Crazy Horse Memorial, South Dakota – American Road Trip (pt 16)
The Crazy Horse Memorial was one of the few places I remember reading about before I left on my 50-day American Road Trip. I’m not sure how I stumbled upon it, but it was one of the few places I knew I had to see if I did end up in that part of the country. Fortunately for me, it was in the middle of a ridiculous amount of great destinations in South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. I didn’t know a lot about Crazy Horse or the Lakota people, but for some reason, this mountain monument was something I had to see. If you go to Mount Rushmore, you really should make the 25-minute drive to visit Crazy Horse. You won’t be disappointed.
When I first drove up, I was amazed at the sheer size of the monument from the parking lot. I was about a mile or so away and it was enormous, the face alone is 87 feet or nine stories tall. To give a little perspective, that’s 27 feet taller than the 60-foot heads of Mount Rushmore. And that’s just Crazy Horse’s head, not the body and his horse. When complete, this mountain sculpture will be 563 tall, making it the world’s largest sculpture by far.
After parking, I went into the museum and viewed the introductory movie that explained how in the 1930’s, a Lakota chief asked the New England sculptor, Korczak (Core-zack) Ziolkowski to carve a memorial honoring all Native Americans. Construction didn’t actually begin until 1948. The movie goes on to explain all the family history and also states that the memorial is not federally or state funded. It relies totally on donations to the Crazy Horse Foundation to continue work each year. That was a bit of surprise to me and explained why the memorial has been a work in progress for long. Korczak died in 1982 and his wife, Ruth, six of their ten children and many grandchildren continue to run the foundation and oversee construction. It’s a pretty cool story.
After the movie, I briefly wandered around the museum, gift shop and viewing area before asking one of the attendants how I get up to the top of the memorial. The museum/visitor center view was nice, but I wanted to go to the top of the mountain and see the man face to face.** She kindly explained that a $125 donation to the Crazy Horse Foundation would get me a trip to the top of the mountain. That didn’t sound like too much since it would help provide local scholarships and help continue work on the Memorial. And to be honest, I would have paid the $125 even if it was a flat fee. How often does a person get to take a trip to the top of the world’s largest mountain carving and look him in the eyes?? It was well worth it. At least for me.
**Check their website for more details on trips to the top. They aren’t always available.
The trip to the top was very cool and I’d recommend it to anyone that has the spare change. Standing next to the face and looking off into the Black Hills definitely gives you some life perspective. Crazy Horse was one of the few chiefs that never signed a treaty with the US, never lived on a reservation and never learned English. This memorial is definitely a great tribute to a people and way of life long ago lost.
As I left the memorial, the sun was finally setting on one of the most interesting days of my trip. I drove an hour and a half to Spearfish for my second and last night in South Dakota. I started early morning on the eastern border. One 1880 Town, one National Park, one National Monument, and one Memorial later I arrived late at night on the western border. As I sit and write this, almost 7 months later, I remember that day vividly. It was a great day. I had no idea that it was just the beginning of many great days ahead as I began a week of visits to Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the Crazy Horse Memorial as much as I did. If so, let me know below.
Last Stop: Mount Rushmore, South Dakota (part 15)
Next Stop: Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wyoming (part 17)