It never fails to come as a surprise. The midwestern states always seem like vast stretches of nothing until, wham! They hit you with something truly spectacular. Or, in the case of Rapid City, with many things truly spectacular.
It doesn’t seem like much at first. A good-sized town tucked away in the northeast corner of South Dakota, not far from Sturgis of “Sturgis Raw!” fame, which fans of The History Channel will recognize in an instant as the site of one of the biggest motorcycle rallies in the world.
They call this area The Black Hills. But it is perhaps best known for one rather grayish-tan hill:
Every day, thousands of people flock to Mount Rushmore, to this ultimate homage to dead presidents. It is so cheesy, yet so reassuring. It reminds us that in fifty years currently popular celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Pitbull will be long forgotten – yet these four presidents will live on in the American imagination. Not because of their principles, not because of their achievements, but because some sculptor thought it would be really cool to memorialize their heads on the side of a mountain.
And you know what? It actually is really cool. And what’s even cooler is that they livened up that dull, colorless mountain by turning the entrance to it into an Avenue of Flags containing the banners of each of the fifty states:
The whole monument is so cool, in fact, that another sculptor – with entirely different motives – decided to attempt a similar gambit some twenty miles to the south:
Any guess what famous figure that’s supposed to be? Maybe this will help:
That’s right; this mountain is – or is going to be – a monument to Crazy Horse, the famed Indian warrior who inspired such fear and admiration in the spirits of white men, and who, a century and a half later, remains an icon of the Plains Indian to both red and white men alike. This massive project – which, if completed, may be the largest sculpture in the world – receives no federal funding and has been a work-in-progress since 1948. However, I think it’s safe to say that even if the project is never finished, it has ensured that Crazy Horse will enjoy a permanent place in American history.
It is perhaps ironic that not far south of the Crazy Horse Mountain lies Custer State Park, named for the cocky yet ill-fated Indian fighter who met his doom on a Montana battlefield which I hope to see again later in my trip. It is perhaps fitting that General Custer and his outmoded ways of thinking have been commemorated by an equally antiquated theme park, which has been constructed in the city that also bears his name:
That’s right – in Custer you can order food from the Flintstones drive-in…
… or make a call from the Bedrock phone booth, which can be really handy if, like me, you have a third-rate cell service provider and your phone hasn’t worked in a week.
Yes, Rapid City has an abundance of special charms that you won’t want to miss. You don’t have to worry about hurrying down to nearby Hot Springs, though – this guy definitely isn’t going anywhere:
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