Road Trip USA – Day Seven “American History”

“I figure if a girl wants to be a legend, she should just go ahead and be one.” – Calamity Jane

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DEADWOOD

Deadwood, South Dakota.  After a good night’s rest, we awoke and enjoyed breakfast and a slow start to the day.  With some fine tuning our food system continues to serve us well on this adventure.

Due to the fact we would be visiting Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument after Deadwood, we checked out prior to exploring this historic town.   Whenever we stay at a hotel, my girls love to leave the housekeeping department notes and money.  Today’s note really made me giggle…

Historic Deadwood, founded in 1876, is a well preserved Wild West town located in the Black Hills, South Dakota. The town is the final resting place of many famous gunman and woman – Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.   You park your car outside of Deadwood and enjoy strolling through the streets and visiting the various establishments – while there are many saloons and brothels, much to my tweens delight, there was a Starbucks, too!

The week we arrived was the town of Deadwood’s Classic Car week. It was a very cool experience to check out all the vintage automobiles – we were so impressed with the design, colors and styles of the cars.   Just a little tip about visiting Deadwood, we learned that the week prior to our visit was Deadwood’s annual “biker week.”  The business owners shared that while it is a fun event, with thousands of bikers in attendance, it is not the time to pop in for a visit.

We learned much about Wild Bill & Calamity Jane and really enjoyed the reenactment of a gun battle with Wild Bill – there are several reenactments in Deadwood each day.  The actors were awesome and very engaging with the audience.

We finished our trip to Deadwood with a DELICOUS late lunch at a place where you eat off of blackjack tables.  My garderburger and beer might have the best ever!

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MOUNT RUSHMORE & CRAZY HORSE

“Some day the earth will weep, she will beg for her life, she will cry with tears of blood.  You will make a choice, if you will help her or let her die, and when she dies, you too will die.”

– John Hollow Horn Oglala Lakota

American History.  What used to come to my mind were the lessons on the pilgrims, Christopher Columbus, and glossed over encounters with “Indians.”  My American history concluded with The Revolutionary and Civil War — this trip has forever changed me.  I have always loved history and am moved by the story of our country, but felt this trip was like going to Ancestry.com and starting to really learn about my family and I came home with a much deeper appreciation of my story and my place in the family –

I think this is why I was so moved by our visit to Crazy Horse – moved to tears and deep, deep somberness.  Somber is the only word I can come up with.  I always knew there were “Indians” when the pilgrims arrived, but I truly did not ever take in that the “Indians” were NATIVE Americans…Native.  I, ignorantly used the word “Indians” and “Native Americans” interchangeably.  This trip has sent me on a rabbit trail of studying American History and it is staggering.

 

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The book I selected at the gift shop – really enjoying.

 

The experience in Yellowstone National Park was a huge “ah ha” moment for me in the history of our planet, not the United States of American, but our planet.  The millions, MILLIONS of year old fossils, rock formations, evidence of Ice Ages, lands under seas, active volcanoes, dinosaur tracks made me marvel at the geography, topography and history our country contains.  I came home with a feeling of how insignificant and what a tiny role I play in the continuum of time and evolution.

Our trip to Deadwood really provided me with a tangible experience to the Wild West, the Gold Rush and how the West was colonized or settled.

Then, our trip to Mount Rushmore, and more specifically Crazy Horse enlightened me to a much deeper, somber understanding of American History.  Just the names — “America” and “The United States of America” have, for me, become words I will use with great care in the future.

Our family arrived at Mount Rushmore late morning.  Just like the many pictures I have seen of the carving, it was impressive.  There was an informative museum with artifacts and movies outlining and explaining how the vision of Mount Rushmore came to a reality.  Our visit at Mount Rushmore was about two hours and I felt that was enough for our family.  While I find the monument a beautiful testimony to the great leaders of our United States history and I enjoyed the game we played of each of us stating if we could add one more head to the monument, who would it be…I also walked away slightly uncomfortable with irony of this huge monument of United States leaders in the middle of Native American territory and lands.

Mount Rushmore, included in our Park Pass, was created between 1927-1941.  This impressive sculpture was led by a father-son team Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln Borglum.  Once the team began working on the rock they discovered many adaptations and modifications needed to occur.  In the visitor’s center there is a model that shows the original design or the sculpture and you can compare it with the final outcome.

I am not sure if you can visit behind the faces of the monument, but in a chamber imbedded in the rock is a vault that holds sixteen porcelain panels – which include the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and biographies of the four Presidents and Borglum and also the information about the history of the United States of America.

One tip for visiting Mount Rushmore is to keep an eye on the weather, especially if you plan to visit early in the morning.  We had friends (the people we climbed Devil’s Tower with) who had to return because on the morning they visited it was so foggy they could not see the monument.

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Native Americans were here first. We did not ‘discover’ American. For tens of thousands of years -America belonged to many Native American tribes. And, I will go further to say the Native American tribes realized the land, the earth, did not ‘belong’ to them either…they were but guests and respectfully lived in balance with the land, animals and rivers.

Europeans arrived and systematically and many times, disrespectfully conquered their land and made it our own.  And, even to this day, the small areas of territory and land we have agreed to ‘let them have’ we mess with, we interfere, we feel we can try to run oil pipe lines through…

I am not saying that I can not appreciate and understand the evolution of our country, but what I can say is I came home with such a deep respect and appreciation for the Native American Nations and their culture and will do whatever I can to support them.  I feel with all my heart it will be important for me to read, watch and learn more about Native American history and share this with my children.  Like other, less proud moments of American History, the Native American story needs to be honored.  I will teach my kids the exciting and amazing moments of American history, but I will also dive into the darker, more painful aspects of who we are too.  Just like a family, all of the history mixes and shapes us into who we ultimately become.

Crazy Horse is the Native American’s response to the almost ironic presence of Mount Rushmore in the middle of Native American territories.  While Mount Rushmore was funded and is run by the American government, it was and remains very important to the visionaries and builders of Crazy Horse that this entire project (which includes a Native American medical school too) be privately funded.  This is one of the reasons Crazy Horse has and will take so long to complete.  The other reason being that the stone they are carving has proved to be very ‘fragile’ in places and the explosions have to be done in small, carefully timed detonations.

 

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This photo shows what the finished project will look like against the backdrop of the monument under construction.

 

There is a movie at the visitor’s center you can watch that discusses not only how Crazy Horse was championed, but tells the story of a sculptor living with a unyielding purpose,  Korczak Ziolkowski almost singlehandedly (for a period of time) began the process of creating the work in progress.  Ziolkowski, who worked with Gutzon Borglum on Mount Rushmore, was selected by Native Americans, along with his family to embark this ambitious project.  At the beginning of the movie, you watch old film and pictures of him and his family walking up flights and flights of rickety steps to slowly begin the carvings of Crazy Horse.  The slow slow slow progress made my walking up these stairs everyday, chiseling away at the rock and the dedication to never give up.  This monument has been under construction since 1948 and who knows when it will be completed.  But, I can say this monument is a must see and I would suggest a few hours (at least) to take in all that can be learned – there is a Indian Museum of North America and a Cultural Center.

I had a moment during our visit where I was overcome with emotion and tears.  I just sat near a large window that overlooked the monument and just wept at the heaviness of the Native American history and my respect in their continued resistance and attempts to protect and continue their story.

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Although I wanted and could have stayed at the Crazy Horse Monument much longer, I do not like driving at night, so we decided to take off for our 6 hour drive back to the Tetons in Jackson, Wyoming.  This drive ended up being mostly in the dark (which I do not like) and we were greeted by ENORMOUS thunderstorms – while I will admit it was gorgeous – to see the way the lightening would fill the sky and you could see the lightening bolts touching the ground, it was WAY to close for my comfort in this flat, wide open space where we were the tallest object.  There were times when the lightening would illuminate these looming cloud fronts that you knew were just bringing torrential rain.

Due to the stress (okay, honestly, MY stress) of driving in this weather and darkness, and loss of GPS, we decided to stop in a little town called Lusk to find out what was the deal with weather.  We went into a gas station and I asked the lady (who was so awesome!) if she had any insight to how the storms were moving and she showed us the T.V. and we quickly realized we would not be going any further that night.  The storms had been creating thunderstorm warnings all over the area and only one town over they had softball size hail that filled yards almost 6 inches!!!

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We found the cutest hotel to stay in Lusk, complete with an outdoor chuck wagon style breakfast for us to sleep.  It was an adorable hotel.  The laundry facilities were right next to our room, so we took advantage of our early stop and did all our laundry for the second half of out trip!

Everyone was pretty exhausted by the end of the night, so we clicked off the lights and went to sleep.  Day 8 would include visiting the Teton’s and a long drive through Idaho & Utah to Salt Lake City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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