Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sturgis and Deadwood - Then A Gunfight Broke Out

While staying in Rapid City, I researched its history. 

The discovery of gold in 1874 by the Black Hills Expedition brought a mass influx of pioneers and settlers into the Black Hills region of South Dakota. Rapid City was founded in 1876 by a group of miners, who promoted their new city as the "Gateway to the Black Hills."

In 1980, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled, in United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, that the Federal government of the United States had illegally stolen the Black Hills from the Sioux people when the government unilaterally broke the treaty that guaranteed the Black Hills belonged to the Sioux. The court decision offered money, but the Sioux declined on principle, and still demand the return of the land. This land includes Rapid City, which is by far the largest modern settlement in the Black Hills. As of 2016, the dispute has not been settled. 

To the west and north of the Black Hills and Rapid City, dinosaurs remains have been found in great abundance in the basins of Wyoming and on the Northern Great Plains.
I heard that there was a Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, so I thought that I should check it out. I found the visitor center and was told that the Dinosaur Park was up the hill. So I started climbing... 
I climbed up the hill and at the top I discovered that there was a great view of of the north side of Rapid City...
... and the downtown area of Rapid City.
And then... I saw a dinosaur.
Well, kind of.
I was disappointed to find out that the Dinosaur Park did not contain any real dinosaurs, fossils or remains.
It only had these concrete reproductions of dinosaurs.
And some of them didn't even look real. I thought that it was funny that I had been drawn into this tourist trap. Well, at least it had a good view of the cityscape.
My search for dinosaurs continued after I heard that there were real dinosaur remains at the Museum of Geology. I searched for the museum with my GPS and followed the directions. I was surprised when I wound up on the campus of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. I eventually found the building that housed the Museum of Geology and entered. To my surprise there was a pretty decent collection of reproduced dinosaur skeletons. 
Real dinosaur bones
And a fairly large collection of rocks and minerals.

Sometimes you have to visit a few tourist traps before you find the real gems.
There are really two big attractions in the Black Hills area of South Dakota. The first is Mount Rushmore. I'd say that it is a very family friendly attraction. The second is the small town of Sturgis. It attracts a different demographic.

Sturgis... the City of Rides.
Sturgis is a small town in western part of South Dakota. The population is about 6,627. It was originally named Scooptown, because many of the residents that worked and lived in the nearby mines and Fort Meade "scooped up" their pay in the town. It's name was later changed to Sturgis in honor of the Civil War Union General Samuel D. Sturgis. 
The town is notable as the location of one of the largest motorcycle events in the world called the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
The rally is held annually and takes place for ten days usually during the first full week of August. Motorcycle enthusiasts from around the world flock to this town during the rally.
The rally began in 1938 by a group of Indian Motorcycle riders and was originally held for stunts and races. Attendance has historically been around one half million people, reaching a high of over 700,000 in 2015, and generating around $800 million in revenue.
I was passing through the town about two weeks prior to the rally. The huge crowds of Indian and Harley Davidson motorcycle riders had not yet arrived, but the venues were prepping for their arrival.

I ride a motorcycle, but I've never ridden an Indian or Harley cruiser style motorcycle. Still, it would have been cool to see some of the crowds and activities of the rally.  
I stopped by the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame, but I was disappointed to find out that it was closed for the day for some reason.

When the rally is not going on, the town of Sturgis seems like a nice quiet small town. I'm sure that it takes on a whole different persona during the motorcycle rally. I think that I drove around the 4 to 5 square blocks of the town in about 30 minutes. Then I continued with my journey westward.
My next stop was the historic town of Deadwood. Why would anyone name a town deadwood? Supposedly, the the town was named after the dead trees found in a nearby gulch.
The settlement of Deadwood began illegally in the 1870s on land which had been granted to American Indians in the 1868 Treaty of Laramie. The treaty had guaranteed ownership of the Black Hills to the Lakota people and land disputes were endemic, having reached the United States Supreme Court on several occasions. However, in 1874, Colonel George Armstrong Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills and announced the discovery of gold on French Creek near present-day Custer, South Dakota. This announcement triggered the Black Hills Gold Rush and gave rise to the new and lawless town of Deadwood, which quickly reached a population of around 5,000.
Inside the old railroad building there was a museum and tourist information office. I gathered some information about the town. 
An old freight scale outside the railroad station that probably was used to measure cargo.
This town was founded as a frontier town by cowboys, gold miners and merchants.
Now it seems to cater mostly to tourist trying to experience a little taste of the old west.

Wild Bill is probably the most famous Deadwood resident, even though he was only in town a few short weeks. James Butler Hickok arrived in Deadwood, along with Colorado Charlie Utter and Calamity Jane, in July of 1876. He was a well-known gambler and gunslinger, participating in many shootouts before coming to Deadwood. He was killed on August 2, 1876 when Jack McCall shot him from behind while playing poker. When he died, Wild Bill was holding a pair of aces and eights, that series of cards became known to poker players all around the world as the “Dead Man’s Hand.”
There were a number of classic hotels around the town that contained restaurants, souvenir shops and casinos.
In the afternoon a crowd materialized in front of the Franklin Hotel and then a gunfight broke out.
It appeared that there was a dispute over some gold mining rights.
In actuality, it was all just a performance by the local theatrical group for the tourists to enjoy. The gunfight started in the streets, then moved to a saloon, then moved to the theatre. A clever technique to round up tourists and encourage them to buy a ticket to the local theatre. I did not not get roped in nor follow the gunfight to the theatre. 
There was another big event going on in town. It just so happened that Dolly Parton was in town and performing at the Deadwood Mountain Grand Hotel. The lady at the tourist information office mentioned to me that Dolly Parton was probably one of the biggest musical stars to ever play in Deadwood next to Willie Nelson. Tickets were going for $150, so I decided to pass. 

I'm not a big gambler, but I decided to try my luck since I was in the historic town of Deadwood. I jumped into one of the hotel casinos and played a few hands of blackjack. I ended up winning about $50. And fortunately,  I did not get shot in the back.




Thursday, January 26, 2017

Mount Rushmore

From Badlands National Park I continued west toward the town of Rapid City. I wasn't really interested in visiting Rapid City, I was more interested in visiting one of the attractions nearby - Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Because I spent most of the day driving the scenic route, I arrived into Rapid City late. The sun had set. The sky was dark. It was already past 7pm. I searched online for information about visiting the Mount Rushmore National Memorial and found out that there was a lighting ceremony in the evening during which they light up the side of the mountain and the monument. It was already late, I was tired, but I decided that I should try to check it out. 
From Rapid City to Mount Rushmore I drove on a road that twisted through a forrest and up into some hills. I arrived at the park a little past 8pm. It was free to enter the national monument grounds, but there was a charge for parking of $10. The parking pass would be valid for multiple visits for up to a year. I found a parking space easily, exited the parking garage and walked into the venue. There were a large number of people leaving the grounds. I was walking against the crowd and I was a little concerned that I had missed the lighting ceremony. I reached an observation deck where there was a crowd of people standing around. I inquired what was going on. A lady that was wrangling her kid told me that everyone was just waiting for the lighting ceremony to begin. She explained that she and her family had be waiting since 5pm. I could tell by her exhausted kid that the whole family had had a long day. I was glad that I had arrived in time. I was equally glad that I had not been waiting since 5pm. 

I walked around the observation deck for about 5 minutes, then the program started. There was audio projected through some loud speakers and one by one the faces of the presidents were illuminated. I could not hear the audio program clearly, so I just observed the light display and took a few photos. I had planned to revisit the park the following day during daylight hours. I exited the park grounds and returned to the winding road. I must have taken a wrong turn and ended up getting lost. I ended up driving around the backside of the mountain. After about an hour and a half I arrived back into Rapid City. A long full day.
The next morning I got an early start. I picked up some breakfast then headed back toward Mount Rushmore.
Mount Rushmore has become an iconic symbol of the United States. It attracts over two million visitors annually. It is a recognized monument all over the world, but few Americans actually have the opportunity to visit the memorial because it is located in a somewhat remote part of the US. Upon entering the Mount Rushmore National Memorial grounds I passed by two rows of columns with flags from each of the 50 states.
The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a sculpture by Gutzon Borglum carved into the granite face of a mountain . The memorial features 60-foot sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents: George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865). 
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. Robinson originally wanted it to feature American West heroes like Lewis and Clark, Red Cloud, and Buffalo Bill Cody, but artist Gutzon Borglum decided the sculpture should have broader appeal and chose the four presidents.
Construction on the memorial began in 1927, and the presidents' faces were completed between 1934 and 1939. Upon Gutzon Borglum's death in March 1941 his son Lincoln Borglum took over construction.
In a garden area of the memorial there was this inscription...

"A monument's dimensions should be determined by the importance to civilization of the events commemorated... Let us place there carved high as close to heaven as we can... our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and the rain alone shall wear them away." - Gutzon Borglum 1930

"The union of these four presidents carved on the face of the everlasting hills of South Dakota will constitute a distinctly national monument. It will be decidedly American in its conception, in its magnitude, in its meaning and altogether worthy of our country." - President Calvin Coolidge 1927
After checking out the main memorial I walked around the grounds and found the museum. The museum contained a number of displays that explained the history, construction and symbolism of the memorial.
Models masks were produced prior to construction.
Most of the equipment and tools used were manually operated.

I realize that in our modern society, it is easy to find affiliation and direction through memes and tweets. However, I think that I prefer to derive my inspiration from quotes that have stood the test of time.
Thomas Jefferson
George Washington
Abraham Lincoln
Theodore Roosevelt

Since I was a kid, I always wanted to visit Mount Rushmore. I always imagined that it would be big. But I never imagined that it would be soooo BIG. The size and scale of the sculpture was impressive. Learning about the artist, his philosophy and his creative process was amazing. Some might say that it is a unique treasure for the USA. Others might say that it is an obtrusion on Native American land. I would leave that argument for a historian. I would say that, after the Great Depression, Mount Rushmore served as a reminder of our ideals, optimism and ability. It still stands as a record... "until the wind and the rain alone shall wear them away."
Nearby Mount Rushmore there was another notable monument created by the Lakota Tribe and sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski.  
Korczak Ziolkowski won a sculpture contest and became famous after the 1939 New York World's Fair. The resulting fame, as well as his familiarity with the Black Hills, prompted several Lakota Chiefs to approach him about a monument honoring Crazy Horse.

Crazy Horse was a Native American war leader of the Oglala Lakota. He took up arms against the United States Federal government to fight against encroachments on the territories and way of life of the Lakota people

Chief Henry Standing Bear of the Lakota wrote to Korczak Ziolkowski, saying, "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too."
Ziolkowski met with the leaders shortly afterward and began planning a monument.
Tool chest with rudimentary sculpting instruments belonging to Korczak Ziolkowski
Gas generator used to power tools used during the construction of the monument.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is still under construction. The finalized sculpture will depict Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior, riding a horse and pointing into the distance. 
The memorial consists of the mountain carving, the Indian Museum of North America, and the Native American Cultural Center. The monument is being carved out of Thunderhead Mountain on land considered sacred by some Oglala Lakota.
The sculpture's final dimensions are planned to be 641 feet (195 m) wide and 563 feet (172 m) high. The head of Crazy Horse will be 87 feet (27 m) high.

The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is far from completion. If completed, it may become the world's largest sculpture. 

I did not know much about the Crazy Horse memorial until I visited it. One observation that I made was that the memorial is privately operated by the Lakota tribe and Ziolkowski family. While the monument itself was still under construction, the museum and gift shop were in full operation. I kind of got the impression that there was more effort being put into promoting the idea of and selling products about the memorial than actual work being put forward into its construction. I could be wrong, but it was just my feeling. But who can fault the creators for trying.