long sacred to the tribe. (The fact that the sculpture is a mere 10 miles or so from Mount Rushmore is, of course, a complete coincidence.) The sculpture is huge. All four faces of Rushmore would fit in just the head, and the plan is to carve out a full torso and the corresponding portion of a horse, too.
The sculptor doing the work (at the behest of the Sioux tribe) was an assistant on Rushmore. His parents were Polish immigrants, but he was orphaned at a young age and raised by an Irish ex-prizefighter in Boston until he left at the age of 16. He married a woman named Ruth, and I'm wondering if, perhaps, he was Jewish (by birth, at least). They had 10 kids - 5 boys and 5 girls. He died in the 80s, but his kids (8 of the 10, anyway) continue the work. It's the project of their lives, as it was for their father.
The whole thing is privately funded. He started off working by himself on a shoestring budget, but as the project has picked up fame, donors have come in. And tourists (like me). They've got a whole museum now with an extensive gift shop (the inventory coming largely from donated goods, most made by local native tribes). They've been offered government money more than once. Large federal grants. But the sculptor insisted on turning it down. He didn't want to be beholden to anyone but the people, didn't want the project to belong to anyone but the tribe.
The face is done, and the area above the outstretched arm has been blasted clear. Millions of tons of granite have been removed, but there is considerable work left. Decades' worth. You can see here the scale model of the finished product, as well as a better view of what's done so far. The visitor's center is a mile away from the mountain, and if you look closely at the second picture you can see a large steamshovel on top of what will be the arm.
There are a few more pictures in today's batch, including some informational signs and a picture of the old compressor he used back at the beginning (after a year or two). It's amazing, and touring the visitor's center was a real learning experience. About the mountain, the tribe, local history...
On the one hand, you've got the copycat angle. Rushmore draws so many visitors, is so well known. And here they've decided to not only carve their own mountain right nearby, but do it way bigger, too. I mean, really.
On the other hand, it's a grand work. And they certainly deserve the recognition. The tribes themselves as well as the rich, bloody, tragic history.
In truth, I got so much more out of visiting Crazy Horse than I did Rushmore, and I wouldn't be surprised if, 50 or 100 years from now, it became the bigger attraction - figuratively as well as literally.
Oh, quick in-joke I have to share. A sign on the road up to the Crazy Horse visitor's center:
Cows ensue. ;)
Oh, another animal mention... You'd think daily mountain carving and frequent explosions would scare the local wildlife, but it seems that a herd of mountain goats took a liking to the stairs carved out by the Crazy Horse sculptors. They took up residence on the mountain, making use of the stairs, early on in the process, and they've grown entirely accustomed to the explosive goings-on. They just live on the mountainside, paying little attention to the tons of rock being blasted away nearby. The carving has been going on for over 60 years. Who knows how many generations of goats have grown up with it. Kinda cool, really.
Anyway, from there I made my way around the corner to Rushmore:
No, wait. Sorry. That's just the Coke machine in the parking deck.
Hmm. No. Not quite it, either. But at least I got my face up there with them.
Ah, there we go.
Except that that's not how it was supposed to look. The sculptors had to make some changes along the way. Jefferson was supposed to be on the left of Washington, but that area of mountain proved too unstable. There were many other revisions along the way, too. And even once they got the faces in the right place and started to work on the rest of the plan... they encountered a vein of loose shale running across the middle of the part of the mountain they'd intended to carve. So the final carving ended up a little short of the master plan:
Still, it's an amazing feat. To carve out the mountain, they used dynamite to blast away huge chunks of rock. With care, precision, and experience, they managed to place the explosives in such a way as to get within inches of the final curves. From there, jackhammers were used (with various heads for the final stages). All this was done by workmen who were lowered off the top of the mountain in harness chairs. And yet not a single life was lost during the entire process.
There are four presidents on Rushmore. Washington, to symbolize the founding of the country and the struggle for independence. Jefferson, to symbolize the expansion of the country. Lincoln, to symbolize the union of the country and the equality of its citizens. And Roosevelt, to symbolize the (then) modern role of the country and our place in world affairs.
At that point, it was lunchtime. I headed over to the Pioneer Lodge in the little town of Keystone. Looking at their menu, I noticed elk burgers. I felt a little bad about it, but also rather curious. With apologies to Bambi's distant relatives, I gave it a try. It tasted... pretty much like any other hamburger. Ah well.
From there, it was off to the Museum of Geology
at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Dinosaurs and fossils and minerals (oh my!). It wasn't exactly the Museum of Natural History in NYC, but it was still well worth exploring.
While I was there, I asked the people behind the counter if they could help me find a certain ancient artifact. Something called a... uhm... oh yeah. "Phone book." That earned me a brief smile. And it turns out that they actually did have such a thing. I knew if one was to be found, it'd be in the museum with the fossils. Flipped through and got the numbers to several local radio stations.
You see, I'd realized that I was in the Black Mountain Hills of Dakota, a place I'd heard of in song but had never expected to visit. I'd only had a vague idea of what they were (mountains somewhere in the Dakotas, obviously). But, being there, I just had to hear that old song again. The one we used to sing on family bike trips when I was a kid. The one I used to make my first solo L&C vid. Rocky Raccoon, by The Beatles.
I tried calling a few of the likely stations. The ones that played classic rock. But no one picked up. I think their weekend programming was nationally syndicated. Or dedicated to specialties like the blues or Woodstock (much talk about the anniversary, and some of the stations were playing music recorded from the event). Ah well.
It was late afternoon by the time I left the Museum of Geology. I had enough time to see one more site before 5 or 6pm closing time. I considered my options and settled on Sitting Bull Crystal Cave. There are several caves open for tours in the Black Hills. Jewel Cave is the second longest known in the world, and is said to be very beautiful... but it's so famous that there's often a huge line for tickets, especially later in the day. I could perhaps have explored Wind Cave, which is also supposed to be very beautiful, but it was too far - I'd realized when I'd chosen to head in the other direction to go see the Museum of Geology that I'd never be able to make it back in time to see that. But Sitting Bull was open a little later, was on my way back to the hotel, and was said to have the largest known specimens of certain crystal formations in the world.
Getting there was interesting. Once you turn off the main road, you have to go down a narrow path barely wide enough to allow two-way traffic. And it's got major major hairpin turns. There are huge signs up to warn you to honk your horn before taking the turn (to warn any oncoming cars from the other direction who would have no way to see you in time and no room to pull over). It was... intense.
Once I finally made it down, I learned that I'd just missed a tour. Luckily, though, there was time for one more. I'd just have to wait half an hour or so. But they hesitated in selling me the ticket. It's an 11-story climb down. Over 800 stairs. Very steep stairs. Not recommended for anyone with a disability or anyone not used to a good amount of exercise. But I told them I could make it.
The cave wasn't the most beautiful I'd seen, but it was interesting. There were crystal formations (some of which reminded me of the end of Superman Returns). There were also fossils embedded in the rock:
If you look closely inside that red circle, you can see a fossilized shrimp. In the middle of South Dakota. The middle of North America. Because, yes, once, many many years ago, the middle of what is now North America was at the bottom of the ocean. I'd known that, or at least heard it a few times here and there, but it was really cool to personally see solid evidence.
Then again, I also saw solid evidence of something very different:
A fossilized pineapple ring!
I wonder what that means... ;)
By the time I got out of the cave, the thunderstorms we'd been expecting all day had finally arrived. There'd been not-too-distant thunder when I went down, but the rain still hadn't come. (Something I personally put down to the fact that I'd been carrying my raincoat around with me all day. A talisman to ward off the actual rain, you see... ;) Luckily, it wasn't too far back to the car, and I did, as mentioned, have my raincoat on me.
Went back to the hotel, did a bit of research online (wireless in the hotel didn't work so well for me, but they had a backup - ethernet jacks. Which actually worked - once I reinstalled the ethernet drivers, anyway. Oops.) into local classic rock radio stations. One wasn't answering the phone. Another was scheduled to have Casey Kasem's Top 40 the next morning. Another was going to dedicate the morning to the blues. And I couldn't get the clock radio in the room to reliably pick up any of them. Ah well.
Went for dinner at Elk Canyon
, a restaurant just down the street in Custer. Nice place, and not too far in case the rain (which had eased up and finally stopped) decided to pick up again. Also, I'd noticed on their menu (posted online) an interesting item - the "Bucket of Bones." BBQ ribs served in a bucket. Buffalo ribs. Not something you often get a chance to try. At least, not if you live in NJ. I went for it. They were good, too. Incredibly tender. Though the sauce was a little more watery than I'd have preferred. And they didn't come with much on the side. Still, I was glad of the experience. (And it sort of carried on the theme from lunch. About which I had some mixed feelings.)
Returned to the hotel with a few hours to bedtime and not much to do. Decided to poke around online... and lightning struck the hotel, knocking out the cable. Just at the very second that I pressed the button to send an email to one of the local radio stations about how to go about making a request. Dang.