Thursday, September 1, 2011

SoDak, NoDak

My buddy Jay got married last weekend at Custer State Park in South Dakota. It was a beautiful place for an outdoor wedding and a fun excuse for a roadtrip into the Dakotas. I'd been thinking about exploring Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota for years so this was just the right opportunity.

Friday morning I left Bozeman and stopped at Little Bighorn National Monument, which is just off of I-90 in southeast Montana.

That was a sobering visit.

It is the famous site of Custer's Last Stand, where General Custer was overrun by a vastly superior number of Indians led by Sitting Bull. When I drove from St. Paul to Bozeman a couple months ago, multiple people of my parents generation asked me if I'd been to Little Bighorn or was planning on it. To children of the '50s and '60s, I think this was a touchstone historical event that they learned about through Western TV shows, cowboys & Indians, and action figures. I recall an older cousin of mine had a General Custer doll/action figure.

This first picture shows white markers where a couple American soldiers fell while trying to defend the hill in the background that has the larger memorial on it.

But what really got me was this -- the marker of a Cheyenne who died "while defending the Cheyenne way of life". I got a little teary-eyed, I must say.
The Indians had won and may have thought they still had a chance. Later on I'd read on another memorial quotes from the likes of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse 30 years later. The quotes said, effectively, that even though the Indians had lost the war, that at least now they were friends with the American government. This really struck me as sad, because I don't believe that the American government has ever shown friendship to the Native Americans. 120 years later it sure doesn't look like the American government had anyone's interest in mind other than the advancement of their own agenda.

So then it was slightly uplifting, at least, to go to the Crazy Horse Memorial on Saturday.
I last visited this site in about 1982 on the classic Midwest family road trip to the Black Hills. At that time I remember being awed by the vision and determination of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski who, at that time, had already removed something like 100 times as much rock as was removed to create Mount Rushmore (he started in 1948). Today you can see Crazy Horse's face in the mountain, but in 1982 all you could see was that hold underneath his arm. I spent $10 of my own lawn mowing money to purchase a small plaster replica of the monument and remember being proud to support such an endeavor.

Ziolkowski's family is doing this work entirely on their own and twice has turned down $10 million from the U.S. government. So the $10 kicked in by little kids really does matter.

Mount Rushmore still looks the same as 1982. Mike, George, Sandy and I went there on Sunday and though the park is small (I was hoping for some legitimate hiking), it is nicely put together and an enjoyable 0.6 mile walk gets you fairly close to the base where this photo was taken.

Jay & Bridgette's wedding was a lot of fun on Sunday evening, but I wasn't snapping photos. I really enjoyed it because they didn't do everything exactly by the book like people do when they get married in their 20s. It was a relaxed affair in a gorgeous setting with friend Dan presiding and no rehearsal or walk through prior to the ceremony. A bunch of old college friends were there and it's always fun to see the Dales, Holstines & Brandts.

Monday I drove up to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. I'd always been intrigued about this park since first hearing about it around 10 years ago. A national park in ND!? Who knew?

There aren't any bad national parks and this one gets relatively low traffic. It features a combination of badlands and grasslands elements, with bison and prairie dogs the most common wildlife.

I brought my mountain bike along and took these shots behind bars on the Buffalo Gap trail which is within the National Grasslands just outside of TRNP. It was a fantastic bike ride on singletrack through rolling hills on a windy trail.

Parts of it were a little hairier than others...


And at times there were some ornery customers blocking my path. Here the trail actually fords this little stream and continues up the hill on the other side of those fierce looking guardians.

After a long standoff and a punishing battle, they turned out to be no match for my mad kung-fu skillz and I survived to bring you this tale. Thanks for reading.

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