Paha Sapa

July 19, 2018

In the middle of an ocean of grasslands lie the Black Hills. The Lakota Sioux called the area Paha Sapa because “from a distance, the pine-covered slopes look black”.[1] It is not difficult to understand the significance this area holds for Native Americans whose ancestors hunted elk, deer, and various other game. Sitting out in the campsite next to the fire, watching the sunset and moonrise on a cool breezy evening is magical. Although many travelers journey to see Mount Rushmore (which we did), However, my favorite part of the experience was going to Custer State Park to reconnect with nature. There are so many incredible opportunities to explore the outdoors that it is a must-stop destination. Wildlife is abundant and it is not uncommon to see bison and deer roaming near the campgrounds. There certainly is a mystical aura about the place, and it is easy to become absorbed in the peacefulness of the place.  


Mount Rushmore is perhaps the number one reason many travelers make this one of their destination stops. As awesome as the monument to the four great American presidents is, I have to say, I was more impressed with the monument to Crazy Horse. We were lucky that our initial stay in the Black Hills coincided with the “Night Blast” at Crazy Horse. Understand, the monument is carved from the granite using dynamite strategically placed to loosen the stone from the impending structure. So, we packed the cooler with beers and snacks to set up our tailgate -an important skill imparted to me by my good friend Joe G; and headed out to find the best seats. When we arrived we set-up our site with comfy chairs, a blanket, and cooler and then headed into the visitor center. To ignore the contributions of native Americans to our culture is to alienate oneself from truth. The virtues imparted to their youth are no different from those of traditional Western values, however; our Western-based  culture has certainly deteriorated in the name of progress. Our youth look at their cell-phones like I look at the mountains, or a hidden valley, or wildlife, or an aspen glen, and I am not convinced that so much connectiveness to information is healthful for the mind. After contemplation on these ideas, we returned to our encampment and enjoyed the evening’s laser show and pyro techniques. What will Crazy Horse look like 20 or 30-years from now. Will my daughter tell her children that she enjoyed the mountain sculpture long before it’s completion much like those before us told their children about the Rushmore carvings?


The final pieces of the South Dakota experience included kayaking on Legion Lake, fishing and enjoying drinks at the Game Lodge, and quiet nights before heading to Colorado. It seems that. as was the case 20-years ago, I didn’t schedule nearly enough time in this area. There is so much left to do here still, perhaps we will be back soon. It is so hard to know because you simply can’t predict what will happen to help or hinder your return. I certainly didn’t expect to contract Leukemia, nor did my wife expect that she would test positive for breast cancer, yet here we are again. But, before I die, I promise, I will be back to South Dakota, perhaps to watch the Buffalo round-up in the fall, or see the arm emerge from Crazy Horse, who knows?


[1] Marshall, J. M. 2001 The Lakota Way. Penguin Compass, New York, NY. p. 56.

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