Tuesday, November 7

Cultural whiplash

This morning we set out for Wall Drug for breakfast and a look around. A fellow blogger commented that Wall, SD is like finding an oasis in the middle of the desert. He was so right. It's a crazy tourist trap but a good time never the less. The breakfast was good and cheap (as has pretty much every other meal we've had thus far). They have a "backyard" that features fiber glass statues to take pictures on. My favorite is the Jackalope:

We saw the much hyped Wall Drug Dinosaur, which roars every 2 minutes. It scared the bejesus outta Stef. She was standing right under it for a photo opp and the thing went wild with a bone chilling roar accompanied with smoke, red lights and a "danger" alarm. It may have been one of the funniest moments on the trip. Once we had composed ourselves, we bought some souveniers and made our way towards Mt. Rushmore.

I had been told, in no uncertain terms, that I would be disappointed with Mt. Rushmore. I was not. I found it fascinating and impressive.

I should mention that I suggest you visit Mt Rushmore in the off season. The down side is that ALL of the nearby stores and restaurants will be closed but the pay off is that you virtually have the place to yourself. Not bad for such a famous spot. We saw the short introduction film and learned how the project got started and grew, we took some great pix and walked around a bit, we bought more souveniers then decided where to go next. Stef is not a fan of driving after dark around here because there is a good chance of hitting deer on the road. It's dangerous and sad so we've been trying to wrap up our driving by sundown. We had a choice of driving through Custer State Park where we could see some buffalo roam (cool!) or check out the Crazy Horse Memorial. I said "Well, it just seems rude to not visit Crazy Horse's Monument." figuring I could visit the buffalo some other time.

Crazy Horse Memorial is 17 scenic miles from Mt Rushmore. We pulled up to the guard shack and were told it would be $10 per person for entry. Stef said "$10?! I don't think I want to do this." I said "Oh come on, it's goes towards a good cause." We went back and forth but wound up going in. Am I glad we did!! When you pull up it looks as thought there is just the monument and not much else. Then you drive down the hill a bit and see there is a shiny new visitors center.

We parked and went into the impressive center. It is a big, beautiful, wood lined structure loaded with Native American artifacts. There is a great gift shop, restaurant, sculptors studio, native artists pavilion and much more. We looked around at the artifacts then saw the introduction film. What a great story! A native elder approached an award winning sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, and asked him to design and sculpt a monument so "the white man will know the red man has heroes too." Ziolkowski took on the task and spent the rest of his life carving Crazy Horse out of the Black Hills. He died in 1982 but his wife and 7 of his 10 children plan to finish what their husband and father started. Nobody knows how long it will take to complete but some say it could be at least another 100 years.

We learned the site and memorial are funded entirely by private donations. Our $10 entry fee began to look pretty modest. Ziolkowski's wife, Ruth, lives on the impressive site in the original log cabin her husband built and added on to through their life. She lives there year 'round and keeps the whole project going. Several times the federal government has offered up to $10 million in funding but she has refused it every time. She and her family know that Mt. Rushmore was never finished and do not believe the government would finish the Crazy Horse project. I can't say that I blame her. I happen to LOVE the idea that the Crazy Horse monument is funded entirely from public interest. Ruth is doing a much better job than the government ever could. Eventually the site will be home to a university, a Native American museum, a medical training center and an Avenue of the Chiefs.

Again, we had the place to ourselves due to the off season timing. Check out the empty restaurant and a small section of the center:

No crowds, hoorah!!!

I've always been fascinated with Native American culture. My dad had the same interest and it obviously rubbed off on me. The center does such a great job of sharing and appreciating Native American culture. I spoke with a women at the jewelery counter and asked lots of questions. Well, actually I leaned over the counter and said "This place kicks the shit out of Mt. Rushmore. I don't mean to be rude but..." She laughed and said "Yeah, we hear that a lot." I asked why they didn't advertise more and she explained that Ruth says "If people are going to come, they're going to come." She knows they could get the job done faster with federal assistance but she wants to do it right. I then asked if money made from the sales in the gift shop went towards the project. She said 93% went to the whole project. Well, that's all I needed to hear to spend money! I got some great earrings, a CD of amazing native flute music and a book titled Custer's Fall - The Native American Side of the Story. Woo hoo!! She also explained that Ruth works along side a council who make sure everything associated with the complex is in line with Native American beliefs. For instance, they no longer sell Crazy Horse shot glasses due to the issue many Native Americans have with alcohol. They also stopped selling pipes because they learned that one tribe didn't believe in selling pipes. The cultural sensitivity brings such a sense of dignity to the place. There is certainly some tacky touristy stuff to be found but the gift shop offers a great selection of Native American art.

Here's what the sculpture will look like when it's complete (that's the real sculpture way off in the background):

Next, Stef and I had lunch in the restaurant where I tried a buffalo burger. It was great! It tastes just like beef but much more lean. (I know, I know! I was all excited about seeing buffalo roam then I end up eating one but "when in Rome...")

I could go on and on about the Crazy Horse Memorial but the bottom line is that I highly recommend spending a day there looking around then going home to brush up on Native American history.

We then made our way to Deadwood. You can't imagine how beautiful that drive is. I can tell you that I've apparently seen one too many movies about "Cowboys and Indians" because every time I looked through those trees I could vividly imagine a native perched on a horse silently watching us go by. I can see why the pioneers were so freaked out by the site of them. Those head dresses and war chants were meant to intimidate. I can't say that I blame the natives for what they felt they had to do to protect their way of life... but I digress.

We made it to Deadwood and walked the length of main street but found most of the stores were closed. There is a LOT of gambling. I expected that but... well, whatever. Main street is nice but sort of creepy this time of year and especially after dark. We were pretty much all alone on the streets and given the history of the place, well it can give a girl the chills. We had a good dinner down the street then came back to figure out what to do tomorrow.

We plan to search for Deadwood's historic sites. It should be another good day. I'll keep you posted.

1 comment:

shandon said...

I am suffering from serious road trip envy. Keep those posts coming -- they're fascinating!