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South Dakota: Reflections from a Roundup

Memorial in Progress

Mount Rushmore focuses on our nation’s journey to where it is now, but the journey for the nearby Crazy Horse Memorial is ongoing. Although incomplete, this private mountain carving honoring the area’s Native American heritage is on track to be the world’s largest sculpture. Visitors even have the opportunity to get close to the monument by taking a van ride up the mountain to the work site and standing on what will be Crazy Horse’s outstretched arm to look over the Black Hills.

While I was at the visitors center, I had the privilege of watching a hoop dance. With the Crazy Horse Memorial carving as a backdrop, the young Lakota Sioux woman began the performance with only a single hoop. As the song progressed, she began to add more hoops, creating many different shapes as she danced, like delicate butterfly wings or an eagle soaring along with the rhythm of the drum. With her skill, she transformed the hoops from simple objects into instruments to tell her personal story. This was just one of the opportunities to honor Native culture at the memorial. The Ziolkowski family, which leads the memorial project, has also set up the Indian University of North America, and the center hosts lectures, and special events throughout the year.

City of Presidents

Many of us arrived a day before the tour’s official start and decided to take advantage of our free time to explore Rapid City. I had always heard about the City of Presidents sculptures that adorn downtown, so I made a point to see them. I would highly suggest stopping in at the Information Center near the heart of downtown to get the background on the project and enjoy a hand-dipped ice cream cone at the same time.

I spent most of the day walking up and down the streets snapping pictures with each of the 43 presidents and ducking in and out of the many shops. My favorite was the Prairie Edge Trading Company and Galleries. I was fascinated by the intricate paper and glass works that filled the fine-art gallery upstairs. Others loved the bead room where the walls are lined with every color bead imaginable for making regalia or jewelry.

Where the presidential sculptures honor the past and traditional mediums, Art Alley celebrates the contemporary. This ongoing project, tucked in between Sixth and Seventh streets, celebrates freedom of expression. Once you step between the buildings it’s like entering another world. The paintings are so vivid and colorful that your senses are saturated with the unique beauty created by local taggers. And the subjects include everything from Sitting Bull and Theodore Roosevelt to abstract explosions of color.

Art with My Ancestors

Through my mother, I am descended from the Mi’kmaq (pronounced Mee-gum-mach) tribe of first peoples in Nova Scotia. Mi’kmaq clothing and jewelry was so beautifully decorated with dyed porcupine quills that they were known as the “porcupine people” by those with whom they traded.

While at the Journey Museum in Rapid City, I was able to talk to Kayla, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. She took a few minutes to teach some of my group how to make quillwork jewelry. Even though this was a simple thing to learn, it’s one more way I’ve been able to connect with my personal history.

Chasing Teddy

Exploring Deadwood, a small but popular city on the northern edge of the Black Hills, it’s easy to imagine miners and outlaws walking the same streets trying to strike it rich and make their place in the world. The entire downtown district is on the National Register of Historic Places. A large portion of the town’s gaming profits are dedicated to historic preservation.

My personal mission while in town was to visit sites connected to our 26th president. Theodore Roosevelt is my favorite president, so it was a treat for me to be in a place that had such a strong connection to him. Roosevelt was a frequent guest at both the Franklin Hotel and the Bullock Hotel, owned by Seth Bullock, the famous sheriff and his best friend.

As I stood between the marble pillars of the Silverado Franklin, I could easily imagine Roosevelt taking a moment to wipe his glasses to better admire the rugged hills that loom over the town. It was on one of these hills that Bullock had the Friendship Tower built as a memorial to his friend Roosevelt. Today, the tower and Mount Roosevelt are popular hiking spots.

After doing some hiking myself through the airport on my journey home, I took some time to relax and watch the orange and lavender hues of the sunset and the planes as they took off down the runway. I was reminded of the rich colors of the Black Hills and the expanse of land that had meant so much to the many tribes, miners, outlaws, and adventurers who lived there, and once again I thought, I’ve never seen anything like South Dakota.

Ashley Ricks

Ashley Ricks is the circulation and marketing manager for The Group Travel Leader Inc.