Friday, June 14, 2013

Black Hills of South Dakota

There is certainly plenty to see and do in this area, I doubt that we will cover it all in the week which we have to spend here.  It helped a little bit that we entered the mountain time at the beginning of this week- John is getting up now just a little bit earlier and we are getting out the door before the day is half gone!  Yesterday we drove into the Black Hills National Forest.  To the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne this land was holy- a sacred place of solitude and prayer.  The Lakota name Paha Sapa (Black Mountains) is easy to understand;  from a distance the hills look quite dark because of the thick spruce and ponderosa pines which blanket the land.  We first entered Custer State Park and skirted an edge of it along the Needles Highway. 
The highway is named for the granite spires it passes through.  It is a narrow winding road famous for its narrow tunnels which are about 9-10 feet wide and 12 feet tall.
Hiking around Sylvan Lake we certainly got a feel for this rugged land with its towering pines and large granite peaks.  We climbed around massive boulders and walked through narrow gorges.  Even the lake had  large rocks sitting within its shores.
Our last major stop for the day was at Mount Rushmore, where the heads of four of our presidents have been carved into a granite mountain.  It was the work of sculptor Gutzon Borglum who devoted the last 14 years of his life (1927-1941) to the project.  His son Lincoln completed Mount Rushmore for him.  Many tons of rock were removed by dynamiting the mountain, and the remaining by jackhammers and a process of wedging the rock off before the carving could even begin.
The presidents, from left to right, are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.  They were selected from among all the other presidents for various reason; Washington because he represented the birth of our nation, Jefferson for expansion, Roosevelt for development and Lincoln for preserving our nation.  John and I visited this memorial about 25 years ago, and they have added many improvements to it since then.  A nature trail around its base leads to the artists studio, in which there are some interesting artifacts related to the carving of the sculpture, I do not remember seeing that in our last visit.  Most interesting to me was the last scale model of the memorial which the artist used before his death, and a plaster cast of Lincoln's head.  Those masks of the heads were hung from cables on the mountain and used by the workers for visual comparisons and measurements.  It was late afternoon by the time we headed home, and on our way through the beautiful forests of the Black Hills we saw a couple of mule deer feeding by the side of the road.  Earlier in the day we also had seen some bison.

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