Thursday, April 21, 2011

SD Sculpture Expedition

The first time I ever had the opportunity to see the famous sculptures carved out of the side of Mount Rushmore, in South Dakota, was during a trip to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of that event. Consequently, there were SO MANY motorcyclists also visiting on that same day, it was not possible to get fully acquainted with all this fabulous attraction has to offer. However, on a more recent trip (during a less crowded time of the year), I had the opportunity to go on a hike around the base of the mountain, that was led by a park ranger, who gave lots of interesting background information about the monument. In this photo, he is shown telling our group exactly WHO these guys were that were so prominently displayed above our heads. Although it might seem obvious to us folks from the USA, some in our group were from the tiny country of Suriname in South America, and were interested to learn that the faces represented four presidents of the USA---George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Besides some scenic hiking and walking trails around the mountain (many of which are handicap accessible), there is also a museum, a movie about the making of Mt. Rushmore, food service facilities, gigantic gift shop, picnic tables, clean restrooms, and the famous Avenue of Flags plaza adjacent to the massive visitor's center. You can make the best of your visit to Mt. Rushmore by studying their website, where you can get exact times for their night-time lighting ceremony of the faces, as well as dates for some spectacular fireworks, that are made all the more spectacular by using the face of the country's first president, George Washington, (and his buddies), as the backdrop for the pyrotechnic extravaganza.

Just seventeen miles from Mt. Rushmore National Park is the Crazy Horse Memorial ( This photo shows the face of Chief Crazy Horse (completed in the 1990's), and the "chalked -in" drawings of what will be his outstretched hand, and his horse, whenever the monument is completed. Unlike Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial is not a national park, and receives no federal or state funding. It was commissioned by Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear, and started by a sculptor (Ziolkowski) who had also helped with the sculpting of Mt. Rushmore. The Lakota Chief stated he wanted visitors to know that , just as the "white men" had their heroes in history, so the "red men" had their heroes. And one of these heroes was Chief Crazy Horse. However, the official website for the memorial states that although the sculpture is the focal point, their true mission is educating visitors about American Indians and their culture. Besides the carving, the attraction includes an Indian Museum of North America, and a Native American Cultural Center, a school that is affiliated with the University of South Dakota, and an awesome restaurant, with one whole side of the restaurant being a glass wall that looks out upon the mountain sculpture and surrounding landscape. From these photos, it is hard to tell the scale of either Mt. Rushmore or the Crazy Horse Memorial, so here are the actual measurements: The head of Crazy Horse is 87 feet high, whereas the heads on Mt. Rushmore are "only" 60 feet high. Although the Crazy Horse Memorial was started in 1948, there is not a "scheduled date of completion". The family of the now deceased original sculptor continues the project, with the help of on-going fundraising efforts from the private sector.

As you would assume, the plans for blasting out sections of the mountain are intricately spelled out days in advance (along with press releases of upcoming blasting dates/times), so these periodic blasting events are attended by thousands from all over. I felt very fortunate to be visiting on such a day. Although I had not read in advance of the blasting, my first clue was the numerous video cameras, TV crews, and super duper Nikon lenses all poised and ready on the observation deck, obviously waiting for something to happen. By asking around, I found out that a blast was scheduled to be held within the next few minutes!

Although some had waited for hours, I only had to wait a few minutes to see the spectacle of a huge number of near-simultaneous detonations, and a great tumbling of rocks and dust down the mountain. I tried to capture this in the smoke and dust you can see in front of the mountain, in this photograph. The rocks I saw blasted out, could then be added to the more than 8 million tons of rock that have been removed from the mountain so far!! The reason I started thinking about my experience at the Crazy Horse Memorial was a verse I came across in The Message paraphrase of Psalm 139. As you may recall, that psalm describes how God created us in our mother's womb. However, it was a particular word that The Message used, that made my mind "leap frog" to South Dakota. It said "You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was SCULPTED from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;". Sooooooo, just as the Ziolkowski family keeps dynamiting, chiseling, and scraping, to make their masterpiece, so God kept working to form me in my mother's womb. And, just as the Crazy Horse Memorial is a work in progress, so am I, a "work in progress". The fact that all of us are subject to on-going transformations, makes it more important than ever to enjoy the "process" in our journey of life, as much as possible. One way to add enjoyment to the process is to visit some of the beautiful places that are out there beckoning to us. If YOU would like to find out more about a great place to do this, just log on to for some great travel itineraries. Miles of SD smiles! Tricia

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