Mount Rushmore

On day four of the Road Trip to Kansas we headed towards Hill City, SD. On the way we stopped in Buffalo, WY to visit the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum. Jim Gatchell opened the Buffalo Pharmacy, self-described as a stopping place for cowboys, lawmen, settlers, cattle barons, and famous army scouts in the early 1900’s. As a trusted friend of the region’s Native Americans, he received many gifts representing the culture including guns, war bonnets, tools, medicine bags, bows, arrows, and clothing. Thus we gained another view into the conflicting historical perspectives of Native Americans. In Buffalo, the cavalry and cattle barons are elevated as heroes. Native Americans receive “honorable mention.”

Our original intent for day four was to tour Mount Rushmore. In spite of my recent interest in the history of the American-Indian conflict, it was Lisa who pointed out that the Crazy Horse Memorial was also in the area. By now we knew Mount Rushmore would be closed. So we headed to Crazy Horse.

By way of background, here are excerpts from the Crazy Horse Memorial website: Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear officially started Crazy Horse Memorial June 3, 1948. The Memorial’s mission is to honor the culture, tradition and living heritage of North American Indians. Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation continues the progress on the world’s largest mountain sculpture, carving a memorial to the spirit of legendary Lakota Sioux leader Crazy Horse and his culture.

The story is more detailed, more inspiring than I can convey here. Simply said, one man dedicated his entire life to launching this enormous project to honor Crazy Horse. For sixty-five years Ziolkowski and his family have continued to work on the memorial funded by private donations. It will dwarf Mount Rushmore when completed.

Here’s another significant contrast in perspective. The Crazy Horse memorial is privately-owned, privately-funded, and was open on day four of the Road Trip to Kansas! Mount Rushmore, a federal park, was closed. Further, the pull-outs and parking areas nearby the Mount Rushmore were barricaded to prevent would-be visitors from stopping to walk around and take pictures. Based on their behavior, the park rangers seem to have been instructed to prevent people from walking around and taking pictures. If the issue is funding non-essential programs, then why we paying for our employees to harass us, to incite us into taking some action that, in the end, will further the political interests of the executive branch of our supposed democracy? The “closure” goes well-beyond what is necessary to appropriately curtail expenses. Whatever happened to a government of the people, by the people, and for the people?

The highly unusual, early fall weather I’d experienced in Northern California the weekend of September 21, and the storm the elk hunters of the Big Horn Mountains feared just two days prior, was making its way into South Dakota. We did our best to capture digitally the silhouettes of the four presidents on Mount Rushmore. However, Crazy Horse could not be seen through the clouds and fog. The memorial was open to the public, but this wasn’t our time to fully experience it.

As we made our way to the Best Western Golden Spike for the night, somewhat disappointed by the shutdown and the fog surrounding Crazy Horse, we received emergency alerts on our cell phones. Apparently the weather front was approaching Hill City, and we were being advised of “Travel restriction in Rapid City/Pennington County. No travel allowed.” We debated moving on and ahead of the storm, but it was already 5:00 pm and we had no idea how far we’d be able to travel. So we decided to risk a day of travel. What would become known as the worst October storm in the Black Hills on record was about to slam South Dakota and interrupt our fifth day on the Road Trip to Kansas.

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