Wednesday, August 19, 2009

4922.9 (276.4) Miles to Gillette, Wyoming

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Started the day by driving the 20 miles down to Badlands National Park. Drove the loop road, pulling off at the overlooks, and taking a few short hikes out into the formations. Could not take all of the hikes I wanted to. Visitors are strongly advised to not take the Saddle Pass Trail in wet conditions, and since these aren't just rocks, but really hardened mud, that makes a lot of sense. So I had to skip that part.

"Badlands" are actually a geological formation, not just a place. There are badlands on every continent, according to the park signage. I'm not sure if that includes Antarctica, though. Petrified Forest National Park has badlands, too. I couldn't help but compare the two parks. Petrified Forest is in the middle of a desert, and Badlands are on the prairie. The formations in South Dakota run right up the hill to the grasslands. Herds of bison and other wildlife roam the plains, although I didn't see any out there today.

After leaving Badlands, I made my way to Mount Rushmore. If you ever get the chance to visit the Rushmore Borglum museum, don't bother. The museum is nonsensically organized, inconsistent in each mini exhibit, and adds just about nothing to the experience. At least I didn't have to pay for parking. Then I drove up the hill to Mount Rushmore itself. A friend warned me that it may not live up to expectations, and he was mostly right. I'm glad I saw it, though. It would be pretty hard to explain to people I came to this part of South Dakota and didn't go see the heads on the mountain. So it's something to check off the list.

Then I drove over to the Crazy Horse Memorial. Ostensibly, Crazy Horse is just like Mount Rushmore, less than 20 miles away. Another leader carved into a mountain. Right now, it's even just a head. But it really is so much more impressive than that. They actually had one of their biweekly blasts to remove part of the mountain at 2:00 today, but I could not get there in time. I would have had to skip the Badlands to make it, and that was completely out of the question. Instead, I got one of the first views of the mountain after its latest update.

In addition to going through the museum and getting the same views of the mountain as you can find on the memorial's web site, I took a bus up to the base of the mountain and got some close (or, more accurately, closer)-up shots of the face. You can see some of the results below. When the memorial is finished (hopefully/probably some time this century), this piece by the original artist and designer will grace the side of the largest statue in the world:

When the course of history has been told
Let these truths here carved be known:
Conscience dictates civilizations live
And duty ours to place before the world
A chronicle which will long endure.
For like all things under us and beyond
Inevitably we must pass into oblivion.

This land of refuge to the stranger
Was ours for countless eons before:
Civilizations majestic and mighty.
Our gifts were many which we shared
And gratitude for them was known.
But later given my oppressed ones
Were murder, rape and sanguine war.

Looking from whence invaders came,
Greedy usurpers of our heritage.
For us the past is in our hearts,
The future never to be fulfilled.
To you I give this granite epic
For your descendants to always know -
"My lands are where my dead lie buried."

-Korczak Ziolkowski

I hope one day I'll get to see the memorial completed. It should be an incredible sight.

Tomorrow up to Montana and the Little Bighorn National Monument and the Beartooth Highway before landing in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

I promised pictures today, and here they are. First set are from Badlands National Park, including one of the local residents. Second set is from the Crazy Horse Memorial, the last one being the mountain in the background with the scale model in the foreground.

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