Monday, July 2, 2012


Trail End
Frank and Julia
With 46 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, Sheridan, Wyoming  is proud of its heritage.  Walking Main Street, it is easy to picture the town 100 years ago.   On the hill, overlooking town is Trail End, former home of John Kendrick, a cattle baron, governor and U.S. senator.  Completed in 1913 at the cost of $164,000, it would cost millions today.  

Best part of our stop here was that Julia and Frank, our good friends from Fort Collins, Colorado spent a couple of days with us on their way to Montana. 
Crazy Horse Monument

Leaving Wyoming, we  entered the Black Hills  of South Dakota, so named because the dark green pines seen from a distance look black.  Don’t be fooled.  The area is green and gorgeous. 

Crazy Horse Model
All of Mount Rushmore would fit in
section behind his face
 We spent 3 days in the town of Custer named after Lt. Col.  George Armstrong Custer who led the first gold expedition into the Black Hills and was later killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn in southeast Montana.  After unpacking the car, we headed to the Crazy Horse Memorial.  When Mount Rushmore Memorial was created in their homeland, elders of the Lakota Indian Tribe approached sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski.  Saying, “the red man has great heroes also,” they asked him to carve the likeness of Crazy Horse into a mountain in the Black Hills.  Korczak agreed, moved west and spent the rest of his life on the project.  It broke ground in 1948.  Although he died in 1982, most of his 10 children continue the work today.

Got food?
The next 2 days we explored Custer State Park, surely one of the most beautiful parks in the country.  The first day, we drove the Wildlife Loop.  We saw sheep, pronghorns and friendly burros who come up to the car hoping for a handout.  But aside from 2 bison in the distance, we were frustrated that none of the herd of 1,300 the park boasts were to be found.  Then, on our final leg, we rounded a curve and a buffalo was grazing right by the curb.  He could not have been more than 10’ from the car as I took pictures.  

One of a herd of 1,300 in the park
Buffalo are huge animals. They can be 6’ tall and weigh over 2,000 pounds.  It is estimated that 30 – 60 million roamed the Great Plains of North America when Columbus discovered America.  The Indians used every part of the buffalo.  Aside from food, it provided material for clothing, shelter and tools.  They called him Tatonka and believed he symbolized the Great Spirit since he provided so much that sustained them.  By the late 1880s, bison were practically extinct.  A few individuals led the charge to preserve the animal.  Between parks and private herds, there are presently about 60,000 in the country. 
One of the wider tunnels
The eye of the needle
Sylvan Lake
The next day we drove the  endless curves and narrow tunnels of Needles Highway (so named because of granite peaks formed up to 2 billion years ago) and Iron Mountain Road.   We took a break at Sylvan Lake and hiked the trail around the lake.  Then it was on to nearby  Keystone to see Mount Rushmore.
 Everyone has seen pictures of this national monument but to see it in person is quite breathtaking.  The faces of the 4 presidents - Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln - are 60 feet tall.  Washington has the longest nose at 21 feet; the others are 20 feet long.   As with Crazy Horse, most of the work is done with dynamite, blasting the stone away to within 2 inches of the finished surface.  Unlike Crazy Horse, Mt. Rushmore was created between 1927 and 1941, and only 6 years involved actual carving.  The difference is that Crazy Horse refuses government funds and employs only 12 full time workers on the mountain; it may forever be a work in progress.  Gutzon Borglum, the man who carved the Confederate Memorial on Stone Mountain in Georgia was the master artist behind Mount Rushmore.  Believe it or not, the project originated with the hope of drawing tourists to the Black Hills.  Did it ever succeed!  
Auto mania downtown Sioux Falls
The falls in Sioux Falls
 Our final stop in South Dakota was Sioux Falls.  With about 170,000 population, it is the biggest city in the state.  It has a very nice downtown which was filled to overflowing one night with car enthusiasts and their old, restored autos.  Falls Park, created around the namesake falls on the Sioux river, were created about 14,000 years ago during the last Ice Age and are a series of falls cascading over pink quartzite rocks.
The falls in Sioux Falls
Now we will cross Minnesota into Wisconsin.

TRAVEL TIP: If you do go to the Black Hills, plan to stay in Custer not Keystone.  It is much more convenient for visiting the state park and Crazy Horse, and easy to get to Mount Rushmore.