Thursday, August 27, 2009

Custer State Park - South Dakota’s “Best Kept Secret!”

Yearling Pronghorns

Custer State Park must be South Dakota’s “Best Kept Secret”! Everyone comes to the Black Hills to see Mt. Rushmore or maybe the Crazy Horse Memorial. No one comes to or even knows about Custer State Park until they arrive in the Black Hills. As their Web Site says “Custer State Park in the Black Hills encompasses 71,000 acres of spectacular terrain and an abundance of wildlife. Within the park, you’ll discover a world of adventure!” Custer" State Park is just south of Mt. Rushmore. Think of it as Yellowstone without the geysers.

Think of it as Yellowstone without the geysers, they have wildlife:

They have herds of buffalo! We saw them everywhere we drove in the park.

They have BIG buffalo

They have little buffalo

They have buffalo jams! There are over 1,500 free roaming buffalo in Custer State Park.

They have Big Horn Sheep

This herd of female Big Horn Sheep was grazing in a picnic area right next to the road.

They have Pronghorn Antelope! We saw them in several locations in the park.

They have Prairie Dogs. We saw several large Prairie Dog towns.

They have Mountain Goats! What are Mountain Goats doing at these low altitudes? They started from six goats. given as a gift from Canada back in the 1924 that escaped from their pen. One source we saw said there are now thought to be 400 Mountain Goats between Custer State Park  and Mt. Rushmore. So, if you go to Mt. Rushmore at exactly the right time you could see a Mountain Goat standing on George Washington's head.

They have wild burros! These are from escaped burros used for tourists back in the 1920s. We also saw a White-tailed Deer, but couldn’t get a picture.

To add even more interest to the area back in the 1930’s they built tunnels that frame the faces on Mt. Rushmore and then built the roads so that they would line up with the tunnels. To accomplish this they have roads the loop under themselves.

The faces on Mt. Rushmore are over exposed in this picture, but you get the idea.

This is the view from the other side of the tunnel.

These are very narrow one lane tunnels. There is a tunnel in the Needles area of the park that is so narrow that there would only be one inch of clearance on each side of our truck. Needless to say we didn’t travel that road.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

South Dakota – Crazy Horse Memorial

About 8 miles south of Mt. Rushmore is the Crazy Horse Memorial. The two projects couldn’t be more different. Back in the 1920’s as the discussion and work on Mt. Rushmore began, the Lakota Indians (then know as the Sioux Indians) were outraged that their scared Black Hills would be defaced. In the non-politically correct days of the 1920’s, no one really cared what the Indians thought. In 1939, Chief Henry Standing Bear of the Lakota, wrote Korczak Ziółkowski, a well  known sculptor that was working with Gutzon Borglum at Mt. Rushmore. He said, "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too.” He was proposing a monument to honor all Native Americans.

Ziolkowski started working on plans for the sculpture, however, work stopped during World War II, while Ziółkowski was in the Army. In 1947 Korczak Ziółkowski returned to the Black  Hills to take up the Crazy Horse sculpture. The Lakota Elders wanted the memorial in the sacred Black Hills.

Mt. Rushmore was federally funded from the very beginning, when in 1925 Congress authorized the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission. The Crazy Horse Memorial accepts no government money, they have even turned down millions of dollars in Federal Funding.

When Gutzon Borglum began work on Mt. Rushmore he had 100’s of workers. In 1947 when Korczak Ziółkowski began working on the Crazy Horse Memorial, he worked alone. Work continued slowly as donations of money and equipment would permit. As Korczak Ziółkowski worked on the memorial, his wife, Ruth, took care of their children and the tourists coming to see the project. As the 10 children grew, they were added to the work crew. Korczak Ziółkowski continued to work on the Crazy Horse Memorial until his death in 1982. At that time his wife and 7 of his 10 children took over and still run the project today. They continue to fund the project from donations and entrance fees to see the work completed some day. Currently they receive over a million visitors a year.

The model of the finished sculpture

The picture with work superimposed on to the mountain.

The monument is to be the largest sculpture in the world. If it is completed, it will be 563 feet high, by 641 feet long. Crazy Horse’s head will be large enough to contain all of the 60 foot high heads of the Presidents at Mt. Rushmore. Since they have  been working on it for 62 years and have only completed the head of Crazy Horse I don’t like my chances of seeing it completed.

In 1939, Ziółkowski's marble sculpture of Ignacy Jan Paderewski won first prize at the New York World's Fair.


Bronze sculptures by Korczak Ziółkowski

Yes, we were really there (Crazy Horse is in the background)

More pictures in the slideshow

South Dakota – Mt. Rushmore



Mount Rushmore is as iconic an American place as I can think of. Three million people each year make a pilgrimage to the South Dakota Black Hills to see the carved faces for themselves. It truly is one of those places that you have to see for yourself to get an idea of just how big this carved mountain is. Each head is 60 feet high, but reading that and looking at the pictures just doesn't give you the impact of the size.


The National Park Service offers audio wands that explain the history of Mt. Rushmore. They also have a museum and films about the construction of the carvings. Mt. Rushmore was first conceived in 1923 by Doane Robinson as a way to bring tourists to South Dakota. Apparently he had the right idea sine 86 years later it still is the number one tourist attraction in South Dakota. Robinson contacted a well known sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who was working on the Confederate Memorial being carved on Stone Mountain in Georgia. Borglum visited the Black Hills in 1924 and 1925 to find the right rock and lighting for the carving. In 1925 Congress authorized the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission and in 1927 Borglum and hundreds of workers start sculpting the faces onto Mt. Rushmore. Gutzon Borglum continued to work on Mt. Rushmore until his death in 1941 and then his son Lincoln finished the work.


 P1010584 P1010561


As you follow the trail around the monument you see the familiar carved heads from many different angles and can get some very good views of each head as separate sculptures.


The original plan was to have Washington with Jefferson at his right shoulder and Lincoln on his left shoulder. However after they started sculpting Jefferson it was found that the rock in that area wasn’t going to work so they changed the plan.


This is a picture of Borglum’s final model

The plans for the design changed 9 times and each time Borglum would build a new model, so that the carvings on the mountain could be made to scale. Borglum had been a personal friend of Theodore Roosevelt and decided to add him to the mountain. In 1937 there was a movement to add Susan B. Anthony to the mountain, but the bill never got out of Congress.

You will notice that in the model above the Presidents have hands and that Washington has a coat with buttons. The original plan had been to carve each figure to the waist. However, as funding dried up they only completed the heads.


A Boson's chair

The workers hung from the top of the mountain in these Boson chairs as they used jackhammers, drills and packed dynamite. Amazingly in the 14 years of the project no one was killed.

As always there are a lot more pictures in the slideshow

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

South Dakota – Missiles, Caverns and Repairs



We have had on going problems with the front jacks on our trailer. These are the big jacks that support, lower and raise the trailer when ever we hitch or unhitch from the truck. (See our posting of September 2008 titled “Prince George, British Columbia” about our gear problem last year.) We have tried every suggestion we have gotten from other RVers, but these solutions only work for a short time. Our jacks have been making awful noises and the amount of movement was becoming less and less. When we arrived in Interior, South Dakota we weren’t sure if we could raise the the trailer enough to get it off of the truck. We decided that something had to be done, as it was too stressful to hold our breathes each time we hitched or unhitched. I called the manufacturer and told them of our past and current problems. They recommended that we install a “heavy duty” dual motor system. Not a cheap solution, but ANYTHING to avoid this problem. We ordered the new jack kit and had it shipped to Green Star RV Repair 90 miles away in Rapid City, South Dakota.

After our last posting the weather turned HOT, we had thee consecutive days of 100 degree temperatures. One day a thunderstorm came in and the temperature dropped 20 degrees in 15 minutes. During these hot spell we stayed inside under the A\C and worked on indoor projects. Kathy did a bunch of sewing and I worked on some photography projects. After three days of waiting for our parts to travel cross country, we moved to Rapid City to be closer to the repair facility when they arrived. Unfortunately, they got out of Ohio late and didn’t arrive until Friday afternoon too late for the installation. So the installation was put off until Monday. We used our time in Rapid City to take care of groceries, laundry and shopping for new phones. It was the first time we had been in a Mall since we left San Jose. The heat wave broke with a rain day, but after that the weather was very nice in Rapid City.


With the nice weather and all of our errands and chores taken care of, we visited the South Dakota Air and Space Museum at Ellsworth Air Force base. I think after seeing the Pima Air Museum any other air museum pales by comparison. (See our posting of February 2008 titled “Tucson Update Part Two ” about our visit to the Pima Air Museum.) For most of its life Ellsworth has been a Strategic Air Command or SAC base. At one point it was the largest SAC base. The museum has various bombers.


A B-29 bomber used toward the end of WWII. The atomic bombs that ended WWII were dropped by B-29s.


This is a B-52 “Stratofortress”. This is the longest serving aircraft in Air Force history. It first flew in 1952 and some of today’s B-52 pilots are literally the grandchildren of the first B-52 pilots. Even more amazing is the Air Force currently doesn't plan to retire the B-52 fleet until 2040. Ninety years of service!


This is a B-1 bomber, initially built in the 1970s to replace the B-52 due to cost, only about 75 were every made. They are still in use by the Air Force today.

As you can see in the background of the picture above there are other planes used for various purposes in the museum collection.


As part of its Strategic Air Command role Ellsworth was responsible for 100s of Minuteman II missiles in the 1960s and 70s. These were nuclear tipped missiles hidden in underground silos across the Dakotas. Nebraska and parts of Colorado. As part of an arms agreement with the then Soviet Union and the creation of the Minuteman II missiles most of the Minuteman II missiles and silos were destroyed. Ellsworth Air Force base was a training center for the missile maintenance crews and they have the training silo and training missile as a South Dakota Air and Space Museum tour.




The took us 30 - 40 feet underground inside the training silo.


State of the art 1960s computer equipment.


The Black Hills apparently have many caverns, most of these are privately owned and operate tours. Some of these caverns were tourist attractions before Mt. Rushmore was carved. We picked the Black Hills Cavern because it was the first billboard we saw as we headed west from Mitchell, South Dakota.


They have been doing tours here since the 1930s.


Our 16 year old tour guide at the entrance to the cavern. As you can tell by his stance he is already wore out from the day.





We reach the bottom of the cave. Our guide wasn’t very good, but there were only three of us on the tour and the cavern was very interesting.

On our way back from the cavern we stopped at the Firehouse Microbrew on Main St. in Rapid City. The beer was okay but, the food was good.

On Monday after dropping off the trailer for repairs we had several hours to kill and of course there aren’t a lot of places that welcome dogs. So, we went to a near by park near Rapid Creek and walked the various paths. We came across this memorial about the Berlin Wall.


Actual pieces of the Berlin Wall. We both thought that the Berlin Wall would be much taller.


Picasa Content

The sign from checkpoint Charlie the crossing point from the American Sector into East Berlin.

The planes and crews from Ellsworth Ari Force base were very involved in the Berlin Airlift June 1948 to May 1949. Rapid City was given this memorial as a sign of appreciation from the Berliners.

If you are ever in South Dakota and need RV repair go to Green Star Camper Center in Rapid City! Even though the installation took them twice as long as they had expected they still only charged the estimated amount.

As always there are many more pictures in our slideshow