Black Hills are only one-hour drive from Badlands National Park. The name comes from the native Lakota Paha Sapa meaning hills that are black, because they look dark from distance. And this is not because the hills are dark, but because of the green vegetation standing out in the middle of the plains. Coming from the eastern grasslands, we could see Black Hills rising from afar, where the pine forests and the granite peaks create a distinctive landscape from what we’ve seen until now. One of the oldest mountains in North America, these hills are actually the highest mountains east of the Rockies with its highest peak little over 2,200 m.
Considered a home of Lakota Sioux and the center of their spirituality, The Black Hills were ever changed when gold was discovered in 1876 in Deadwood. Described as the “Island in the Plains”, The Black Hills actually contain 5 national parks, and offer everything for a great destination: scenic drives, trails, waterfalls, fishing places and endless attractions for the whole family.
Keystone, founded in 1891 when gold was discovered here, flourished in 1894 when the city reached nearly 3,000 people (larger than Rapid City at that time). Now the city offers a unique feeling of a western town, with lots of boutiques and shops. What strikes you is the 1880 style; if you would not see so many visitors, you would feel like in a western movie, waiting for a gunman to show off at any window, or the seven magnificents come around the corner.
From caves to museums, from mines to the trails, even digging for gold:), this whole area is now so touristy that one can get entertained for weeks with so many adventures and activities.
One spectacular place close to Keystone is Mt Rushmore, named after a New York lawyer who came to investigate mining claims in 1885. Carved within 14 years, between 1927 and 1941, the mount represents a shrine to the American democracy. The granite faces of four American presidents were selected on the basis of what each symbolized: George Washington was the father of the country, Abraham Lincoln for preserving the Union, Thomas Jefferson for expressing the Declaration of Independence, and Theodor Roosevelt for the world affairs and expansionist dreams. The sculptor Gutzon Borglum selected this mountain because of its height and consistency, and also because it catches the sun for the greatest part of the day.
Even though the project spanned 14 years, only about 6.5 years were spent actually for carving, while the rest of the time was spent due to bad weather, or the lack of funding. The total cost of the project was about $900,000, and continued until the death of Borglum.
A surprise to our evening there was the Lighting Ceremony that started with a little presentation by a park ranger, and a video about Mt Rushmore. The ranger called for all military and veterans out of the audience to join him on the stage and help him with the flag-folding ceremony. Also, he asked each of them to present themselves, with names and ranks. What I found very touching was the moment when almost everyone in the audience sang the national anthem, and I could feel the true patriotic vibe in the air. Lighting the faces of the presidents was under our expectation, but still their illuminated faces were worth staying up so late.
“Until the wind and the rain alone shall wear them away” – Gutzon Borglum