Tiny Solar House Visits South Dakota

Black Hills SD Mural

After spending nearly 2 months enjoying the lovely nature & weather in Colorado we headed north for a rendezvous with family neat Mount Rushmore. The national monument is located in Keystone, South Dakota about 6 hours north of Denver.

South Dakota historian Doane Robinson is credited with conceiving the idea of carving the likenesses of famous people into the Black Hills region of South Dakota in order to promote tourism in the region. Robinson's initial idea was to sculpt the Needles, a region of eroded granite pillars, towers, and spires. Robinson wanted it to feature western heroes like Lewis and Clark, Red Cloud, and Buffalo Bill Cody.

However, Gutzon Borglum, the main designer, rejected the Needles site because of the poor quality of the granite. Borglum decided the sculpture should have a more national focus and chose the four presidents whose likenesses would be carved into the mountain. They settled on the Mount Rushmore location, which also has the advantage of facing southeast for maximum sun exposure (the same orientation that is preferred for solar panels).

Fun Fact: 1/2 million sticks of dynamite helped create the landmark, giving it much of the shape as it appears below.

Pictures From Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore is is 5,725 feet (1,745 m) above sea level.

Mount Rushmore is is 5,725 feet (1,745 m) above sea level.

Left to right the heads of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt (Teddy), and Lincoln.

Left to right the heads of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt (Teddy), and Lincoln.

Close-up of Washington. Note the depth of the eyes and the technique used to carve the pupils.

Close-up of Washington. Note the depth of the eyes and the technique used to carve the pupils.

Close-up of the presidents. There is a paved hiking trail which takes you to cool different views of the monument.

Close-up of the presidents. There is a paved hiking trail which takes you to cool different views of the monument.

Presidents and trees.

Presidents and trees.

The initial Mount Rushmore concept called for each president to be depicted from head to waist, but lack of funding forced construction to end in late October 1941. 

After walking around the park for a few hours, we then headed down the road to the Crazy Horse Memorial. Experiencing Crazy Horse after Mount Rushmore was kind of like A Tale of Two Cities. And by that I mean one monument was awesome and inspiring, while the other felt more like a tourist trap.

As the story goes, Crazy Horse was a Native American war leader of the Oglala Lakota. He took up arms against the U.S. Federal government to fight against their encroachments on the territories and way of life of the Lakota people. He is famous for the Battle of the Little Bighorn (June 1876), and for his proclamation that, "My lands are where my dead lie buried." His extended hand on the monument is to symbolize that statement.

The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is far from completion. If/once completed, it may become the world's largest sculpture at 641 feet wide and 563 feet high. The head of Crazy Horse will be 87 feet high; by comparison, the heads of the four U.S. Presidents at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet high.

Pictures From Crazy Horse

View from the Visitor's Center.

View from the Visitor's Center.

Close-up view.

Close-up view.

Crazy Horse model with actual monument in background.

Crazy Horse model with actual monument in background.

We also made a stop at the world-famous Wall Drug Store, a place The New York Times has described as "a sprawling tourist attraction of international renown that takes in more than $10 million a year and draws some two million annual visitors to a remote town." Wall Drug earns much of its fame from its self-promotion. Billboards advertising the establishment can be seen for hundreds of miles throughout South Dakota and the neighboring states.

Fun Fact: Wall Drug spends an estimated $400,000 on billboards every year (and it seems to be working).

Pictures From Wall Drug Store

Another Mount Rushmore photo op!

Another Mount Rushmore photo op!

A super creepy animatronic T-Rex that comes to life every 15 minutes. We stuck around to watch it feed...

A super creepy animatronic T-Rex that comes to life every 15 minutes. We stuck around to watch it feed...

A cute little traveler's chapel.

A cute little traveler's chapel.

Just 11 minutes down the road from Wall Drug was the main attraction of the day - Badlands National Park. Since it was a family trip to South Dakota and we stayed at an RV Park, we were limited to just driving through the park (we generally like to stay, camp, hike, explore, etc.). However, the scenic overlooks and up-close encounters with wildlife made the day trip worth wile.

Pictures From Badlands National Park

The Lakota people were the first to call this place "mako sica" or "land bad." Extreme temperatures, lack of water, and the exposed rugged terrain led to this name. In the early 1900's, French-Canadian fur trappers called it "les mauvais terres pour traverse," or "bad lands to travel through."

Our final stop in South Dakota was a little different from the lovely scenery we had previously experienced, but equally fun and an important lesson learned....

Fun Fact: Casinos offer cheap RV parking spots with hookups, and FREE parking if you can make it off-grid!

View from the parking lot of Grand Falls Casino Resort near Sioux Falls, SD.

View from the parking lot of Grand Falls Casino Resort near Sioux Falls, SD.

15 weeks into our solar powered journey across America and we still have not needed to plug into the grid for any electricity. Supported by an off-grid solar power system for over 100 days!