Thursday, September 03, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments

CANADA OR BUST, Chapter 23:  
Days 26 & 27:  Rapid City, SD 
We decided to take Wednesday off.  In desperate need of clean clothes, we started the day with laundry. With six washers and six dryers in the Residence Inn guest laundry, we had no difficulty finding space for our things, nor did the family of four that entered the laundry room when we did.
Ken took the car out to be washed and gassed up while I caught up on writing in the morning.  Then we ate lunch at Longhorn because it was near a couple of stores where we needed to do a bit of shopping.  
Playing off its proximity to Mount Rushmore, Rapid City bills itself as the "City of Presidents." In connection with this the city kicked off a presidential public art project in 1999, largely inspired by people's interactions with an existing Abraham Lincoln statue created by Rushmore sculptor Gutzum Borglum.  Completely funded by private donations, the city installed life-size statues of each of the 43 former U.S. presidents,  Artists who worked on the project strove to create portraits which lent insight into the personality and presidency of each subject.  
Lincoln is depicted with his young son Tad.
The statues are placed on sidewalks all over the city so that both visitors and locals are encouraged to explore the downtown area on foot, often posing for photos with their favorite presidents.  We stopped at the Presidents Information Center with its Oval Office interior design.  Grabbing one of the self-guided City of Presidents walking tour booklet, we joined other tourists in the search to see each of the former chief executives.  The brochure helpfully explained why each president was depicted as he was.
Benjamin Harrison, who preferred solitude, is depicted feeding birds in his garden.
On Thursday, we were determined to avoid the crowd we expected at Mount Rushmore, so we left the hotel at 7 a.m. for the 40-minute drive.  It turned out to be an excellent time to be there.  Another reason for our early visit was that we had researched the best light for photos of the great carving and learned that early morning was best.
Early morning sun highlights all the faces.
After dutifully paying our $10 parking fee, we left our car in the mostly empty lotted entered to find a family of four walking to the plaza ahead of us.  A few photos later we walked to the sculptor's studio and saw Borglum's last model, at which time he still planned to depict the presidents from the waist up.

The docent in the studio related a few interesting stories regarding other changes in the sculpture as the project moved along.  At one time, Jefferson was begun to Washington's right, but the granite in that part of the mountain was too brittle and Tom was moved to George's other side.  In fact, before the carving was finished, Borglum was forced to revise the design nine times to avoid major cracks and other inconsistencies in the rock. 
Apparently Borglum had a quick temper and impulsively fired workers for minor infractions or misunderstandings.  His son Lincoln would go into town, track down the former employee and hire him back.
A model for one of the iterations of the monument
One who worked on the project a few weeks and got into a fistfight with Lincoln was not rehired.  His name was Korczak Ziolkowski (pronounced jewel-CUFF-ski), and he found another project nearby, one which we'd visit later in the day.
Leaving Rushmore, we set out south on the serpentine Iron Mountain Highway, stopping for a couple of letterboxes before a brief stop at Lakota Lake on our way to Custer State Park, with its abundance of wildlife in their natural habitat.  At the park's visitor center, several hundred bison were hanging out on both sides of the road and in the road, an unusual occurrence, according to the ranger we spoke with.  
A protest or just being sociable?
We wondered whether the bison might have gathered at the visitor center/administration building to protest next month's roundup time.  With a herd of 1,200, the park sees up to 350 baby bison arrive each year.  An annual thinning is necessary to keep the herd at a size the park acreage can support.
From the visitor center, we took the Wildlife Loop Road, looking for both animals and letterboxes.  The people were as interesting to watch as the wildlife.  Despite repeated signs not to feed the animals, a family stopped to do just that—actually to have their children try to feed burros while mom snapped some cool vacay pics.
What part of "Don't Feed the Wildlife" was it that you didn't understand?
Three hours after our arrival, we left Custer State Park, driving through the town of Custer on our way to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial.  At the invitation of Lakota Chief Standing Bear Korczak Ziolkowski, the Polish-American sculptor booted from the Rushmore project, began work on the Crazy Horse sculpture in 1948.  The sculpture is far larger than the one at Rushmore and does not receive any government funding.
Not quite finished
The sculpture is nowhere near completion.  Ziolkowski and his wife moved to the site and had ten children, most of whom have been involved in the massive project.  The father died in 1982, and only sixteen years later was Crazy Horse's face completed.  The endeavor has grown into a multi-million dollar tourist complex that employs more than 100 workers in peak months and uses revenues to fund work on the mountain.
When we arrived, numerous tour buses were picking up and dropping off passengers and the parking lot was crowded with cars from all over the United States.  With more than 1.25 million visitors per year, paying $11 each, you'd think a lot of work would be happening.  Yet when we asked an employee about a projected completion date, she excitedly reported that they hope to complete a finger in the next 15 years.
The plan in the foreground, the progress in the background
On the way back to our hotel in Rapid City, we stopped for yet another letterbox before dinner at Ruby Tuesdays.  In the morning, we'll start the long trek toward home in earnest, hoping to make it all the way across the wide prairie before tomorrow's nightfall.


Daily Stats
  • Miles driven:  164
  • Miles walked:  7.8
  • Letterboxes:  9 found
  • Weather:  64° to 95°, sunny
  • Gas:  $3.05 in Rapid City, SD