Today we biked 75 miles from Hot Springs to Rapid City. We did a fair amount of climbing–about 5100 feet, and the hills were tiring by the end. But the ride itself is not the real story of the day. Today was unlike any other day on the ride thus far. There was lots of sightseeing to do. So I rode much more slowly and played tourist.

Leaving Hot Springs, we biked through Wind Cave National Park, the first cave to be designated a national park anywhere in the world. The cave is notable for its displays of the calcite formation known as box work. The detour to go into the caves would have taken too much time, but the drive through the park was spectacular. The park is largest remaining mixed-grass prairie in the United States. Buffalo/Bison grazed on the green hills. The prairie dogs barking sounded like birds chirping. They are small, and ran down into holes burrowed in the ground. Sort of cute.

Next up we toured the Crazy Horse Memorial, a mountain monument that is under construction on privately held land in the Black Hills. It depicts Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior, riding a horse and pointing into the distance. The memorial was commissioned by Lakota elder Henry Standing Bear (a Lakota elder) in 1924 saying, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too”. Construction did not begin until 1948 and it is still far from completion. If/when completed, it would become the world’s largest sculpture. It would dwarf Mount Rushmore, as Crazy Horse’s head alone is about 80 feet tall as compared to the faces on Mount Rushmore, which are about 60 feet tall. The sculptor died in 1982, but his family continues to build the Memorial through a foundation. The federal government has offered to assume ownership of the property, but the foundation has turned them down twice. There are controversial aspects to the Memorial: Some of the traditional Lakota oppose it. Lame Deer (a Lakota medicine man) said: “The whole idea of making a beautiful wild mountain into a statue of him is a pollution of the landscape. It is against the spirit of Crazy Horse.” Having the finished sculpture depict Crazy Horse pointing with his index finger has also been criticized, as using the index finger to point at people or even objects is rude and even taboo in Native American culture. Hmmm… you would have thought that this would have been resolved before blasting…

Last up was Mount Rushmore. OK, count me as one of those people that would never have thought of making this a destination or going any great distance to see it. Statues of President’s carved into a mountain? What’s the big deal? But it is impressive! Sculpted by Gutzon Borglum and his son, Mount Rushmore features sculptures of the heads of former United States presidents (in order from left to right) George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Originally, it was planned that the figures would be carved from head to waist, but funding ran out. What made the visit so enjoyable is the site is at a high place in the Black Hills, and the walk into the area is majestic and the setting feels serene. You would want to look at the rock formation itself without any carving on it. Touring the visitors center, the displays describing the engineering project was fascinating. Borglum was clearly a genius–he built a 12 foot replica in his workroom and used that to drop plum lines that were used to make measurements for blasting. Initially Jefferson was most left, but the rock was not stable so he was moved to the right. There were countless little details about the project and its building that made the whole thing totally worthwhile.

Mt Hood, The Tetons, and today. Top three days of riding so far. Most people called today the best. I highly recommend anybody retrace what we covered today–in a car, although preferably on a bike!

Bison in Wind Cave National Park, prairie dog hole in foreground

Crazy Horse

Great faces?