Crazy Horses and Dead Presidents

Rolling up to the Crazy Horse Memorial, knowing nothing about what I was here to see, my group looked around at each other confused and thought, uh, hmm, what exactly are we looking at here? I mean, it’s a big rock with a hole in the middle….

Wrong…

WAY wrong…

As we got closer, I realized what we were looking at, and now that I’ve seen Crazy Horse I don’t think many things can parallel that experience.  After 100 years of dynamite blasts and the meticulous sculpting of a rocky face in the Black Hills, what is to become the Crazy Horse Memorial is not nearly finished, and likely won’t be within my lifetime.  The family spearheading the project is carrying on the work of Korczak Ziolkowski, an apprentice to the guy who carved Mount Rushmore.

The way I understand it, Crazy Horse was the leader of the Lakota tribe, and as people and government moved Westward, he was instrumental in trying to protect Native American land.  We all know how that turned out, but Crazy Horse is still considered one of the most iconic American Indians to ever live.

The carved outline of his face and hand pointing East toward his Land as he stoically says:

 “My land is where my dead lie buried.”

Crazy Horse statue and the unfinished rock sculpture in the distance. Photo by Kelly Soprych

With an insufficient number of laborers and the continued refusal of the Ziolkowski family to accept government funds for the project, it may very well take another 100 years for to finish the Memorial, if ever.  But to witness the process and the stick-to-it-iveness of the men and woman dedicated to this project is humbling, and grounding, and downright awesome.  That’s one big rock with a hole in the middle that I could see over and over again.

Knowing that the entire Mount Rushmore Memorial fits in Crazy Horse’s hair, I was a little less excited to see four dead presidents carved out of stone, but nonetheless the crazy ride down Iron Mountain Road through tunnels and switchbacks presented ample “wow!” moments for glimpsing Mt. Rushmore.  I wouldn’t bother to pay to get into the actual memorial… Go through Custer State Park and save your $10 bucks for Crazy Horse instead.

The weight and significance of some of the natural and man-made beauties I saw juxtaposed with the lunacy of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally made for one hell of a trip.  Traveling with a big group for the first time since, like, high school, and with such a jam-packed, diverse experience, in one week I witnessed the best and worst of America, and the best and worst in myself.

I don’t think I’d really change anything about my time in the Black Hills, other than to have a little more of it.  When in Rome you throw a coin over your shoulder into the Trevi Fountain to guarantee you’ll some day return to Rome.  Gazing up at the profile of Crazy Horse from the veranda of his museum, I threw a penny over my shoulder, hoping that the same holds true for the Black Hills of South Dakota.

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