Buffalo and burros in the Black Hills, South Dakota

Evidently my mom wanted me to realize that just because I was back in the US didn’t mean it was the end of the world, or the end of my travelling, for that matter.

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On her first day off following my return to South Dakota, we ventured up into the Black Hills to do some sightseeing. The Black Hills are a low-lying mountain range on the west side of South Dakota, and are home to a number of famous monuments and state parks. They’re called “the black hills” because they’re covered with pine trees, so from a difference the hills look black. Now I’ve been to most places in the Black Hills before but it was when I was just a baby, so of course I didn’t remember anything. It was basically seeing it anew for the first time.

Mount Rushmore

We rose at the crack of dawn to drive the hour and a half into the Black Hills. Our first stop was Mount Rushmore, naturally. Apparently they’ve redone the entrance to the monument quite a bit since I was a baby. My mom was genuinely impressed.

We then drove to see Crazy Horse which is near Mount Rushmore but not nearly as well known. Crazy Horse was an American Indian who lived in the mid-1800s. He was very important to his tribe and people because he helped stand up against the US government when they tried to take over American Indian territories and change their way of life.

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[A brief aside here: the U.S. government has been absolutely disgusting to the American Indians over the years. I’m not going to go into a polemic here (though truthfully, I could) but if you want to read more, just look up the Trail of Tears, the Battle of Wounded Knee, the Trail of Death, and the Indian Removal Act, just to name a few. It’s even more ridiculous because all these events aren’t really acknowledged in our education or by the US government. It’s just shoved under the carpet and ignored, even as many American Indian tribes today live in extreme poverty due to having their entire way of life destroyed and being oppressed for so many years (look up Pine Ridge Indian Reservation).]

Anyways… a sculptor named Korczak Ziolkowski started carving the Crazy Horse Memorial into Thunderhead Mountain, a spot held sacred by American Indians, in the early 1900s. The monument is still under construction today and likely won’t be finished for quite some time, as the project is funded entirely by private donations. The government has offered to provide funding but Ziolkowski would not accept it. In addition, at times Ziolkowski was the only man working on this memorial, which is crazy given the size of the project. To get a size of the scale, if you stacked the four heads of Mount Rushmore on top of each other they wouldn’t even reach half the height of the Crazy Horse Memorial.

053Today, it’s still hard to even tell what the memorial will look like, and my mom said it hadn’t changed much at all from twenty years ago. This picture shows the model of the memorial (how it will look when it’s finished) next to the current memorial, so you can see it still has a long ways to go.

After visiting the Crazy Horse Memorial we went to Custer State Park. You can go hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, and horseback riding in the park, or you can also drive around in your car. We opted for the last option, though we did a little bit of hiking, and later we would go back to do more hiking.

Custer State Park buffalo

Custer State Park buffalo 2Now, Custer State Park is pretty darn cool because you can see buffalo. At one time buffalo roamed the Great Plains in vast numbers, but today their numbers are severely dwindled. I remember seeing buffalo when I was just a young girl living in North Dakota, but again, this was only in protected areas. But there are some herds of buffalo in Custer State Park, and we were lucky enough to see them…. from a distance, at least. You don’t want to get too close to buffalo as they can be pretty mean and might gore you.142

After looking at the buffalo for some time we continued on through the park, until we found these burros. The burros love food and have learned to associate people with food, so if you stop your car and roll down your windows, they’ll stick their head right in your car.

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And lick your steering wheel.

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Gross.

(I love their ears, though).

When the burros learned we didn’t have food they moved on, so we did as well. We saw a few antelope, which isn’t unusual for South Dakota. Antelope roam areas outside the park and I had seen them before. They’re small and can be hard to spot, however, though at least they seem to be smarter than deer in that they don’t run out in front of your car when you’re going 60 mph.

I had wanted to go to the Badlands that same day, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time. Well, another day perhaps.

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