Winter fun in the Black Hills of South Dakota

The blizzard that blew through the Midwest last week may have disrupted travel for the holidays, but it was just what outdoor enthusiasts were looking for in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Snow had been quite sparse up until the blizzard hit, but some areas received as much as four feet of the white stuff, making the area the perfect winter playground for skiers and snowmobilers.

Awhile back we mentioned all of the great outdoor adventure activities that South Dakota has to offer in the summer months, with plenty of great hiking, mountain biking, paddling, and climbing throughout the Badlands and Black Hills. During the winter, those activities switch to skiing, both down hill and cross country, snowboarding, dog sledding, snow shoeing, and snowmobiling.

Travelers looking to make a winter escape will want to head to the Rapid City area, which serves as a gateway to this outdoor wonderland. Nearby Mystic Miner and Terry Peak ski resorts both received over 45 inches of fresh snow in last week’s blizzard, and are an easy drive from the city. These resorts offer excellent skiing opportunities without the crowds found in some of the larger resorts in nearby Colorado.

Likewise, historic Deadwood is a popular destination that offers access to groomed trails that are perfect to explore on foot or by snow mobile. And when travelers are done playing outside, they can head back to town to enjoy wild west fun and themed casinos.

From Mt. Rushmore to the Crazy Horse Monument, you’ll find plenty of outdoor adventure throughout the Badlands and Black Hills no matter what time of year you visit, but those who enjoy winter activities, will find plenty to enjoy eary in the new year.

Adventure Destination: South Dakota

When adventure travelers think about exotic locations to visit they seldom mention South Dakota. There are plenty of mountain states in the western U.S. that get more attention, thanks in no small part to the higher elevations in the Rockies. But South Dakota can hold its own in terms of rugged backcountry and beat most other locations with the diversity of its terrain.

Make no mistake, the eastern part of South Dakota has little to offer adventure travelers. It is mostly flat, and uninteresting, plains. But travel west, and you’ll come across amazing scenery ranging from the lush and green Black Hills National Forest to the arid and desolate landscapes of the Badlands. In between, you’ll find the iconic Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument, which remains under construction 61 years after work first commenced.

The Black Hills and Badlands offer plenty of activities to keep even the busiest of outdoor enthusiasts occupied. The area recently played host to Primal Quest, a ten-day, 600 mile adventure race, that saw teams trekking, peddling, and paddling their way across the South Dakota backcountry. That means that there is top notch mountain biking, kayaking, and hiking to be had throughout the region, with miles of trails stretching in all directions. Rock climbers will find impressive big walls, while spelunkers and campers will find that their needs are well met too.South Dakota is also home to many diverse species of animals as well. Roaming the region you’ll find plenty of deer, both white tail and mule, elk, coyote, mountain lion, bighorn sheep and more. The state is also home to the elusive, and endangered, black footed ferret as well as the largest remaining herd of buffalo on Earth. For wildlife lovers, South Dakota has plenty to offer as well.

For a better idea of what it’s like in the Badlands, check out the video below.

More reasons to head to South Dakota: The Black Hills

Catherine’s already told us about South Dakota having the geographical center of the United States. I thought of this last night when a friend was telling me about her road trip by herself to Montana from Ohio. There are many reasons to head here. My friend mentioned the Black Hills and the Badlands as high points. I’ve been through this part of the U.S. a few times myself and can say, it is truly spectacular and worth a trip or two. Both my friend and I said that this is a part of the U.S. to visit more than once. You can’t possibly take in all that’s fantastic in one sweep.

There’s a new blog to help travelers plan out their trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. It’s easy to remember the name of it. The Black Hills Travel Blog is one of those that shines. Here you’ll find info about the attractions, tips, traveler’s tale and features.

I remember after we left Mt. Rushmore (I recommend it. There’s a reason why it’s a National Park), I thought that the area around it would be a fine place to park for a few days of exploring. Nice to know there’s another resource to help plan a trip. This is a slick, well done Web site with lush photos and videos.

Hidden Gems: Crazy Horse

In my lifetime there are many places I have gone and few that made me want to repeat visits. You see, my pal and I headed out a couple days ago expecting to be blown away by one of America’s most astonishing memorial’s and mountain carvings – Mount Rushmore. However, there is an uncompleted memorial 17 miles down the road that flipped our lids, turned our hearts inside out and begged us to revisit sometime again in the future. That memorial is known as Crazy Horse and will be the world’s largest mountain carving upon completion. However, as an unfinished memorial resting in South Dakota’s Black Hills and a hefty admission fee ($10 an adult or $24 per car load) one has to wonder what makes it so spectacular, breathtaking, and worth our attention? Well, with all great memorials there is usually a monumental story behind the piece and THAT is what makes Crazy Horse so extraordinary.

Crazy Horse
From the exterior the Welcome Center doesn’t look like much, but you can see the face of Crazy Horse up the hill in the distance. Once inside the story of the great Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Indian leader is revealed along with the story of a man and sculptor known as Korczak Ziolkowski that took up the challenge of the mountain carving.
Crazy Horse
Now you must forgive me for I’m not a historian, but from the orientation I became aware of the life of Crazy Horse and will provide you with what I now know. Crazy Horse was born in the Black Hills of South Dakota sometime in the 1840’s and died on September 6, 1877 at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. He was standing there under a flag of truce when he was stabbed in the back by an American soldier. His death was a major upset and he was recognized by the Lakota tribe as a great leader, warrior and defended his people and their way of life as best he could.As if things couldn’t get any worse for the Indians; their land had been taken away and a good number of their people had perished from war – news had made way that the white man would be carving faces of great white heroes into the stone located in the Black Hills. The stone carving would later become Mt. Rushmore and known to the Lakota Sioux as ‘Six Grandfathers.’ However, there was an Indian chief with a vision as well. Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear wrote a letter to a Sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowki which said the following, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too.” On May 3, 1947 Korczak arrived in the Black Hills to accept the Indians’ invitation and he started working on the mountain nearly 40 years in age in 1949.

While Korczak battled many hardships working on the mountain he was a strong believer in the free enterprise system. In his eyes Crazy Horse should be a nonprofit educational and cultural, humanitarian project built by the interested public and not the taxpayer. With this thought process he twice turned down ten million dollars in potential federal funding. Korczak passed away on October 20, 1982, but before his death he and his wife, Ruth, prepared three books of detailed plans to be used with his scale models to continue the project.

After learning all this and more from watching the short film, we were then let out into the exhibit halls of the Indian Museum of North America.

Throughout the museum you’ll find beautiful Indian artwork and rare artifacts. Native American artists and crafts people can also be found creating handicrafts in the cultural center. The museum is constructed of a warm looking native pine which enhances the galleries giving a glowing feel. Work your way around and you’ll notice pictures from several stages of the Crazy Horse build, dedications and even hand-written letters detailing one woman’s perspective on the death of Crazy Horse. The map below highlights many points of interest to make sure you don’t miss all the huge visitor complex has to offer. Made to enlighten and entertain both children and adults make sure you step into the Tipi or sit Indian-style out front for a picture. Stroll through the sculptor’s log studio-home, the bronze showroom, or step outside on the viewing veranda for a closer look at the Crazy Horse Memorial. There is much to do.
Site Map

More Indian artwork.
Standing Bear Pic
Chief Henry Standing Bear pictured with Korczak.
Indian artifacts.
My friend Richard finds sitting Indian-style very comfortable.
Because Crazy Horse is a nonprofit project your admission becomes the primary funding for the mountain, but there are several other ways to help and all donations are tax deductible under IRS rules. Gifts include: monetary, materials, supplies, tools, light and heavy equipment, library books, office equipment, Indian artifacts, fine art, historic photos, stock and computer hardware and software. Otherwise keep the memory alive by purchasing a souvenir in the gift shop. Items range from books, artwork, jewelry, music and collectibles. I personally picked up the Everyday Lakota book which is an English-Sioux dictionary for beginners. I don’t imagine becoming even close to fluent, but I thought it was a good find. Anyhow, once you’ve made your way inside and out of the complex try heading into the Laughing Water restaurant. My friend and I wanted to taste-test some Native American food, but we had made it too late and the restaurant would be closing up early due to off-season hours. This gave us another reason to come back.
Laughing Water
From the restaurant we noticed the 1/34th scale model of Crazy Horse on the viewing veranda. Looking at the scale version and back up at the mountain you see that they’ve still got a long way to go. The arm, hand, mane, and horse’s head have yet to appear, but once completed it will be the world’s largest mountain carving standing taller
than the Washington Monument, Mount Rushmore, and the Eiffel Tower. It will be 641 ft (195 m) wide and 563 ft (172 m) high. We wondered if it might ever be completed in our lifetime and even if it isn’t we are sure to return.
Crazy Horse
From a Korczak Ziolkowski: Crazy Horse, as far as the scale model is concerned, is to be carved not so much as a lineal likeness but more as a memorial to the spirit of Crazy Horse – to his people. With his left hand thrown out pointing in answer to the derisive questions asked by a white man, “Where are your lands now?” he replied,
The Crazy Horse Memorial is open all year long. During summer hours are from 7 AM to dark. Off-season hours are from 8 AM to dark. Admission fees are $10 an adult (under 6 free) or $24 a carload. Special rates are given for tours, seniors, and motorcyclists. The Mt. carving is lighted nightly for one hour year around. As of 2005 the memorial began a “Legends in Light” laser-light storytelling show which runs from late May until early Fall. The multimedia program with photos and animation is projected on the 500′ mountain sides nightly (weather permitting). Laughing Water Restaurant is open early May to late October and serves Native American specialties and U.S. dishes. If heading out for summer be sure to check out to find out when the memorial opens up for the one weekend walk around the memorial. If going during off-season get their early enough to tour the facilities as well as grab a bite to eat. If you time it correctly you need not make two trips to see the laser light show.

Crazy Horse Memorial is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota on US Highway 16/385 just 17 miles southwest of Mt. Rushmore.

(All photos taken by Adrienne Wilson)