Thursday, March 8, 2012

Travel - Rapid City, S.D., Crazy Horse & Mt. Rushmore

Deb standing with statue of George Washington
   Rapid City, South Dakota was a great place to begin a seven day adventure that would take my wife Deb and me across Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Utah. We flew out of Philadelphia to the airport in Minneapolis. Caught a connector flight and landed in Rapid City by noon. We were able to check in early at the hotel, threw our bags in the room and headed out to explore and grab lunch.
   The pace out west seemed calmer to me or maybe it was due to the fact that we were on vacation, but residents and workers we encountered were helpful and friendly. We walked the downtown Main Street section of town. On every corner is a full size statue of a United States president beginning with George Washington up to George W. Bush. The current president in office doesn't receive a statue until several years after he completes his term. We walked around and tried to see and name as many as we could. I thought how much of a disappointment I'd be to my former history teachers if they saw how many I failed to identify without looking at the name plates.
Downtown Rapid City, S.D.
   This gave the town a unique character along with a variety of other aspects including graffiti alley where the walls along several blocks of a back street are covered with spray paint. Not just tags but various artwork, faces, colorful scenes, cartoon characters and poems. It's weird, not something you'd see in every town, but it's a way for artists to express themselves.
Graffiti alley
   There was a wide range of restaurants to try and I always research the internet and pick about five which we can choose from. We decided on the old Firehouse Brewing Co. As the name suggests it was a former fire house and is decorated in fire equipment, old photos and memorabilia. They also brew their own beer and we tried a local pint along a big cheeseburger and fries. Vacation is a great time to stray from my regular diet.
   After our late lunch we were out exploring again and headed over to Memorial Park. Its at least four times bigger than the Memorial Park in Pottstown with a long trail which we walked for several miles. We hopped onto their trolley and for only a couple of dollars you can tour around the city and look out at the sites. At the top of Skyline Drive you can see for miles. Dinosaur Park is located here and kids can enjoy the full sized concrete creatures setup along the drive.
Closeup of the completed head of Crazy Horse
   We took a break and went to our hotel room to relax after a long day. Later that evening we wanted some snacks so we walked a couple of blocks to a restaurant called Sanford's. Yep, just like the Sanford and Son television show. The place was a hodge-podge of stuff filling every nook and cranny. There was even an old rusty pickup truck balancing in one of the corners overlooking the dining room.
   The bartender was really friendly and we chatted about his hometown. A tour guide couldn't have done a better job. We munched on tasty appetizers and a pint of draft beer was a buck. Now this is my kind of place. We went back the following evening for dinner.
Overview of Crazy Horse Monument
   In the morning we made our way along the highway to the Crazy Horse Memorial. This is the world's largest mountain carving that is still under construction. We arrived early and got our first views of the huge work of art from a quiet overlook next to the Indian Museum of North America. The only part completed is the 86 foot head of Crazy Horse. Work is now underway on the twenty-two story horse's head. The painted outline shows the location of the horses ear and eye. Millions of tons of rock have been drilled and blasted from the mountain which was started in 1948 by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. After his death in 1982, his family continues his dream to complete the work.
   We paid several dollars and took a ride on an old yellow school bus along a dirt road to get a closer look at the colossal carving. The guide filled in many fascinating details and Native American history not learned in a classroom. Peering up at the bluest sky above the sand colored completed face, I snapped a number of photos. Deb and I promised ourselves to revisit the memorial in ten years to see the progress made in a decade.
Profile view of George Washington
   Next, we wound our way through the Black Hills of South Dakota to the carving of Mount Rushmore. The hillside views are stunning as you get closer to the monument. There is a pull off area before arriving at the gates. This is a bonus location which gives you a profile view of George Washington's head. Since we were part of a tour, our guide and driver made sure to stop. If I was driving myself, I probably would have been in such a hurry to get to the memorial that I would have missed out on this special spot.
Walking through the Avenue of Flags at Mount Rushmore
   Once you drive around the mountain the four presidents come into view for the first time. Sculpture Gutzon Borglum had the vision to carve the masterpiece of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.  A workforce of men using bosun's chairs hung out over the mountain and began hammering away in 1927. Borglum oversaw the work for the next fourteen years. Only six of those years were spent carving the mountain. The rest of the time work would stop until more funds were secured by Borglum. Washington's 60 foot head was the first completed and was dedicated in 1930. The final bust finished was Roosevelt in 1939. Borglum died in March of 1941. His son Lincoln Borglum supervised the completion of the monument.
Mount Rushmore photographed from the Grand View Terrace
   I photographed the granite presidents from various angles on top of the Grand View Terrace. Then, Deb and I hiked down the Presidential Trail to take in the views from below. We got a close look at the giant boulders that were blasted and rolled down the hill to their final resting place. From this spot you look right up at the faces of the historic figures. Not many people ventured down the walkway as it is a steep climb back out. At the base of the hill is the Sculptor's Studio with displays and tools used in the carving process. More history lessons that I was glad to learn.
   We took advantage of the remaining time and treated ourselves to an ice cream cone. The concession is noted for their raspberry flavor. We sat silently as we looked again and again at the granite faces, in awe that hands and sweat could fashion such a perfect monument. That was the tastiest ice cream cone I ever ate. With a view like that there was never a doubt.

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