Swimming in Sylvan Lake

If you’ve seen the movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets, then you’ve seen a bit of Sylvan Lake, a crystal clear lake set amidst granite spires in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Spoiler Alert: The movie’s treasure hunt brings Nicholas Cage to Sylvan Lake for another clue.

Sylvan Lake

After a day of touring, we cooled off in the spring fed waters of Sylvan Lake. The water was cold and the altitude (at 6,200 feet) enough to take our breath away.

swimming at Sylvan Lake

The man-made lake is located on the Needles Highway in Custer State Park, South Dakota. There are picnic tables, restrooms, and a sandy beach. You can rent paddle boats or walk the the trail around the lake. Sylvan Lake Lodge offers overnight accommodations and dining at its restaurant.

Trip taken July 2013.

World’s Largest Sculpture: It’s Not What (or Where) You Might Think

So you thought Mount Rushmore was big! Well, wait until you see Crazy Horse Memorial. This memorial, paid for by private donations, not public ones, is worth more than a drive by. Not only is there a sculpted monument in progress to observe (you can take a bus to get near the site), there are museums and gift shops as well.

Crazy Horse Memorial

How big is the carving? Imagine a 35-foot tall hand or a 219-foot tall horse’s head. Crazy Horse’s head is 87 feet 6 inches high. When complete, the entire carving will be 641 feet long by 563 feet high! (The faces of Mount Rushmore are just 60 feet high.)

And why is it there? Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear asked Korczak Ziolkowski, a sculptor who assisted Gutzon Borglum on Mount Rushmore, to create a monument “to honor the culture, tradition, and living heritage of North American Indians.” According to the website, “Native American leaders chose Crazy Horse for the Mountain Carving because he was a great and patriotic hero. Crazy Horse’s tenacity of purpose, his modest life, his unfailing courage, and his tragic death set him apart and above the others.”

Crazy Horse Model

Work on the world’s largest mountain sculpture officially began on June 3, 1948 and continues. In 1976, the Indian Museum of North America opened which includes artifacts and art from a variety of American Indian cultures. In 1996, the Native American Educational and Cultural Center was added. It includes artifact collections and Native American vendors and artisans.

Cost of admission is $11 or $28 per carload. It’s an extra $4 to take the bus up close to the bottom of the mountain. Crazy Horse Memorial is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) foundation.

Trip taken July 2013.

Faces We Know and Love

Setting the table as a kid meant using the laminated photograph placemats. Linens were kept for holidays and special occasions when the look was worth the risk of spills, but during the week, I ate my spaghetti while gazing at the steeple of Old North Church, the paintings of Charles Russell, or (my favorite) at the faces of Mount Rushmore.

The chiseled gray faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln poked through the Needles Highway tunnel on our way to Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Needles highway

We hurried to get there, parking in the giant parking lot, and following the streams of people to the front entrance. This trip we arrived at dusk. It wasn’t our first visit, and we were squeezing it in. Despite visiting many times during our childhood, it was a priority not for only me, but for my brother, my sister, and their families as well.

One of the most popular tourist attractions in the U.S., Mount Rushmore National Memorial is visited by 3 million people a year. What attracts us? Is it the immensity of the faces? The beauty of the area? The evidence of man’s dominance over nature? The appreciation of the artist?


Although the Black Hills are a sacred place for the Lakota Nation, the lure of gold brought thousands of men into the hills in the late 1800s.

In 1923, Doane Robinson had a vision to create a national monument to bring people to his state of South Dakota, and Gutzon Borglum knew where to sculpt it. When confronted with the massive granite outcrop of the Black Hills, he saw beyond its natural beauty and the potential for a monument to the men who “best represented the foundation, expansion, and preservation of the U.S.” The sculptor continued blasting and carving from 1927 until his death in 1941 when his son took over, finishing the project a year later.

The Faces

Today, Mount Rushmore is one of South Dakota’s biggest tourist attractions. There are museum exhibits, a trail, ranger walks, and an evening lighting ceremony held nightly during the summer. Mount Rushmore is located in Keystone, in the southwestern corner of South Dakota, just a short drive from Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park.

Trip taken July 2013.