Sacred Land of Heroes: Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and General Custer
Named for the dense shade of their ponderosa pines, the Black Hills of South Dakota have for centuries been considered sacred by the Lakota Sioux, once the most powerful tribe in the West. Today, because of the passions of a few artists, the land itself has become hallowed in another way.
It took the obsessed Danish-American sculptor Gutzon Borglum, his son Lincoln, and some four hundred workers fourteen years (from 1927 to 1941) to complete an artistic and engineering project so monumental that no one believed it possible: carving and blasting the six-story faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln out of stony Mount Rushmore. A little trivia: Washington’s eyes are each 11 feet wide, and his nose is 26 feet long. Mr. Lincoln, for his part, sports a mole that measures 16 inches across.
Just 17 miles away, the gigantic Crazy Horse Memorial is slowly taking shape. Also carved into granite, this memorial, when completed somewhere around 2050, after a century’s labor, will depict Native America’s greatest warrior chief astride his steed, dwarfing Mount Rushmore at 563 feet tall. The horse’s nostril alone will be large enough to hold a five-room house.
From Crazy Horse, head east on the beautiful 14-mile Needles Highway (Highway 87), past jagged, billion-year-old granite spires, to Sylvan Lake and then north to Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, whose landscape you’ll easily recognize as the epic backdrop used by Kevin Costner in his film Dances with Wolves.
Alternatively, you can park your bags in the homey State Game Lodge that served as Calvin Coolidge’s Summer White House. Of the historic inn’s seven rooms, you can still book the room the thirtieth president and his wife occupied during three months in 1927. The lodge is one of three found within Custer State Park, whose 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road bisects unfenced meadows where herds of 1,500 shaggy buffalo roam.