Once you pass out of the town called Wall on the outer corner of the badlands you begin to enter the Black Hills. This is where you find Mt Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Needles Highway, and Deadwood. It was raining as I was driving in but I immediately went to see Crazy Horse. After visiting the memorial and museum, I have a much better understanding of the controversy surroundings its construction and lack of completeness given the quantity of visitors to the site. I think it is worth a visit but, that is because the Indian Heritage Museum is fantastic. Truly the best collection of artifacts in any site. After walking around the one thing I found myself thinking is why do we not give more people access to this history by placing some of these artifacts in the American Indian museum where all people can learn about Indian heritage for free? Some of the artifacts are of true historical significance yet they are locked in boxes in a for-profit museum. What also shocked me was that for such a traditionally sacred place the rocks from these hills and the construction explosion were for sale. Tourists could walk away with chucks of Souix and Lakota sacred ground for a fee. At the end of my walkthrough after taking a few pictures I was more than ready to depart.
Down the road from Crazy Horse is a small winding highway that drives over the Hills. This little pass of roads takes you to Mt Rushmore while giving you an amazing view of the Needles. The hilltops are covered in rock formations that from a distance look like thin needles poking the sky. Every view along this route is spectacular and as you go down the mountain towards Rushmore the black valleys sit before you.
Mt. Rushmore itself is an amazing National Monument. Significantly smaller than Crazy Horse yet it feels more protected. The grounds around the carvings are filled with the rubble of the explosions, and at the base of the hills traditional Teepees sit that are still in use today. Despite having four gigantic faces carved out of it the mountain feels whole the grounds are well managed and open to the public to truly explore the hillside.
Following the visit to Mt Rushmore it was on to Deadwood the notorious Black Hills town. The drive North takes you into the heart of the hills. Deadwood itself is a little one lane town nestled in a valley. On main street there are casinos and theatres just like there were 130 years ago. The mountain hillsides hide the houses that were erected by the early pioneers who made a life in this remote town. Deadwood is the final resting place of “Wild Bill” Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock, three legendary figures of the old West. The Mt. Moreah cemetery overlooking the town is filled with the local residents, prospectors, pioneers and business owners who helped build and mine the hills.
Deadwood was the last stop in the back hills, after leaving the pass the land quickly flattens out and you drive over the border through the Gateway to the West, Wyoming.