Sabbatical Days 90-93: Battle of Little Bighorn and The Black Hills of South Dakota

After nearly three weeks away from our four-legged fur babies, we woke up in Banff National Park, Alberta ready to start the trek home. We decided to forgo a few more days in Canada in Jasper National Park, which I’m sure is beautiful, but we both felt like we’d seen a lot of beautiful mountains and really what we both wanted was to be home cuddling the pups and getting a doggy tongue bath, followed by a real bath. 

Along the way, we decided to try camping in a Walmart parking lot in Billings, Montana. Because, why not? We love new experiences, and it’s free! Bonus! Well, let me tell you, it was definitely an experience. Not necessarily one I ever wish to repeat, but an experience nonetheless. Funny story: when I told my Mom where we were staying she responded, “I think I stayed there once,” like it was a Holiday Inn. 

We  awoke unceremoniously to the sound of a corps of lawn mowers whirling around us at around 3am. There may be as many lawn guys working for Walmart as there are greeters. And they were relentless. Not to mention the 22 other campers, all of whom seemed to be running supersonic generators all night long, presumably so they would not have to go one night without air conditioning or direct tv. Nope. I don’t think we will be doing that again unless we are in a pinch. 

Here are some highlights from our trip home to Denver by way of the Black Hills of South Dakota. The long drive homeward was filled with unplanned history refreshers, somber reminders of the brutality and disregard for humanity on which our country was built. And it was beautiful nonetheless. 

We soon came upon the exit for the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in the middle of southern nowhere Montana, the site of what I remembered learning as Custer’s Last Stand (June 25 and 26, 1876). We stopped of course. 

Both of us love to learn and grow, and I’m so glad that we took time to re-learn this history. The brief stopover set a context for the days to come, weighing heavily on me and reshaping views I didn’t even know I held. What I re-learned gave me much needed perspective and a clearer lens with which to view my surroundings. Also, a good reminder that we all need to be open to “re-learning” things as we grow older and as facts get muffled by time. 

Each tribe had a tribute naming every warrior who fought in the battle

“I will never kill another Cheyenne.” This turned out to be an empty promise by Custer after the Civil War

Continuing on toward the Black Hills of South Dakota and Mount Rushmore (originally, my sole reason for wanting to go to the Black Hills), we carried a newly re-activated awareness of the unchecked violence and sense of absolute entitlement with which our predecessors had conquered the land and the people who lived in harmony with it. Although the native tribes won the Battle of Little Bighorn, they lost the war. And from my perspective, the area of South Dakota to which we made our way, Custer County, became a literal tribute to the soldiers and the country that sought to destroy their way of life. 

The rain made the Presidents appear to cry. Given the past and present divisions in our country, it was apt.

I was excited to visit Crazy Horse, eager to experience a tribute to the Native Americans who inhabited the lands and their own fearless leaders. I was disappointed by the laser show (played on the side of the mountain sculpture), which got so much hype but didn’t do justice to the people it promised to honor n my opinion. Sometimes it seemed like a commercial, which was counter to my expectations. The sculpture itself is still far from complete after fifty years, but if it is ever finished it will be magnificent. Still, glad that we paid the steep entry fee to support the effort. 

This enormous sculpture has been underway for more than 50 years and is far from complete, but will be much larger than Mount Rushmore if ever finished.

A nightly laser show projected on the sculpture tells the history of the land and native people.

The true highlight of the Black Hills for me was our hike to Harney Peak (elev. 7242 ft), the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains and west of The Pyrenees in Europe. Several people, including my brother-in-law who is an avid hiker, told us that this hike must not be missed. And they were right. 

It was spectacular! The landscape is unique and dotted with stunning views and immense boulders that seemed otherworldly, not to mention the wild raspberries we munched on the way down. It reinforced the beauty and majesty of the land and the people who have lived here for so many hundreds of year–much more than a sculpture or a light show ever could. 

All in all, it was a meaningful end to a nearly month-long adventure that took us from Denver to Yellowstone, Glacier, Banff, and the Black Hills and back to Denver where Molly and Tucker awaited our return at Grandma’s house. 

Next up: A month at home with some short trips, including a view of the solar eclipse in its totality up in Wyoming. *Note that this entry is being posted with a one month delay. 

3 thoughts on “Sabbatical Days 90-93: Battle of Little Bighorn and The Black Hills of South Dakota

  1. Yay. I could hardly wait for the next chapters of your amazing adventure. You never disappoint. I love the descriptions and pictures….and your feelings about it all bring it to life.

    Liked by 1 person

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