The Black Hills and Sylvan Lake

June 27, 2017 - Custer State Park, South Dakota, United States, South Dakota, United States

We enjoyed a great camp breakfast of scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and bacon this morning before venturing out to see the Crazy Horse Memorial taking shape in the Black Hills.  I first visited there 40 years ago when hardly anything was discernable on the memorial.  Twenty years later, I did a “drive-by” with the kids.  The hole under Crazy Horse’s arm had been blown open but we couldn’t see much else from the entrance and I was too cheap to authorize the $11 each to go to the visitor center.  This time we entered.

The Crazy Horse Memorial was started at the request of Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear.  He wanted a memorial in the Black Hills to let white men know that Native Americans had great heroes too.  The sculptor; Korczak Ziolkowski, had gained some notoriety at the 1939 World’s Fair and had worked on Mt. Rushmore.  It is sobering to me to consider that when Korczak accepted the request to build the Crazy Horse Memorial, he also accepted that this would be his life’s work.  He began the project in 1948 and continued until his death in 1982.  Following his passing, his wife directed the project and now some of their 10 children are still deeply involved and committed to the work.  The face of Crazy Horse is completed but oh so much more work will have to be done to finish the 3-dimensional figure Korczak had imagined.  Just for perspective, the head of Crazy Horse is 27’ taller than the heads on Mt. Rushmore.  The other thing about this memorial is that no government money or casino moneys go toward the completion.  Crazy Horse Monument


From Crazy Horse we headed into Custer State Park.  We drove up the Mt. Coolidge Fire Tower gravel road and took in the view at 6,023 feet.  From the tower we could see the carving of Crazy Horse’s face looking right at us, as well as Mt. Rushmore off to the right.  On a clear day, the Badlands can also be seen.  Our day was hazy.


We took the Wildlife Loop Road in Custer and saw very little wildlife; about 4 antelope and a bunch of “wild” burros.  That was disappointing. Wild Burro in Custer State Park


Our featured attraction for the day was Needles Highway.  This 14-mile stretch of road was completed in 1922 and is just spectacular! Along Needles HighwayIt wends and winds through pinnacles of rock shaped like large granite spires.  The highway also led to a turnoff to Sylvan Lake.  Part of the lake is set at the base of large rock formations.  I found it awesome.  On this day, the swimming area was crowded with families and colorful kayaks but a short hike and scramble took me to a beautiful view of where water meets stone.


Sylvan LakeAfter a fairly full day of exploring we returned to our camp.  One of the features of Horsethief Lake is a high stony outcropping above the base of a swimming area.  I had seen earlier that there was a path through the woods that might lead to this spot and feeling like I had a little hike left in me, I took off to explore.  It was a short little jaunt and climb to the top of the rock formation.  From there I looked down on the swimmers below and admired the view in general.  I was on top of the world.  Just as I was ready to leave an osprey flew close by me at eye-level carrying a fish at least 6” long.  For added measure, it circled one more time before flying off.  I felt this was a little kiss from The Creator for my efforts.


As we sat in the pop-up later in the evening, a ferocious storm blew through.  At first we were a bit fearful of one of the giant trees blowing over on us.  Once we got past that, we watched the fascinating movement of the winds over the water of the lake.  The water of the lake seemed to swirl and churn from all directions; even appearing indented by downdrafts at certain moments.  This storm was a powerful beast.



Wild Burro in Custer State Park
Needles Highway tunnel
Sylvan Lake
Crazy Horse Monument
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