Sunny Skies in the Black Hills

In the summer of 2008 — 12 years ago now — my wife was competing in an Arabian Horse show in Rapid City, South Dakota for the Region 6 Arabian Horse Championships.  While we were there, we had a day to go exploring, so we decided to go see Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park.

Mount Rushmore

Now I know pretty much every travel blogger has written and posted about Mount Rushmore National Memorial.  Mount Rushmore is located about 30 minutes from Rapid City, South Dakota in the Black Hills.  Honestly, I was quite astounded at the geography here as I had not expected the rugged mountains.  The mountain itself is just outside of a little town called Keystone, and is right next to a beautiful wildlife state park – Custer State Park.  More about that in a minute.

Rushmore Mtn wp
This is a little different perspective of Mount Rushmore than one typically sees.  I thought it would be helpful to see the sculptures in the context of the greater mountain upon which they are carved.

The mountain sculptures were carved by a man named Gutzon Borglum with the help of his son, Lincoln Borglum.  They worked on the sculptures from 1927 through 1941, the year of Gutzon’s death.  The four Presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt – represent the United States’s founding, growth, development and preservation, at least according to Wikipedia.

Rather than talking a lot about the memorial, I will just say a few words and share a couple of images.  I had of course seen pictures of Mount Rushmore and read about it ever since I was a little kid.  Heck I even saw the Alfred Hitchcock movie filmed there, “North by Northwest”, staring Cary Grant.  (It’s a great movie by the way.)  But seeing that massive sculpture carved into that mountain in person, in real life, was well, stunning.

Mt Rushmore 3 16x9 wp
Another view of the Presidents.

First, there is the absolute grandeur of the place.  The carving are enormous, and Gutzon literally spent most of his life cutting that stone.  Second, the detail of the Presidents’ images is absolutely unbelievable. He even carved in Teddy Roosevelt’s glasses.  Third, the feeling of seeing those great men’s images up there on that mountain is simply too hard for me to describe.  I actually teared up a little while really looking at those men’s images.  It wasn’t so much the sculptures per se as it was the idea of what those men represent – the absolute ideals of our species – freedom and liberty, courage, perseverance and absolute determination, and the belief that we are one with Mother Nature.  I couldn’t just stand there without thinking about what those four men endured to make our country what it was, at least what it was in 2008.

Mt Rushmore 1a 16x9 wp
Here are the four Presidents – Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln.  Look closely and you’ll see Theodore Roosevelt’s glasses.  

Washington and Jefferson literally committed treason and acts of war against the King of England, at that point in time the most powerful nation of the planet.  Had things gone just a little differently, well, they would have been executed, and we would have remained a British possession.

Lincoln presided over a nation tearing itself apart over “states rights”, but in reality because the Southern states felt threatened due to the imminent end of slavery, and their way of life.  He poured his heart and soul into preserving our nation, that at the time he gave the Gettysburg address was only 84 years old.  And of course he paid the ultimate price for his sacrifices to keep this democratic republic together.

And, Theodore Roosevelt presided over a new 20th century world power grappling with the unbridled effects of unchecked capitalism – the good and the bad.  It was through his efforts that we have many of the modern laws and checks on our economy as well as the concept of national parks and monuments to forever preserve our natural national heritage.

So, if you ever get to visit Mount Rushmore, please take some time to just stop and think about what these magnificent sculptures truly represent.

Custer State Park

If Mount Rushmore is a monument to mankind’s ideals, Custer State Park is a monument to mother nature’s ideals.  The Black Hills are absolutely breathtaking; they are just different that what one would expect to see in the plains state of South Dakota.  And, this is the place to see wildlife, especially the American icon the bison, otherwise known as the buffalo.

Big skies wp
Here are the Black Hills of South Dakota, so named from the “black” look of the thick forests.

Now I must apologize to my followers here; I only have a couple of good photos.  I don’t really know what happened.  I got some great bison shots, but most of them are blurry.  I know I was nervous about being in amongst and so close to these great beasts.  I had followed a small herd up a hill and into the woods, and well I got too close.  But, here are a couple of photographs, and I hope you’ll forgive me.

Buffalo 1 wp
And here is a North American Bison, aka Buffalo.  And yes, I was that close!   He was only a few feet away.

At one time prior to the settling of the American West, these majestic creatures roamed the plains of what is now the Dakotas in the millions.  They were nearly hunted to extinction in the last half of 1800s – hunted for their incredible coats, their meat, but mostly for sport.  And President Theodore Roosevelt created our first National Park, Yellowstone (in Wyoming and Montana) to help preserve these incredible animals.

Pronghorn mom and baby wp
I did manage to capture this mother pronghorn and her baby before they took off.  Pronghorns (commonly called antelope) are fairly common in the western United States.  They are incredibly fast runners, and are “leftovers” from the age when North America had mammoths, saber tooth cats and dire wolves.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my little write-up about the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Thanks for reading, and please let me know what you think.