Friday, October 7, 2011

Great Western Adventure: Day 5

I’m recapping our Great Western Adventure.  So far I’ve covered our day in Chicago and our visit to the World’s Only Corn Palace!

Day 5: Rapid City, SD to Yellowstone
We woke up early and got our first (free!) continental breakfast at the Hampton Inn and then were on our way to Mount Rushmore.  When we were planning our trip, almost everyone who had been to Mount Rushmore told us that it wasn’t worth visiting and that we could skip it.  Although we had never been there, we couldn’t imagine driving right past it and not stopping by.  I’m so glad we decided to visit, because Nick and I really enjoyed Mount Rushmore.

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The park is so clean and nicely maintained.  Even though you can see the faces from the road, it’s definitely worth the admission to drive into the park and see the exhibits, including an orientation video that explains how they used dynamite to sculpt the mountain.  It took 14 years to make!

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We spent a good chunk of time admiring the monument, including posing for the obligatory nose-picking photo.

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All of the rock that is below the sculpture is the rock that was blasted off during the sculpting process.

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Afterward we drove down the road a bit to the Crazy Horse Memorial, which has been in progress since 1948!  Although the memorial is a lot bigger than Mount Rushmore—the President’s faces could all fit in Crazy Horse’s head—there are bigger issues as to why it’s not finished yet.

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For a good estimate of how massive this thing is, those tiny yellow things at the bottom are construction vehicles.

Back in 1947 the Lakota Indian tribe elders invited Korczak Ziolkowski, an artist from Boston, to sculpt Crazy Horse on a mountain after seeing his sculpture "PADEREWSKI, Study of an Immortal," which won first prize by popular vote at the 1939 New York World's Fair.  Korczak (as he is fondly referred to at the memorial) had worked on Mount Rushmore, so he was familiar with sculpting a mountain with dynamite.  He started in 1948 and for much of the beginning work, Korczak worked by himself!  Eventually Korczak got married and he and his wife had 10 kids, most of whom continue working on the mountain today. 

Korczak died in 1982, but the family has kept the project going since, in the same spirit that Korczak instituted: not accepting any federal funds for the project.  The government has offered funds on multiple occasions (as much as $10 million) to Korczak to assist with the project, but he refused the offers each time.  He felt that taking federal funds was not in the spirit of Crazy Horse, who fought for his people to remain on their own land.  I get why this was important to Korczak, but I think if the family did accept federal funds, they could finish the memorial a lot faster and more people could learn about and appreciate Crazy Horse.  Having only the face carved (which was completed in 1998) and the basic shape of Crazy Horse’s arm and his horse, I don’t think the Ziolkowski family has any hope of finishing this memorial in my lifetime.  They have a nice small-scale statue of what the mountain will eventually look like.

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Does anyone else think that Crazy Horse’s profile is oddly similar to George C. Scott’s?

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We left the Crazy Horse Memorial and headed even farther west.  We stopped in a small Wyoming town for lunch and then drove the rest of the way to Devil’s Tower

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On the drive to the top of the hill where the tower is, we passed by a field FULL of prairie dogs!  They got so close to the road!  There wasn’t anywhere to pull over though, so we continued on up the hill.

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When we first arrived at the top of the hill, our first stop was the bathroom.  Outside of the building I spotted this awesome nest, which is also kind of gross.  Look at all of those caterpillars!

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In a nearby pavilion, a ranger was giving a talk about people climbing the rock, including one guy who parachuted and landed on the top of the tower, only to be unable to climb down.  He didn’t have any experience rock climbing and thought it would be simple to repel down the side of the rock.  He thought wrong—he ended up being stranded on top of Devil’s Tower for six days!

You’re going to get sick of me saying things like this, but Devil’s Tower was impressive.  Nick and I walked through the visitor's center before walking along the paved trail that loops around the tower. 

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While walking, we saw people climbing the rock!  I can’t believe that people climb that thing regularly!  We also saw a really old ladder that folks used to use to climb up the side of the mountain. 
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A little while after we saw the people climbing, Nick spotted this little guy taking a nap on a tree branch.  He woke up shortly after we discovered him and I was able to catch him yawning.  HA!

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When we got back to the start of the path, we encountered Santa and Mrs. Claus relaxing on their vacation.

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Then we got back in the car to go visit the prairie dogs!  Not to give away the rest of our trip, but the prairie dogs were my favorite thing that we saw (this is not surprising as prairie dogs are my very favorite wild animal).  They are adorable and hilarious.  They all stand on their mounds and talk to each other with these little yips.  I could have stayed there all day.

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Before leaving Devil’s Tower, we got some ice cream at a little store by the entrance to the park.  Back when my sister and I were little, we were eating at a local family restaurant with our parents when we overheard a kid a couple of booths down throwing a fit about how much he or she (isn’t it sad that I can’t even remember?) wanted a “prairie dog sundae.”  None of us had ever heard of a prairie dog sundae before and neither apparently had the waitress, who just stood there looking kinda confused.  Eventually the parents just told her to bring the brat a plate of whipped cream with a cherry on top.  We have no idea who came up with the term “prairie dog sundae,” but it is now legend in our family. 

As soon as Nick and I saw the sign for ice cream, we had visions of the mystery finally being solved.  It seemed like the perfect story: a family goes on vacation and visits Devil’s Tower, where the kid has a special sundae called the “Prairie Dog Sundae” because of the fields of prairie dogs.  We tentatively stepped into the ice cream shop waiting to be bombarded with prairie dog sundae signs, but sadly there was no such thing.  The mystery lives on!

We ended up leaving Devil’s Tower about 3 hours later than we thought we would and we had a long drive ahead of us to Yellowstone—a 6 ½ hour drive to be exact.  After passing through one of many national forests that we would encounter, it got dark, and we were left to drive through pitch black and barren Wyoming.  We passed very few cars and there was nothing around for miles except for very creepy oil fields.

About 20 miles outside of the East entrance to Yellowstone, our headlights caught the eyes of an animal, which we soon realized belonged to a grizzly bear!  He/she was about to cross the road and was as startled to see us as we were him/her, and backed away.  Thankfully we were driving pretty slowly because the road was windy and it was very very dark.  We paused just long enough to make sure that the bear wasn’t going to dart out into the street and then hurried along.  At about 2:00am, we arrived at the Lake Lodge Cabins and fell asleep in about half a second.

We didn’t get to sleep for very long though, because at 7:00 the next morning, we awoke to loud grunts outside our cabin. 
Check back tomorrow to find out what it was!


  1. Never be advised to skip Mount Rushmore :-) It truly is a marvelous sight to see. Did you make it to Rapid City while traveling through the area?

  2. We did! We got in pretty late and stayed overnight at the Hampton Inn, but were out early again the next morning to visit Mount Rushmore etc.


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