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.

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.

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.

More Indian artwork.

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.

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.

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 www.crazyhorsememorial.org 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)

Restaurant Rant: Big Time Pizza – Keystone, SD

No one likes writing restaurant rants including myself, but when I encounter very bad service it then becomes my obligation to all potential travelers to make such piss poor service known. Sigh. Before I begin with my rant let me set up the scene in Keystone, SD around this time of year.

For starters it’s off-season in Keystone and what may be a bustling little place right outside of Mount Rushmore in summertime it feels quiet and deserted for fall and even more so for winter. Here and there a few businesses have closed up operation already and will reopen later next year and those that have yet to close either offer discounted rates on goods, limited goods or shorten business hours. All of which makes perfect sense if there aren’t any tourists around to generate a buck. Knowing this and that we were traveling in the area at such a point in the season my companion and I planned to eat dinner as early as we possibly could and remained aware and flexible towards business operation in town. However, business operation and hospitality/service are not entirely one of the same. Here’s my spill:

The first evening we found ourselves at Big Time Pizza it was about 8:30 PM. We stepped in to what appeared to be a humble, cozy kind of family-owned spot that claimed to make all other pizzas jealous. Having had pizza two nights before, we were really interested in just munching on a salad or a sub. On the menu you’ll find half a page listing a variety of subs and half with different pizza selections. On the back there were roughly three salads listed. I had decided on the chef salad and my pal was going for the 6 inch veggie sub. Our server was an older woman (also part-owner) who peered over her glasses and smiled as she made everything we requested sound like an inconvenience. When I requested a slice of lemon for my water she made it sound as if I were in luck that they just so happen to have sliced one. Huh? She said no one had ordered salad in weeks and she would have to see if they had everything needed to make the chef salad. She returned and reported that the lettuce they had wasn’t the normal iceberg type or spinach kind, but it was still good and good for me. I asked if they could kindly serve the salad without the green pepper or the onions and she said told me they came on the side and that I could take it off. (I asked assuming their salads were freshly made as they were and not pre-packaged like a McDonald’s salad.) Thankfully she gave me a napkin so when my salad arrived I could pick everything I did not want off and place it on the napkin. When my friend put in his sub order she had little to say other than there was only one chef in the back and that she would have to see if he could make the sub. Um, fair enough I suppose. Anyhow, our food arrived and we gobbled it down. Having realized how delicious his veggie sub was my friend politely ordered a second serving. Our server as nice as can be told us the chef couldn’t without even consulting him. He was only making pizza. While I thought all of what we experienced strange I kept telling myself we were travelers at the mercy of the off-season business blues. We paid our bill and left.

However, my poor service story continues.On the following day we had consumed a large portion of the day exploring Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park, Needles Highway, and the whole shebang. The area was absolutely beautiful, but we were getting weary and concerned with time. We knew we had to get something to eat early before everything closed up. We returned to Big Time Pizza certainly not because of their great service, but because we didn’t know if anything else along the main drag was open and didn’t want to miss our chance at having dinner. On this second visit just a day after our first we found that Big Time Pizza was nothing other than a Big Time Let Down. We were seated by a cute little girl who had to have been around 8 or so and shortly afterwards greeted by our server from the previous day. Before we could put in our very same orders from the previous day she said there was no more salad and the chef was only making pizza. We left.

As we drove down the road in search of other restaurants we couldn’t help wondering if we had ordered a pizza if they would have had the kind we wanted? The thing that struck me most bizarre is everything on the veggie sub could be found on a pizza and much faster to fix than making pizza. Everything on the chef salad could be found on a pizza and faster to make as well. What was the issue? Even if it is off-season you’d think they’d go they extra-mile to make all the money possible before things really slow down, but obviously good service and making our money was unimportant.

We ended up having fantastic salads at the Ruby House though. If you’re ever in Keystone, SD go there first and don’t even deal with Big Time Pizza a.k.a Big Time Waste of Time. Note: Big Time Pizza is neither owned or operated by the Roosevelt Inn.

Big Time Pizza is located in the Roosevelt Inn on Highway 16A in Keystone and is open all year. Ph. 605.666.4443