The Black Hills of South Dakota…

September 20, 2009

We drove into the Black Hills of South Dakota from Wyoming (which also contains part of the Black Hills), and rented a small duplex cabin in Hill City, SD, a nicely situated spot central to all the major attractions, including Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and Custer State Park. Why are they called “Black,” these hills? It turns out that the Ponderosa Pine, which constitutes the mainstay tree of this region, has needles whose undersides don’t reflect any light, making them look black at a distance. Here’s a scene typifying Black Hill geography:

Black Hill Ponderosas with Granite Outcropping

Black Hill Ponderosas with Granite Outcropping

You can see not only the pines, but also the granite outcroppings so typical of the region. Both Mt. Rushmore and Chief Crazy Horse are sculpted from huge forms of these outcroppings. But this isn’t a geology lesson. One of our favorite photo picks from the few days we visited was a profile of Rock Star George Washington, taken from the road below:

George Washington's Profile - World's First Rock Star!

George Washington's Profile - World's First Rock Star!

Of course, we visited Mt. Rushmore, and you’ll find the customary four faces in our Black Hills Gallery, (click to see photos) but when it comes to Chief Crazy Horse’s evolving statue, you’ve really got to see it to believe it. It’s way bigger than Mt. Rushmore, and way less finished. Moreover, unlike Mt. Rushmore, Chief Crazy Horse’s sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, demanded at the outset that it should be financed ONLY from private funds. So, he (now deceased) and his many sons & daughters (10, of whom 7 are working on the mountain), and THEIR heirs and assigns will doggedly continue this work, the world’s largest sculpture, until it’s completed, maybe a lifetime from now?AND, all funding comes from entrance fees, concession and gift sales, etc. So, this is a very capitalistic and visibly commercial project. Jane took a shot of Chief Crazy Horse from the road at twilight:

Chief Crazy Horse, an unfinished symphony in stone

Chief Crazy Horse, an unfinished symphony in stone

We got a big kick out of driving the loop of Custer State Park, much like the “game drive” feeling we reported in Montana last week or so at the Bison Range. At Custer, we saw Donkeys, Buffalo, Antelope, Prairie Dogs, Mule Deer, and had a lot of fun discovering them. You can see photos of some of our “catches” in the gallery, of course.

Well, the scenery of the Black Hills is magnificent, and we were blessed with wonderful weather at just the right temperature for our visit. We took the 1880 steam train round-trip from Hill City to Keystone, and also met our good friends King & Ginny Lear at the Sylvan Lake Lodge, all of which you’ll find documented in what else? The Gallery. By the way, If you’re ever anywhere near Hill City at dinnertime, you’ll definitely want to wait in line to eat at the Alpine Inn, which, though it sounds German, serves only two menu options: Filet Mignon, either 6 oz. or 9 oz. with a baked potato, salad, and Texas toast. Our dinner bill (less wine & beer, but with dessert & coffee) came to an astonishing $29.05 before tip!

Today we drove East some more, through the Badlands, etc., but that’s another story…

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One Response to “The Black Hills of South Dakota…”

  1. Sharon said

    Looks like you’re having a wonderful trip so far…. even looks like the weather is cooperating. Great commentary and photos!

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