Our Visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park

A Quick Trip to the Northern Plains
Lodging Review: Home2 Suites by Hilton Rapid City, SD
Our Visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park
Our Visit to Mount Rushmore and Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Lodging Review: TownePlace Suites, Dickinson, North Dakota
Lodging Review: Fairfield Inns & Suites, Chicago O’Hare

We had one full day in the Rapid City area and we packed it pretty full. Fortunately the summer crush had not yet begun so we didn’t have issues with traffic or overcrowding. That also meant summer weather wasn’t in full effect. There was a wind advisory in effect until 2:30 PM on the day of our visit, something that wasn’t an issue early in the day but became one as the day progressed.

Crazy Horse Memorial

We started the day at the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is the world’s largest mountain carving and was about an hour away from our hotel. In 1939, Henry Standing Bear, an Oglala Lakota chief enlisted the help of Korczak Ziolkowski (who had assisted Gutzon Borglum at Mount Rushmore) to begin the process of carving famed Lakota warrior Crazy Horse on his horse into Thunderhead Mountain, land considered sacred to the Lakota. There are no known photographs of Crazy Horse, who resisted having his photo taken. Work began in 1948 and is still underway. Ziolkowski twice turned down multi-million dollar government grants to ensure there was no interference with the vision he and Standing Bear had. The project is funded solely on admission fees, gift shop purchases and private donations.

One of the best views of memorial – without paying extra to take the shuttle down closer – is from the upper parking lot. We were fortunate that even though it was windy, the temperature was warm enough that a light fleece jacket was all that was needed that morning.

The basic ticket includes entrance to the Indian Museum of North America where you can see a continuously-running film about the memorial from its inception to the present along with Native American artifacts and many items from the sculptors workshop. It’s recommended to begin the tour viewing the film and then making your way through the museum. Upon exiting the theater, you’re in a room with large windows overlooking the memorial. This is also a great view of the sculpture and there’s a scale model right in front of the window which I thought was a cool contrast.

1:30 Scale Model of the sculpture in front of the real thing

Just a couple of the items from the museum.

While the rest of the museum is in this same building and the gift shop is connected, there are other buildings containing workshops and different types of artifacts like a stagecoach and a sculpture of Wild Bill Hickok.

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We passed on the opportunity to take their shuttle down to the base of the mountain. Since none of us has any fancy camera equipment, I think the shots we got from the parking lot and the museum are about as good as we could get.

Custer State Park

The drive from the Crazy Horse Memorial to Custer State Park is only about 30-40 minutes on 2-4 lane highways. Before entering the park we asked the ranger at the gate about where the bison herds had been spotted and she actually pointed us to a spot down the road outside the park. Her info proved reliable as there was a small herd there including several babies. Calving season occurs around March-April so these 1-2-month-old calves were just adorable.

Adorable baby bison

I found it interesting that just about everyone in the area refers to these creatures as buffalo whereas in Yellowstone they are equally adamant in calling them bison. Per my internet research these are, in fact, bison as the term buffalo refers to Cape buffalo and water buffalo which are found in Africa. My college has the bison as its mascot so they’ll always be bison to me!

Bison herd outside the park

We also got our first look at prairie dogs and this is also where I realized the camera on my 5-year-old phone is no longer adequate. I blew the photo up as best I could and I apologize for how blurry it is.

Prairie Dogs

Driving through the park we stopped at a couple of scenic overlooks. Growing up in Middle Tennessee I’m quite familiar with hilly areas and I see loads of mountains on my ski trips but these hills were somehow different. I think I finally decided at least part of the difference is the coloring where the sandy-colored soil is just different from what I’ve seen in other parts of the country.

We also came upon several burros grazing and a solo pronghorn making his rounds.

We did make one stop inside the park and even though the bathrooms were outhouses, they were large and clean and did not smell.

In the end

While neither of these sights are the headliners of the area, they’re still worth a visit. If you’ve been to either of these spots, drop me a comment to tell me what you thought about them!

Categories: Attraction Review, Historical Site, North America, South Dakota, Trip Report, United States | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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