Friday, June 17, 2011

Touring the Black Hills, Mt Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument

We traveled on South Dakota SR44 all the way from Interior, South Dakota to Rapid City. The road is well maintained and very scenic. Just south of Rapid City we stopped at the visitor information center where we were told that the Sheridan Lake campground would be a good place from which we could explore the Black Hills. This was a good choice. We were close to all that we wanted to see in the Black Hills.

On our first day we drove the scenic wildlife loop in Custer State Park. We got an early start and were rewarded with the sightings of many deer, prong-horns, bison, and mule deer. The road was daunting at times. Numerous switch backs and narrow tunnels provided lots of excitement. And the views of Mt. Rushmore from this road were marvelous.

After spending so much time sitting in the truck, we wanted to stretch our legs. Part of the Centennial Trail passed through the Sheridan Lake Park where we were staying. This part of the trail follows a flume that was built during the gold rush of the 1870's. The flume provided water for the sluices of the miners. At one point, we encountered a tunnel where the water was brought from the spring. Walking through ankle deep water in the dark for 60 yards was a little spooky. Poor Scout clearly thought we were out of our minds.

The next day I hiked 2 miles to a beautiful trout stream to try my hand at fly fishing. It has been more than 40 years that I have cast a fly. I only caught one small brook trout, but it felt great. At one point, a 3 prong buck, white tailed deer, came down the stream and was very surprised to see me. His antlers were still in velvet, we stood and watched each other for about a minute  before he slowly moved away.

Yesterday we went to the Crazy Horse Memorial. I have to admit I was skeptical about this excursion. I remember news reports from the 1970's that were very negative about this endeavor. After visiting Mt. Rushmore, the initial impression of the Crazy Horse Memorial was that it was not well run. However, after learning that the entire project is funded solely by donations and private contributions we came to understand Korczak Ziolkowski's intentions. Sarah and I chose to make a donation in support of the work on the monument and were rewarded with a personal guided tour onto the mountain. We were able to stand on what will someday be Crazy Horse's outstretched arm and look back up to the now completed face of the warrior who defeated Lt. Col. G.A. Custer at Little Big Horn, which we visited today on our way to Alaska. 

It's not very hard to understand why many Native Americans here are still angry. Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, after having the land they were promised in the Black Hills taken away and being forced to live on the reservation, decided to move to the hills of southern Montana and live the free life they had known before. This land didn't have gold or any other resources valuable to the rapidly expanding United States. These chiefs along with approximately 7,000 of their people were living their traditional way of life along the Little Big Horn River. President Grant viewed these people as a threat and sent Colonel Custer to round them up and bring them back to the reservation. 

Sadly, the victory that the Native Americans won was short lived. The retaliation of the Government was swift and merciless. On our trip to Alaska, we inevitably are retracing the steps these people took as they tried to escape to Canada and freedom, an effort that was thwarted by the Army. Could our ancestors have found a better solution? One has to wonder.

Stay tuned 

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