Don's Bike Across America
Astoria, Oregon to Portsmouth, New Hampshire
June 19 to August 7, 2006

Don's Blog: July 10: Four Presidents, Crazy Horse, and One Wounded Knee

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Mount Rushmore

Today’s ride promised to special, one that many in the group had been looking forward to for quite some time. The reason for this had nothing to do with weather or the terrain (which did turn out to be a surprise), but rather the historical monuments we would be visiting en route: Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial, only about 20 miles apart.

Every American knows about Mount Rushmore, perhaps the most famous landmark in the country, featuring faces of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Lincoln carved in stone in Keystone, South Dakota, situated in the Black Hills region of the state (more on that later.)

The landmark was named after Charles Rushmore, a prominent New York lawyer in 1885. According to Wikipedia, “Doane Robinson, a historian, conceived the idea for Mount Rushmore in 1923 in order to attract greater tourism to South Dakota. In 1924, Robinson convinced sculptor Gutzon Borglum to go to the Black Hills region to ensure that the carving could be accomplished. The original plan was to do the carvings in the Needles region of the state, several granite pillars. However, Borglum realized that that plan could not be carried out because the Needles, worn down by erosion, were too thin to support sculpting. Mount Rushmore turned out to be a good spot. Borglum said upon seeing Mount Rushmore, "America will march along that skyline." Congress authorized the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission on March 3, 1925. President Coolidge insisted that along with Washington two Republicans and one Democrat be portrayed.”

“Between October 4, 1927and October 31, 1941, Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers sculpted the 60-foot colossal carvings of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln to represent the first 150 years of American history. These presidents were selected by Borglum because of their national focus. In 1933, the National Park Service took Mount Rushmore under its jurisdiction.”

Certainly, having seen the images of the Mount Rushmore sculptures so many times in books, magazines and on television through the years, I knew exactly what they looked like. But still it was quite a sight to see them in person for the first time. Our group was among two million visitors that will visit Rushmore this year. There was a pavilion with the flags of all 50 states leading up to the platform to view the faces. There were quite a few people on hand, but it was not mobbed by any means. We were able to cycle right up to the pavilion without paying a fee.

Crazy Horse

Before we got to Rushmore, we paid a visit to the lesser know but equally impressive Crazy Horse Memorial, about 20 miles away. Crazy Horse was a Lakota Indian Warrior from the 1800s, most famous for defeating General George Custer in the battle of Little Bighorn.

According to Wikipedia, “The monument is being carved out of Thunderhead Mountain on land considered sacred by some Native Americans. The sculpture's final dimensions will be 641 feet wide and 563 feet high. By comparison, the heads of Mt. Rushmore are 60 feet high; the head of Crazy Horse will be 87 feet high.

It was begun in 1948 (almost 60 years ago!) by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, (a native of Boston) who had worked on Mt. Rushmore under Gutzon Borglum, at the request of several Lakota chiefs who wanted a counterpoint demonstrating a Native American hero.

Crazy Horse resisted being photographed, due to the prevailing superstition at the time that photographs "stole" a man's soul. Ziolkowski, however, envisioned the monument as a metaphoric tribute to the spirit of Crazy Horse and Native Americans. "My lands are where my dead lie buried", supposedly said by Crazy Horse, is the intended interpretation of the monument's expansive gesture.”

Like at Rushmore, we were able to cycle right up to the entrance to the memorial. We had to pay a four-dollar fee to take a short bus tour that brought us almost to the base of the monument. You can see just how much of the sculpture remains to be completed. I would guess it will be perhaps 100 or more years before the finished version is done. Like at Rushmore there were sizable but manageable crowds, and we were able to get several photos.

One Wounded Knee

As for the actual bike ride we completed on this day, well, it sure was tough. We had entered the Black Hills on the day before, but today we got a full dose of them, their challenging climbs and descents. Quoting Wikipedia one more time, “The Black Hills are a small, isolated mountain range rising from the Great Plains of North America in western South Dakota. Set off from the main body of the Rocky Mountains, the region is somewhat of a geological anomaly—accurately described as an "island of trees in a sea of grass." The Black Hills are home to the tallest peaks between the Rocky Mountains and the Alps in Europe (not counting undersea mountains).”

Although we had been advised at the daily meeting the day before that we would be encountering some significant climbs, the length and grade of many of them surprised a lot of the riders, including yours truly. The tough uphills just seemed to keep coming at us. To make matters worse, I had woken up with a slightly sore right knee, and every uphill seemed to further magnify the pain. I had to modify my cycling style, refraining from getting out of the saddle on the steep climbs, something I usually like to do. In addition, the more than hour-long stops we made at Crazy Horse and Rushmore stiffened my knee, making it tough to get going again. All in all, it was one of the toughest days of cycling I have had in the entire trek. The total distance was 75 miles, but it took nearly six hours of cycling, exclusive of the stops. It’s all part of the experience, I suppose.