Everyone knows that one of South Dakota’s biggest attractions is Mount Rushmore National Monument — South Dakota is even nicknamed “The Mount Rushmore State” and the monument receives about 3 million visitors per year. While Amy and I were so excited to visit Mount Rushmore and we definitely had an incredible, memorable experience, I might have to make the bold statement that our visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial was even mooooore impressive.
For those who don’t know, Crazy Horse was a Native American leader of the Lakota tribe in the late 1800s who fought the US government over their invasion of the land/ways of life of his people. Eventually, Crazy Horse surrendered to the US, but months later was resisting imprisonment in what is now Nebraska and was killed by the US military. He is considered one of the most iconic Native American heroes, and during our visit to Crazy Horse, we learned about him, the legacy he’s left in the Black Hills, and all about the development of the memorial. The stories of the Native Americans are pretty nuts.
We arrived at Crazy Horse on a Saturday morning and were greeted by cowboys and cowgirls on horses, who helped guide us to our parking spot in an overgrown field of grass. The weather was being a little temperamental that day, but the Crazy Horse parking lot was filling up fast and the visitor center was buzzing with people.
It wasn’t until we checked into our hotel the day before that we realized that we had chosen to visit Custer, South Dakota on the very weekend of the annual Crazy Horse Volksmarch — one of the largest organized hikes in the US in which visitors have the opportunity to hike 10K through the Black Hills and all the way up to the face of the Crazy Horse memorial! Us little lucky ducks.
Sooooooooo, we ended up NOT being able to walk to the very top of the monument to Crazy Horse’s face, but we really enjoyed the special experience anyway. It had been drizzling on and off throughout the morning, and about 3/4 of the way through the hike, lightning started striking and thunder was rolling in so the last bit was canceled. Still! Being so close to such a unique piece of Native American/US history was definitely something we won’t forget.
The actual carving of the Crazy Horse Memorial is one the most interesting/bizarre situations ever. Construction started on the memorial in 1948 by a Polish guy named Korczak Ziolkowski, who previously also assisted in the sculpting of Mount Rushmore. He was approached by several Native American tribe leaders in the Black Hills, who requested that he create a monument so that the “white man know the red man has great heroes, too.”
Since beginning construction in 1948, progress has been made very slowly because they do not receive any financial help/grants from the US government. Ziolkowski has 10 children, and almost all of them help in the continuing of the Crazy Horse project in some way. Right now, Crazy Horse’s face is mostly completed, but they still have his arm and the entire horse to finish! The monument is going to be so large that the heads of Mount Rushmore could stack on top of themselves 9 times and still not be the full size of Crazy Horse!
Mount Rushmore heads: 60 feet tall
Crazy Horse (when finished): will be 563 feet tall
It’s going to be huge. At this rate, though, we just won’t see it completed in our lifetime.
After the hike, Amy and I headed back to the huge visitor center, where there is a theater showing the story of the Crazy Horse Memorial, a museum of Native American artifacts, authentic Native American jewelry, blankets, dreamcatchers, pottery and other AWESOME stuff for sale, a classic gift shop, a restaurant, and a spacious outdoor patio area where we were just in time to catch a presentation of traditional Native American dancing. IT ROCKED and it was invigorating to see these people so full of passion for the centuries-old traditions and customs of their tribes.
After the presentation, we headed over to the restaurant — it was the cutest place. Wood paneled walls, adorable waiters in western vests and hats (xo Marty), and a full menu of local South Dakotan foods. We went for BUFFALO BURGERS, because when in South Dakota!!! Am I right?
THIS is what the final monument is going to look like!!! Someday! This photo is a little dark, but on the plaque of the Crazy Horse statue it reads “CRAZY HORSE 1/300th Scale Model For the Mountain Carving.” That bad boy is gonna be one big stone sculpture.
I really really really enjoyed the time we spent at Crazy Horse. I’ve talked with other people who have visited Custer to see Mount Rushmore and have skipped Crazy Horse altogether (the entrance fee to get in is slightly more than Mount Rushmore, and I guess some people don’t really know what/who it is). I wouldn’t ever recommend skipping Mount Rushmore, but I’d say the story behind Crazy Horse and the significance to the Native Americans made my experience there feel a little more special. If you’re ever in the South Dakota Black Hills, don’t skimp and make sure you swing by the Crazy Horse Memorial. If for no other reason, they need the funds to keep carving. 😉