Crazy Horse Memorial- Custer, SD

Hermosa, SD

We ended our last post with an iconic picture from the Black Hills of South Dakota, the faces of Mt. Rushmore.  As we stated then, the Rushmore sculptures are quite impressive, but the site holds no historical significance and none of the four Presidents depicted ever visited the area.  South Dakota historian Doane Robinson is credited with conceiving the idea of carving the likenesses of famous people into the Black Hills region of South Dakota in order to promote tourism in the region.

Just 15 miles from Mt. Rushmore is a monument to a legendary Indian leader who actually lived in the area.  The Crazy Horse Memorial is a mountain monument under construction on privately held land depicting Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior, riding a horse and pointing into the distance.  The memorial was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, to be sculpted by the late Korczak Ziolkowski.  He informed the sculptor, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too.”  Today the site is operated by the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, a private non-profit organization.   The story behind the memorial and Korczak Ziolkowski is a very interesting one but much too long to cover in a blog, so we encourage you to do some research if interested.

The memorial has been under construction since 1948 and is far from completion.  Ziolkowski refused all offers of federal funding as he felt that the project was more than just a mountain carving.  He feared that his plans for the broader educational and cultural goals of the memorial would be overturned by federal involvement.  Today the memorial is a non-profit undertaking, and still receives no federal or state funding. The Memorial Foundation charges fees for its visitors center and earns revenue from its gift shops. With limited funding, progress on the mountain is slow and may never be completed.  But that doesn’t matter, just having the face of Crazy Horse overlooking the land of his people is already enough.

OK, enough of that!  Let’s look at our visit to the monument, our third in the past 25 years.  Fortunately for us, our friends, Steve and Joan, are working at Crazy Horse this summer.  In fact, one of Steve’s duties is to conduct small group tours using a van to take visitors up to the flat area above the arm.  As part of his employment contract he is allowed to take one group on the tour at no cost (it’s normally $125 per person).  He invited us and two other couples to join him and Joan for a trip up the monument on Sunday afternoon.

The monument from a distance of one mile

The memorial consists of the mountain carving (monument), the Indian Museum of North America, and the Native American Cultural Center.  We arrived at the memorial about an hour before the tour to allow time to revisit the museum and cultural center.

A sculpture of the finished monument with the mountain behind it

The size of the monument is difficult to comprehend.  Just the head of Crazy Horse is 87 feet high; by comparison, the heads of the four U.S. Presidents at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet.

We met our group in the lobby of the visitor center at the designated time and soon boarded the van for the drive up the mountain.

The outline of the hand appears as we drive around to the back side of the mountain

During the week there are no tours up to the top before 4:30 pm as the area is an active construction zone.  But since it was Sunday, we were able to go up in mid-afternoon.  When we arrive at the top our guide, Tom, used a pictorial display to explain some things to us.

After that we headed out on to the top of the arm.

As we moved out on to the arm the view back down at the visitor center was fantastic!

We did not look behind us until we were about half way out on the arm.  When we turned around the face of Crazy Horse towered over us.

Think it looks big from here?

How about from here?

Photo depicting the beginning of construction on the eye

The finished project

Detail in the lips (notice the cleft on the upper lift)

Our hosts, Joan and Steve

The group: George, Laurel, Bev, JC, Joan, Steve, Pam, and John

Insightful comments from our guide, Tom

After our wonderful tour we adjourned to a nearby establishment to enjoy a cold drink and discuss our experience.

Pam, JC, Bev, John, and Steve (note the stools!)

We have visited Crazy Horse twice in the past but never had an experience like we had this time.  The trip up to the top was wonderful and Steve and Joan shared a wealth of information they have learned from their time working at the memorial.  Thank you, Steve and Joan, for a great day!

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23 Responses to Crazy Horse Memorial- Custer, SD

  1. Mary says:

    We were massively impressed with Crazy Horse. The museum, the work they are doing, the whole grand scale of it all. In fact, two days later we headed toward Rushmore, and basically just did a drive by. Not even close to impressed. How lucky you were to go to the top. I would love that opportunity.

  2. Nancy says:

    It is impressive. I was there several years ago… Loved it all! Glad you got to experience it again.

  3. heyduke50 says:

    pretty sweet that you got to see it from above…

  4. Sherry says:

    WOW is all I can say. I have so wanted to do this but the price for two was just prohibitive. Your pictures are amazing and show the size of the head so well. Love your introductory remarks. I can only say Amen! There is a work camping job I would LOVE to have. Crazy Horse was definitely a hero as were so many other Native Americans whom our history books and records ignore. Great post!! Thanks so much!

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this tour with us! We visited the monument ten years ago and I always wondered how it would look from above. Awesome is all I can say!

  6. regularguyadventures says:

    What an experience!

  7. Waaaay cool! I love how you are dwarfed by the head!

    Drinking a beer in a saddle looks like fun too!

  8. Jodee Gravel says:

    Very envious of this amazing experience but so happy that you shared it with me – thanks for all the great pics. I had no idea this started back in 1948. I hope it’s finished in time for Ezra to see it as an adult, although with limited funding I’m doubtful. The details in the face are beautiful.

  9. Jim and Barb says:

    What an awesome experience! Getting to visit the area, get up close and personal with Crazy Horse and bonus…..getting to see Steve and Joan! Does it get any better than that?!??!?!!?

  10. girlonahike says:

    It’s been about 10 years since I was last here…and it still looks the same!!! I don’t remember being able to walk up there – is that new? It is a very interesting place, for sure! – Alicia @ http://www.girlonahike.com

  11. Ingrid says:

    Wow, what a fantastic opportunity. The detail and scale of Crazy Horse is mindboggling. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Molly says:

    What a wonderful post! Thank you so much!

  13. Laurel says:

    You guys are living right!!! What an amazing tour. Thanks for taking us up to the top—we’re looking forward to visiting the Crazy Horse memorial, but we’ll be viewing it from below. So cool to have the perspective of just how massive the monument is. A well deserved memorial, indeed.

  14. Jacquie says:

    WOW – thanks for the tour, excellent narrative and great pics! AND, how special to have your own personal guided tour as well. OMG, I can hardly wait to get there!

  15. Jacquie says:

    P.S. – how do we meet Steve & Joan??

  16. I know how it feels to be treated by friends and the fantastic opportunity you get. Having been there just last year, I too was amazed of the family’s reluctance for funding.
    Thanks for the close up of the eyes and lips, it does take patience and tenacity and time to do a good job.
    Impressive!

  17. Box Canyon Blogger Mark says:

    Talk about “long term goals.”
    Box Canyon

  18. TravelBug-Susan says:

    Great blog! Steve and Joan are awesome. Next June, will be my first visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial on our (my friend Susan M. and I) way to the Volksmarching Convention in Billings, MT. Hopefully Steve and Joan will be there then too! Looking forward to Volksmarching to the top either June 3 or 4, 2017.

  19. Gay says:

    What a great opportunity. Thanks for the close-ups of the eye and lips…amazing!

  20. LuAnn says:

    What an experience to get up-close and personal! I do hope that private funding allows this memorial to be completed someday.

  21. geogypsy2u says:

    I wasn’t impressed with Rushmore, especially as a Federal site and believe Crazy Horse is much more deserving. I like the idea of a multi-generation working slowly on the carving. No surprise it will take much time, and dedication, for such a Huge undertaking. The detail is amazing. Good to have friends for a private, and free, tour. Great post.

  22. montanaclarks says:

    What a wonderful opportunity!

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