Friday, June 25, 2010

Crazy Horse Volksmarch

The Black Hills of South Dakota are known for Mt. Rushmore, the famous mountain carving of four influential presidents.   However, there is another sculpture in progress located just down the road from Mt. Rushmore.  This nearby mountain is being carved into the likeness of the legendary Lakota leader Crazy Horse.  When completed, Crazy Horse will be the largest sculpture in the world and will dwarf Mt. Rushmore in size.

 A model of the finished sculpture

However, work has been slow to progress.  Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski began work on the Crazy Horse Memorial on June 3, 1948.  Blasting work continued intermittently through the years.  Ziolkowski died on October 20, 1982, his dream unfinished.  Korczak's wife Ruth and seven of their ten children picked up where he left off, and continued working on the sculpture.  The carving continues today, and the memorial and its surrounding campus have become a popular tourist attraction in the Black Hills.  The campus is a very interesting place to visit, and besides observing the mountain, guests can tour the Indian Museum of North America (which is very well done) and Korczak's studio.  The campus also provides conference facilities, a Native American Education and Cultural Center, a restaurant and, of course, a gift shop.

My family at the starting point, ready to hike!

Once a year on the first weekend of June, the memorial sponsors a volksmarch and invites visitors to hike to the top of the mountain.  This is the only time the public is allowed access on Crazy Horse Mountain to view the sculpture-in-progress up close.  Since it's inception, my parents have participated in the volksmarch almost every year.  I've always wanted to do the volksmarch, but my trips to South Dakota never seemed to coincide with this weekend.

Signs along the way.

Then I signed up to run the Mickelson Half Marathon.  Coincidentally, I found out the Crazy Horse volksmarch was the exact same weekend.  This was my chance!  So of course I had to do the volksmarch too.  I figured hiking Crazy Horse on Saturday would be the perfect warm up for my race the next day.

My Dad having a great time.

So myself, my parents, my sister and two of her girls, and two of my brothers, all piled into our cars, and headed for the mountain.  We got there fairly early (9:00) and there was already a large crowd.  We headed to the starting point, checked in and got our cards.  Since this was my first-ever volksmarch, I learned that most volksmarches have checkpoints along the way, and you present a card that gets stamped at each checkpoint.  Apparently the card gets turned in at the finish point.  I think that's how the organizers keep track of the participants and make sure there's no one left on the trail at the end of the day.

Our first glimpse of the mountain

We started out on a nice, wooded trail.  There were crowds of people all around us.  I was amazed - I've never seen so many people in one place in South Dakota!  From listening to the conversations around us, it was apparent that many of these people were not locals.  In fact, I learned this volksmarch is the most popular organized hike in the nation.  People travel here from all over for an opportunity to experience a close-up view of the mountain carving.

The view from Checkpoint 2.

There were four checkpoints on the trail to the top.  At each checkpoint there was water, and the always-necessary port-a-potties.  Boy Scout troops set up concessions and sold snacks. 

The weather that morning started out cloudy and cool. I was kind of disappointed, as I was hoping for sunny blue skies for great photos. But I walked along, clicking photos as I went, and then ran to catch up with my family. My folks commented that it was good I was wearing a bright yellow shirt, so they could find me in the crowd.

The view from checkpoint four.

We reached checkpoint 4, and were greeted with an amazing view of the mountain! You could see the trail snaking up to the very top. There was a steady line of people, trudging up the hill. I could see the viewing area was already getting crowded. My family and I joined the mass of humanity and made the final push to the summit.

Zoomed in view of the face

And then just as we were almost at the top, the sun came out. Hooray! I got my blue sky just in time! The sunlight was at a perfect angle to light up the face. Photographic conditions couldn't have been better.

I'm on top of Crazy Horse mountain!  Woo-hoo!

And the view of the carving was as magnificent as I thought I'd be. The face was huge! And the details in the eyes were incredible.  From up on top, you had a bird's eye view of the Black Hills.  It was a lovely sight.  I went to work taking lots of photos.

Mini golf on Crazy Horse

People-watching was also fun.  There were people of all ages, shapes, and sizes.  A lot of people were posing for pictures holding up a finger.  I finally figured out they were lining themselves up with Crazy Horse's nose, to appear as though they were picking his nose.  Not very respectful.  Also, there was a group of young men who, upon reaching the top, pulled out a putting green and golf clubs from their backpack.  They rolled out their green and posed for some photos.  I'm not sure what that was all about.

The viewing area was totally packed with people.  I could not take a picture without a mass of people in it.  Oh well, the people gave a good scale to the sheer size of the sculpture.  As you can see, the face alone is enormous.

The armpit of Crazy Horse

After getting our fill of views, we headed back down the trail.  The trail wound past the "armpit" of Crazy Horse.  It is now a large tunnel through the mountain.  For many years as I was growing up in SD, this was the only sign of progress on the carving.

The armpit is a really big tunnel!

People were posing for photos in front of this tunnel.  So of course we all took turns getting our pictures taken.  You don't realize how large the "armpit" is until you're almost right next to it.

The trail back down to checkpoint four

Then we all  headed, down, down, down the trail.  A lot easier hiking now!

Snack break on the rocks.

Susan's girls were hungry, so we took a quick break on a large rock that faced the mountain.  We had snacks with a view!

One final view of the mountain

We hiked back down via another path, which gave us a different views of the sculpture.  This photo shows the sheer volume of rock that's been blasted away.  Look at the amount of crushed rock that surrounds the lower portion of the mountain.

The trail took us by a herd of cattle

Towards the end, we hiked by a herd of cattle standing by the side of the trail.  No fence or anything!  Only in South Dakota!

The finish line!

And then - the finish line!  Yay, we did it!  I looked back up at the mountain, and the sky was clouding over.  I was really lucky - the timing was perfect for sunshine at the top.

I hiked 6.2 miles up to the top of a mountain to be face-to-face with a very amazing sculpture.  I got to see what most people only view from the observation deck 3 miles away.  I just may have to schedule next year's visit for this weekend so I can do it again!

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