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Plant City Courier

A tale of two monuments (and the roads of South Dakota)

Special correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 11:11 PM

The sticker on the rear fender of my motorcycle reads: "For some there's therapy, for the rest of us there's motorcycles."

I cannot think of a venue, including a psychiatrist's figurative couch, where a person can escape the daily grind of life better than riding the countryside on a motorcycle.

On our journey, we are riding the back roads of Middle America to the plains of South Dakota; it's about happening upon a small town barbecue or a brimming vegetable stand, not the view seen from super highways skirting cloned fast food restaurants.

Entering eastern South Dakota conjures up thoughts of 1947 Roswell, N.M. Off in the distance, scores of towering white structures with huge propellers appear like something from outer space. As I get closer, I discover "herds" of them: Leviathan objects that come up from the ground and descend toward the heavens. In South Dakota, they call them "wind farms."

I roll into Wall, S.D., and set up camp, anticipating the next day's ride through the 40-mile loop of the Badlands National Park.

It's just about daybreak in the Badlands, and the spectacle of another sunrise is beginning to play out across the haunting, jagged faces of South Dakota's ancient hills. Spread out like a wrap-around movie screen in the tortured skyline, you can see the volcanic ash streaked with red, white and yellow stripes; it's even more overwhelming to realize those markings represent millions of years of sedimentation.

As I leave the prehistoric cliff faces of the Badlands, I am transferred into the 21st century world of traffic screaming down Interstate 90, heading toward the Black Hills.

A trip along Needles Highway to Mount Rushmore is a scenic thrill ride made up of S-turns and twisty curves; that's when the laws of physics and the motorcycle become one. Gravity, kinetic energy and friction are all at work making the ride a little edgy, but a lot more fun.

This is a story of two monuments: One is world-famous, the other struggles for recognition. One immortalizes the white man, the other immortalizes the American Indian.

The Black Hills are home to Mount Rushmore, with its famed profiles of four presidents, and the Crazy Horse Monument, a tribute to the Sioux warrior that depicts him with flowing hair and an outreached arm, sitting on horseback.

At Mount Rushmore, the stone faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt stare down from the mountain as I ride along state Route 244 from Keystone to Hill City.

The idea of seeing a so-called shrine of democracy may seem out-of-place in this jaded age of class warfare and congressional sniping. But watch out: You may find yourself speaking in hushed tones as you gaze at the granite sculptures of four of our nation's revered leaders.

At the entrance to Thunder Mountain, the face of Crazy Horse looked small. I extended my hand, and his face disappeared behind the top joint of my thumb. A ride to the bottom of the mountain changed my perspective dramatically.

Imagine a statue of a man on a stallion that's taller than the Washington Monument a statue so big a 10-story office building could fit in an opening under the man's arm. The four 60-foot faces of Mount Rushmore could be stored inside the man's head.

According to our tour guide, Sioux Chief Standing Bear watched in silence as faces of great white leaders emerged from the ancient granite of Mount Rushmore in his homeland. He wrote an appeal to sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and asked him to carve out the face of Crazy Horse as a tribute to the American Indian. The project officially got under way in June 1948.

Ziolkowski spent 35 years of his life coaxing an image of Crazy Horse from the granite peak of Thunder Mountain; the sculptor blasted away nearly 8 million tons of rock in an obsessive quest to carve the Crazy Horse Monument.

But he underestimated the scale of the undertaking. His promise, it turned out, would become a family commitment.

Thirty years after his death, Ziolkowski's widow, Ruth, continues the project with the help of their 10 children and the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation — but without the help of state or federal funding.

Ziolkowski believed in individual incentive and private enterprise so strongly that he twice turned down $10 million in federal grant money. He felt the interest of the public, not the taxpayer, should fund the project.

Money to further the development of this colossal mountain carving comes from admissions, contributions and gift shop sales.

Although 100 million tons of granite rock have been blasted out of Thunder Mountain since Ziolkowski's death, it is estimated the Crazy Horse Monument will take 35 years more to complete.

The hills are alive with the sound of engines revving. I share the road with thousands of motorcycles as we make our way to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, S.D. Your ticket to ride will be on the pages of next week's Courier.

Follow Jerry

Jerry Lofstrom is taking a cross-country motorcycle ride to storied destinations across the United States, including the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D.

Jerry will be sending back dispatches and photos from the road over the next few weeks and is inviting Plant City Courier readers to share the journey. If you have a question or comment, email him at jerrylofstrom@gmail.com.

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