Coach Trip – USA National Parks, Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

We didn’t get to see the best of the Quality Inn, to enjoy the swimming pool or the bars because there simply wasn’t enough time and in the morning after our first generous American breakfast in the dining room we met our tour guide and were pretty quickly loaded back on to the bus and sped away from the city on Interstate 90 and then Highway 16 towards the famous Black Hills of Dakota.

The Black Hills of Dakota and Custer’s Last Stand…

The Black Hills is an area that is famous for gold, Indian wars and Custer’s last stand.  After the discovery of the precious metal in the 1870s, the conflict over control of the region sparked the last major Indian War on the Great Plains of America known as the Black Hills War.  Previously the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie had confirmed Sioux ownership of the mountain range but this was conveniently overlooked by the authorities when gold was discovered and the native Americans were assigned alternative land ownership on less valuable bits of real estate in order to make way for the prospectors.

This led to real trouble and culminated at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in the neighbouring Montana territory, where the 7th cavalry under the command of General George Armstrong Custer took on a coalition of Native American tribes comprised of Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe warriors and led by the Sioux chiefs Crazy Horse and Gall and by the Hunkpapa seer and medicine man, Sitting Bull.  The one thousand, eight hundred Indian warriors outnumbered the army troops by four to one and with superior tactics and a rightful cause as motivation won an emphatic victory and killed all of the four hundred and fifty or so US cavalry troopers and Custer himself who despite his heroic image probably committed suicide in preference to ritual mutilation.  Good option if you ask me!

Mount Rushmore…

Our first destination was to see the U.S. National Monument Mount Rushmore with its famous sculptures of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  The sculptured faces are sixty feet high and set in granite designed to be as grand and enduring as the contributions of the men they represent.

Between 1927 and 1941 the splendidly named sculptor John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum designed and supervised the colossal carvings to represent the first one hundred and fifty years of American history.  These days there would almost certainly be a public poll to choose the subjects but in 1927 this was entirely down to Borglum who chose George Washington to represent the birth of the United States, Thomas Jefferson the growth of the United States,  Abraham Lincoln the preservation of the United States and Theodore Roosevelt the development of the nation.

If a similar project was launched now then according to a 2015  poll of polls Lincoln and Washington would find their inclusion secure but Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Trueman might squeeze out Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt.

Originally the sculptures were to be carved from head to waist but this all proved to be a bit too ambitious so what we have are just the heads.  This doesn’t mean to say that they aren’t extremely impressive and we all enjoyed the visit.

The Crazy Horse Memorial…

Next stop was the Crazy Horse Memorial about ten miles away and a sort of alternative ethnic memorial to the great native American warrior chief.  The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is still far from completion.  The sculptor died in 1982 and if and when it is ever finished, it will be the world’s largest sculpture because the head of Crazy Horse will be a massive eighty seven feet high.

Crazy Horse

The Memorial is on the road to a place of notoriety called Wounded Knee where on December 29th 1890, the Wounded Knee Massacre occurred on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. This cowardly action is commonly cited as the last major armed conflict between the United States and the Sioux Nation and the massacre resulted in the deaths of an estimated three hundred Sioux, many of them women and children and just twenty five U.S. soldiers.  Attacking in the early morning while the Sioux were still in bed proved to be an overwhelming advantage to the U.S. troops.

Badlands National Park…

Later that day in the afternoon we drove along Highway 44 close to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and through the Badlands National Park, which is a strange and beautiful landscape of deep gorges, saw-edged spires and grassy-topped buttes, an eerie world carved out of the prairies by thirty five million years of wind and water erosion and with wonderful names like ‘Buffalo Gap National Grassland’ and the ‘Sage Creek Wilderness Area’ to inspire the imagination.

The term badlands represents a historical consensus in North America, the Indians called the place ‘mako sika’ and Spanish colonists called it ‘malpaís’, both meaning literally bad land, while French trappers called it ‘les mauvaises terres à traverser’ which translates as ‘the bad lands to cross’.  The term is also topographically apt because these badlands contain steep slopes, loose dry soil, slick clay, and deep sand, all of which seriously impede travel.  Luckily we were on an interstate highway in an air conditioned coach and we found the journey rather more straight forward than the early pioneers.  After visiting the Ben Reifel Visitor Centre in the Cedar Pass we rejoined the Interstate at Cactus Flat and turned west back towards the city.

Wall Drugstore…

All along Interstate 90 there were hundreds of billboards advertising the Wall Drugstore and I was beginning to wonder what this was all about when we reached the town of Wall and all was revealed.  ‘The Wall’ is actually a rugged topographical strip a half mile to three miles wide and nine miles long with a succession of tinted spires, ridges and twisted gullies which separates the lower prairie from the upper and from which the name of the town of Wall, South Dakota is derived.

This is a small settlement just off the highway that is unremarkable except for the Wall Drugstore.  This small town store made its first step towards international fame when it was purchased by a man called Ted Hustead in 1931 during the great depression.  Hustead was a deeply religious man and a pharmacist who was looking for a small town with a thriving Catholic community in which to establish a business and he discovered and purchased Wall Drug. It was located in a small town that was recently by-passed by a new main road in what he himself referred to as ‘the middle of nowhere’ and he thereafter struggled to make a living and business was very slow indeed until his wife hit upon a brilliant idea to advertise free ice water to thirsty travellers passing by on the nearby highway.

This was an immediate success and began to divert motorists off the main road to take advantage of the offer, to the extent that Wall Drug grew into an enormous cowboy themed shopping mall and even today free ice water is always available for travellers who stop by for a rest.  It’s a nice story and the place was busy but full of arcade shops with merchandise that I had no desire to purchase and it wasn’t a place that I would rush back to and I was happy to move on.

After our short stop in Wall we rejoined the Interstate and returned for a second night in Rapid City where we lost no time in finding a liquor store for essential supplies and consuming an appropriate amount before we went looking for a diner for evening meal.

The postcard images were all originally purchased in 1995 on the Coach Trip. The Promotional leaflet images are also all 1995 originals.

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5 responses to “Coach Trip – USA National Parks, Mount Rushmore

  1. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Wall Drug Store, South Dakota | Have Bag, Will Travel

  2. Yes, it is a nice story. Free ice water, A nice way to resurrect a dying town.

  3. This is about one of my favorite parts of the world. I was at the Crazy Horse Memorial a few years ago, and it looked like it did when I was a kid. They are never going to get it finished.

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