Prairie land in Badlands National Park, SD
We did two days of American monuments, all crowded into the southwest corner of South Dakota, which seems like a waste after having driven the rest of the state. The sheer size and seeming emptiness of the state may be in itself a monument to the vastness of this country. It’s something that I’ve never really grasped, in the same way that the human brain truly grasp larger numbers despite our bandying around words like billion and trillion. The Romans generally couldn’t conceptualize quantities larger than 600, which was their euphomism for “a hell of a lot”. I on the other hand, have driven over 1,500 miles into this country and the closest I’ve come to grasping how large our land is was driving through flat, windy South Dakota.
Our first stop in the Black Hills, after a small detour through Custer National Park and several passes by the fabulous Flintstone Camp Ground and RV park, was the Crazy Horse Monument.
What I find most memorable about the entire place, beyond the sheer number of people driving badly through the parking lot and the sheer size of the monument itself (larger than any other man made American monument by multiples), is the dedication of the Ziolkowski family to the completion of this monument to Native American heritage. Korczak, the original carver, gave his life to just the face of this statue and now seven of his ten children continue to do the same, thought whether it is dedication to the project or to their father’s memory I don’t know. Their absolute passion for this singular project is moving.
From there, we moved on to the decidedly smaller carving (which, interestingly, Korczak Ziolkowski also worked on) of four men on Mt. Rushmore. In a strange tribute to American capitalism, I noticed the image of George, Tom, Teddy and Abe on the pop machine by the ladies bathroom (next to the gift shop and ice cream stand) sported more detail than what I could see from the viewing area.
From there we hurried on to another bastion of American capitalism, the world renowned Wall Drug. We actually spent the night in Wall so as to face the Badlands with unwearied eyes. It was a wise decision.
We entered the Badlands between eight and nine AM while the air was still cool, shadows prominent and RV tourists still pre-coffee.
Compared to the magnificent sentiment and carvings of Crazy Horse and Rushmore – monuments to American traditions of hope, perseverance, vision and vast reams of dynamite – these rocks are just rocks. Miles of rocks carved with imperceptible speed over a length of time so expansive I am overwhelmed by them. A landscape so harsh and dry that life clings with the tenacity that is more than human. We hiked a little, until the sun was too much to take, and as per usual, I took pictures of life digging its roots in.
Tonight, we sleep in Al Franken territory – Worthington, MN.