South Dakota Road Trip (Part IV): Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and a Local Winery

27 May

The last leg of our trip took us to see national monuments and to a local winery in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I never planned to write about this trip in four segments, but it seems like we did so much in a few days that it would have been a really long single blog post. If you’re interested in reading about the rest of our trip, check out Parts I, II and III.

On Saturday we got up early to head to Mount Rushmore, about 20 miles from our hotel and just outside of Rapid City. We knew we needed to get there in the morning so that the sun coming from the east would allow us to get some good photos. Also, it was supposed to rain that day, so we wanted to see as much as we could before it started. The monument itself is just as majestic as people say. Besides being incredibly massive, the history behind it and the amount of work put into sculpting and maintaining it make you appreciate it that much more. You can see the presidents’ faces from the road on the drive up the winding highway to the parking area.

DSC_3285 DSC_3301_edited-1 DSC_3322_edited-5After checking out the museum, walking around the guided trail and snapping some photos, we decided to grab some lunch at the cafe located near the entrance. We weren’t expecting much, since tourist areas don’t tend to have the tastiest food. Boy, were we wrong. We each had a buffalo burger for lunch and couldn’t stop talking about how good it was. It was one of the tastiest burgers I’ve eaten!

After lunch, we headed to the Crazy Horse Memorial, another 10-15 miles away. The winding roads are well maintained between the two monuments, and we even saw a mountain goat on the other side of a fence next to the road. When we got to the memorial, I remembered that I’d just heard that week about the death of Ruth Ziolkowski, the wife of the sculptor (Korczak Ziolkowski) who began the work on the memorial in 1948. She was key in keeping up the work after her husband’s death and their children continue to work on it today. 

To see the progress that has been made on the memorial and to think that the workers are out there year round (even in the winter!) working on it is pretty incredible. Sure, they could work faster if they’d allowed the government to fund it, but the family was and is very adamant about keeping it a privately funded memorial. Here is a model of how the memorial will look one day, and you can see the sculpted face of Crazy Horse in the distance, with the outline of the horse’s head where it will eventually be sculpted.

DSC_3357 DSC_3358When the monument is finished, it will be much larger than Mount Rushmore. In fact, the faces of the presidents would be about the size of Crazy Horse’s hair, which you can see in the model. The museum and craftsmen workshop are also worth the visit, since the Lakota culture and history are so rich. It definitely gave me a deep appreciation for this region and its people. They are incredibly proud of their culture, which is evident in their music, artwork and monuments.

When we left, the clouds were rolling in. So, we decided to head back toward Rapid City to beat the rain. Along the way, we saw a local winery that we’d already seen advertised in several places. We looked at each other and made a snap decision to check it out. I mean, who turns down a free wine tasting?!

DSC_3380_edited-1Prairie Berry Winery has a beautiful view of the Black Hills and a small restaurant attached. We weren’t hungry, so we went straight for the wine tasting. We were lucky enough to be served by a fantastic employee named Jessica, who explained the history of the winery and the various types of wines to us. She never rushed us and she even answered my questions about the names of the wines. {You’ll see that some of the names are pretty funny.} As it turns out, she finally admitted that it was her first day on the job! We would never have known. She was wonderful. We ended up buying one of each of the wines we liked the most.

photoI especially liked Gold Digger, made with pears from Mobridge, Pierre and Rapid City. We’re looking forward to having these with some tapas on our deck this summer. After the winery, we went back to our hotel to relax for a bit. I put in some miles on the treadmill and then we went to dinner near the hotel before calling it a night.

Overall, we couldn’t have asked for a nicer road trip. The people of South Dakota are very nice, and the history and geography of the area are captivating. I’d recommend this trip to anyone who is looking to get away for a few days and relax.

Do you have any road trips planned for this summer? 


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