Day Fifty-Two: Badlands, Prairie Dogs Redux, Big Heads

Before you ask… no, I am not referring to my own head in that lead-in, thankyouverymuch.

The hotel we stayed at last night was very rustic, like a hunting lodge. Animal heads on the walls, all exposed wood, etc. So, when we got in the car this morning, I was surprised to see something I had failed to notice the night before:

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That’s four charging stations for Teslas. In the middle of nowhere, South Dakota. Some things are just inexplicable, including this.

We spent a second day in South Dakota, which is two days more than many people will in their lifetimes. I think we squeezed just about everything we could, though, so we can head off to Wyoming tomorrow.

Our adventure today started at the Badlands National Park. Just before we got to the park entrance, we saw a little community of prairie dogs. If you’ve been following our trip from the beginning, you might remember when we found prairie dogs in Lubbock, Texas.  Dawn was crazy over the little furballs, so when we saw more, of course we stopped. These were pretty tame. Tame enough, in fact, to eat trail mix right out of Dawn’s hand.

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I have about a hundred more pictures of equal cuteness of prairie dogs in many states of repose, but in the interest of brevity, I’ll move along.

By the way, entrance into Badlands National Park is $15. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned getting an America the Beautiful pass. You can pick one up online or at most any National Park for $80, and it gets you into all National Parks and National Monuments for free for twelve months. I haven’t counted how much the pass has saved us on this trip, but I know it is at least double what we paid for it. If you’re going to hit more than four or five parks in a year, it’s a great deal.

Badlands is a huge park – 379 square miles huge. It’s also filled with natural beauty not to be found elsewhere in South Dakota. When we were talking to the Ranger at the entrance, I asked him why it was called, “badlands.” He said it was because everyone but the Indians had a hard time getting across it – it is treacherous going.

There is a long loop road that you can drive through the park, with many opportunities to stop and look at amazing vistas and rock formations, or go for a short hike. We did all of the above today. Here are some of my favorite shots of the day:

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Here’s a shot that shows the difficulty of the terrain, and is heartbreaking when put into perspective:

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Through those hills and valleys, the Lakota Chief named Hehaka Gleska , (Spotted Elk) and sometimes referred to as “Bigfoot,” led his people on the way to Wounded Knee. There, of course, both he and many of his tribe would die, on December 29, 1890.

This trip has changed me in many ways – deepened my understanding of the geography of our country, showed me that everywhere, people are the same, and thrilled me with the diversity and beauty of our great nation. However, it has forever changed the way I look at the plight of the indigenous peoples of America. I will never again be able to look at the way our country was founded and expanded with anything other than sadness at what was taken away from all native Americans. Injustice, no matter how many centuries old, should not be forgotten.

Onward.

After we left Badlands National Park, we drove north to Wall, South Dakota. Why? Well, Wall Drug, of course. If you’ve ever driven across South Dakota on I-90, you’ve seen signs for Wall Drug, promoting their “free ice water” and extolling the many virtues to be found there. Wall Drug started out as an actual drug store in the 1930s, but it is now a tourist trap, with cheap souvenirs (yes, we picked up several more magnets and a sticker, not to mention a little prairie dog statue) and lots of clever photo opportunities, like the chance to get your picture taken in front of a faux Mt. Rushmore, or riding a Jackalope.

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That might be one I frame when we get home. 🙂

We had lunch at Wall Drug, which wasn’t too bad, then headed south again, toward Mt. Rushmore.

I’ve been to Rushmore before, but Dawn hadn’t, so it was a must-visit for us. We also intended to stop at the Borglum Museum in Keystone, a town that’s close to Mt. Rushmore. However, it seems that the entire town closes up shop and rolls up the sidewalks sometime in September. Too bad, because I really enjoyed my last visit there – it gave a lot of perspective and information on Gutzon Borglum (the man who carved Rushmore) and the how and why of the creation of the faces.

Driving up to the National Park, you can actually see the faces before you get there. Just because it is a slightly different view than you normally see of it, we stopped and took a picture.

img_2432Poor Teddy Roosevelt. Especially from this angle, he looks like he got short shrift.

This turned out to be the only National Park where we had to pay to get in. When we rolled up to the entrance, we showed them our America the Beautiful Pass, and they said, “Very nice. Eleven dollars, please.”

When we inquired why, they said, “Oh, it’s free to get into the park, but it’s eleven dollars to park.” Nice way to work around the pass, National Park Service.

It’s a lovely park, with a nice walk leading up to the viewing area. Here’s the traditional shot of the faces.

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Yeah, even from there, Teddy looks a little squished, doesn’t he? I can’t help but wonder… if this project was undertaken today, what four presidents would be on there? I feel pretty sure Washington and Lincoln would make the cut, but maybe not Jefferson, and probably not Teddy Roosevelt. I can’t help but think it might be our 20th Century martyred President, John F. Kennedy, or perhaps a popular President, like Ronald Reagan. We’ll never know, but like all the best questions, it could lead to an interesting discussion.

As long as we were in the area, we thought we should also swing by and see the Crazy Horse Monument. This is a monument, not just to Crazy Horse, but to all indigenous people. It was started in the 1940s, and, since they are doing it all with private funds, progress has been slow. I was curious as to how much work had been done in the last seventeen years since I had checked on it. And the answer is, to my untrained eye, not much.

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Crazy Horse’s face is complete (and substantially larger than the faces on Rushmore) and his straight arm is well-begun, but my memory is that most of that was done in 1999. I am not 100% sure what’s been happening over the last decade and a half. At this rate, though, I’m pretty sure I will not live to see the completion of the monument.

Here’s a close up of Crazy Horse’s head:

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Since no verified pictures of Crazy Horse exist, the sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, spoke to several people who knew him when he was alive, then created this likeness, like a police sketch artist, times 1,000.

Here’s a look at where the carving is today, overlaid with the vision of what it will be when it is created.

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When it is completed, it will be the largest mountain carving in the world. If I’m going to live to see it, though, they’re going to have to step on the gas.

That’s it for our day – another busy one. Tomorrow, we won’t be doing much sightseeing, but mostly driving. If I don’t find much to take photos of tomorrow, I will bust out Dawn’s magnet collection from the trip and take a picture of it. 🙂

Cheers, and safe travels!

Shawn

9 comments

  1. I’m really enjoying following your trip. One correction, though: Si Tanka is actually Lakota for “Big Foot,” or literally “Foot Big,” as Lakota Syntax works. His birth name was, however, Spotted Elk, as you noted, but that would have been Hehaka Gleska in Lakota — literally “Elk Spotted.”

    Watch out for those prairie dogs. Dawn is lucky she didn’t lose a fingertip.

    And yeah, I’ve been watching them blow thousands of tons of rock off the Crazy Horse mountain since 2006, a few times live, many more times on YouTube, and I can’t tell any real difference. They’ve been working on the thing since 1948. At this rate, I figure I’ll be 739 years old when they finish.

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    • Thanks for the correction! As you can tell, I do not speak the language!

      I was really hoping to see some discernible difference in the monument, as I know they’ve been working on it. Maybe I’ll come back to it in a few years and it will be nearly finished. 🙂

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  2. I was thinking the same, that Dawn was lucky her feeding didn’t backfire. So you’re going through Wyoming and not site seeing? No Yellowstone (by far the best national park)? Not going to the Buffalo Bill museum in Cody (one of the best museums I’ve been to)? Now if you were driving through on I-80 I’d understand blowing through as quick as you can, but you’re right by Devil’s Tower is probably out of the way now, but Jackson Hole and the Tetons aren’t.

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    • No, I just said we’re not going to do much sight seeing tomorrow. Tomorrow will be mostly about getting from here to the Greybull/Cody area, where we are meeting some friends of Dawn’s. We might change our mind and hit Devil’s Tower. But, I’ve been there before, and it was a little underwhelming to me.

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  3. That was our initial plan, but we’re not going to make it. No interest in doing another long day like that. Besides, our home is getting socked with a storm this weekend. We don’t mind showing up right after power has been turned back on. 🙂

    It is comforting, though, knowing we could get home in a day if we need to. I’ve made the drive from where we are to home in less than 24 hours on any number of occasions.

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    • Excellent. You lived in Wyoming for a while, right? And you’re to the point where anything you might miss it would be easier to come back some other time, but still just blowing past all of the great places coming up misses the spirit of the trip, IMO.

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  4. Loved your pictures and commentary today. Your journey is bringing back so many wonderful childhood memories for me. It looks like you’ve had wonderful weather most of the days. Yes, that National Park pass is a great deal. Maybe you should have told the guy you weren’t planning on parking. Safe travels!

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  5. Sorry – and happy – for you that your trip is headed toward it’s inevitable end, but what a trip it has been! Nice to be ending on the note of visiting with friends! I know once you arrive home, you’ll be busy settling in for a bit, and not having to get in and out of a car several times a day for an extended period will be refreshing :-). Thanks for bringing us all along for the ride, though – it’s been a bright spot in my work day every day!

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