When you are visiting the Badlands National Park, the only place to eat for miles is at Cedar Pass Lodge. So it is a good thing they had a reputation for making excellent Sioux Indian Tacos. I figured we had to try it for ourselves. We were not disappointed!
Although the taco started as a Mexican dish, it is now such a mainstay of American culture and has appeared in non-Mexican versions. For example, Native Americans have the Indian Tacos and Korean Americans started the trend for Korean barbecue tacos.
Sioux Indian Taco
The Sioux Indian taco at Cedar Pass Lodge is a sizeable portion of food. The base is a plate-size portion of Indian fry bread. The refried beans, bison beef, lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese and olives toppings create an open-faced taco. You get sour cream and salsa on the side. I felt full even without finishing my frybread.
The Sioux Indian Taco is pretty much like other Indian tacos but is made with bison meat. Bison meat is really tasty and leaner than beef. When you are consuming this many calories, every little bit helps!
The frybread is what makes the Sioux Indian Taco really stand out. Frybread is the state bread of South Dakota. The main ingredients of frybread are flour, water and salt. The dough is then fried in some sort of fat like lard or oil.
Frybread is supposed to have started during the “Long Walk” when the American army forcibly removed thousands of Navajo from Arizona to New Mexico in the 1860’s. The Native Americans were given rations of flour, salt and sugar which was very different from their usual diet of vegetables and beans. The Native Americans made do and created frybread. The rest, as they say, is history.
Frybread isn’t the healthiest option. Typical fry bread has about 700 calories and 27 grams of fat per serving. Some critics have blamed frybread for the diabetes epidemic in Native American populations.
Frybread and Indian tacos are standard fare at Native American pow wows and festivals. Despite the tragic provenance, frybread has been embraced by Native Americans as part of their cultural identity. There is even a National Indian Taco Championship held in Oklahoma.
On our Western Road trip, I came to appreciate bison meat in the form of bison burgers and the Sioux Indian taco. My family and I are big fans of tacos and the Sioux Indian tacos at Cedar Pass Restaurant got enthusiastic thumbs up from all of us.
Information for Visiting Cedar Pass Lodge
Cedar Pass Lodge is located in the Badlands National Park of South Dakota. The restaurant is open from April through December from 8 AM to 6 PM with longer hours during the peak summer months. It is located on SD-240 a few miles from the Northeast entrance.
Near to Crazy Horse Memorial, there is the iconic mountain carving of four great American presidents, Mt. Rushmore. We have seen Mt. Rushmore in so many images and movies, we were really looking forward to visiting this national park.
Leading up to the mountain, Mt Rushmore has a grand plaza with all the states’ flags and the dates they joined the Union. The states are in alphabetic order so we made the children run around to find different states. We felt they needed to work up an appetite to enjoy the delicious ice-cream sold at the park!. (Apparently Thomas Jefferson is credited with bringing ice cream to the USA when he brought back the recipe from France.)
The Visitors Center is informative if somewhat crowded. We watched an interesting video on the creation of the mountain carving and went around an exhibit explaining why these particular 4 presidents were chosen.
The four presidents were picked according to what they symbolised in the building of the United States as we know it today. George Washington is famous for taking a ragtag bunch of farmers through the American Revolution successfully and setting an exemplary model as first president. Thomas Jefferson started the westward expansion of the United States with the shrewd purchase of territories from the French. Abraham Lincoln fought to keep the United States together when it was in danger of dividing and eliminated the scourge of slavery. Theodore Roosevelt started the youngish country looking outside of its borders to determine its place in world affairs. And, yes, it helped Roosevelt was a patron of the sculptor.
Washington seen in profile
In addition to the visionary skill of its sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, Mt. Rushmore also has a tribute to the approximately 400 workers who laboured on the site. They were mostly locals (ranchers, miners and and lumber men) who worked for 14 years to transform a giant piece of rock into a sculpture using dynamite and drills. Of course, Korczak Ziolkowski, the sculptor for Crazy Horse Memorial is listed as one of them. Mt Rushmore is where Korczak learned about mountain carving before leaving as a result of a tiff with Borglum’s son. Amazingly, no worker died during the building of this monument when you consider they were dangling by slings from the top of a mountain and dodging explosions.
Borglum, himself, had a controversial backstory. He was the son of Danish immigrants born in Idaho. His father was a Mormon bigamist who took 2 sisters as wives. The sister-wife who was Gutzon’s mother abandoned the family when he was young. Charming and intelligent, he studied art in Europe before rising to prominence on the East Coast sculpture scene. Eventually. he was commissioned by the Daughters of the Confederacy to build a mountain carving in Georgia during which time he rose through the ranks of the Klu Klux Klan. (The National Park Service has supposedly given up trying to whitewash this tidbit of information – one of the nation’s greatest monuments was built by a former KKK member!). Borglum got fired by the KKK though which freed him up to do a national monument at Mt. Rushmore. Built during the Great Depression, Borglum had to lobby politicians and the public to get this sculpture done because federal money was scarce. Dying before his sculpture was done, his son Lincoln finished the project for his father.
Image credit: Bill & Vicki T
You could tell many other people had also come from far and wide because the car park was full of cars with license plates from far and wide. The Mt Rushmore car park was a really good hunting ground for the children’s US and Canada license plate game that we had started on our road trip to teach them the US states.
We enjoyed our visit to Mt Rushmore. In some ways, it was anticlimactic because we felt we had seen it already. Of course, you notice details that you can’t see from photos and movies. For example, Roosevelt’s monocle was a line carved onto his cheek which the light falls on so perfectly that it looks like he really is wearing a monocle. Be prepared also for plenty of tourists – you may find it hard to get a moment’s peace with the monument. We were a bit spoiled, I suppose, because we had paid extra to get up close and personal with Crazy Horse with no one else around.
I think both Crazy Horse Monument and Mt. Rushmore are amazing in their own way. Mt Rushmore represents the dreams and the ideals of a nation and the Crazy Horse monument points out that achieving these lofty goals came at a price. The sculptors, likewise, were talented individuals with interesting lives highlighting different aspects of the American story – immigrant parents, religious fervour, racial tension, family values, pioneer hardship and an unabiding belief in your dreams.
Lesser known than Mt. Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota is the nearby Crazy Horse Memorial. This memorial is a work in progress and is being built on a scale to dwarf Mt. Rushmore eventually. When the Crazy Horse Memorial is finished, it will be the largest mountain sculpture in the world – a testament to the larger than life characters who populated the Wild West during frontier days.
Background for the Crazy Horse Memorial
The Sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski
The Crazy Horse Memorial has been a work in progress for the last 50+ years and is expected to take another 50 years. The sculptor who set this work in motion was Korczak Ziolkowski, a Polish-American sculptor from Boston. He had previously worked on then nearby mountain carving of the presidents at Mt Rushmore and his name appears on the list of workers for that monument . I find it amusing that Korczak decided to build a sculpture that would dwarf his previous boss’s work. I’m pretty sure there was no love lost there.
In 1947, Chief Henry Standing Bear invited Korczak to the sacred lands of the Lakota tribes in the Black Hills of South Dakota. His brother had been trying in vain to get Crazy Horse put in beside the Mt. Rushmore presidents. Giving up on Mt. Rushmore, Chief Standing Bear wanted to build a monument to honour Native American culture and heroes. He traded 900 acres of his own land to the US government for rights to build a sculpture where it stands now.
Korczak came out West with his wife, pitched a tent and started blasting a mountain that he and Chief Standing Bear chose, colourfully named Thunderhead Mountain.
“My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, also.”
Chief Henry Standing Bear
Conditions were tough because the Native Americans had no money to pay him. Korczak persevered through sheer grit and hard graft. For example, in the beginning he felled trees and sold the timber to buy dynamite to start the blasting. Having had enough of the primitive living conditions, Korczak’s first wife went back to Boston.
Korczak then married one of his students who had come from Boston to help him, Ruth Ross. Together they shared a vision of the sculpture. Korczak and Ruth skipped the Netflix part and went straight onto ‘chill’ – producing 10 children, many of whom also undertook to work on the massive project.
The view from the top of the sculpture. You can see the visitor centre in the distance.
Although Korczak and Ruth have passed away, six of their children still work on the sculpture. The day we visited, we saw three of the children on site doing various jobs from on-site inspections to fence painting. A video in the visitor centre indicates that Korczak gave his children the option of walking away from his lifetime project. I think it is touching that so many of them and their own children have chosen to stay and continue Korczak’s work.
Crazy Horse, Lakota Warrior
Why Crazy Horse? He was a Lakota war chief who fought in the Black Hills Wars in the mid 19th century. He was known for his courage, defiance and devotion to his native way of life. The Native Americans had been given the Black Hills as their sacred land by the US government under the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868. With the discovery of gold though in the Black Hills, American settlers started encroaching onto Sioux land while the federal government looked the other way.
Although the Lakota fought bravely to preserve their land, the U.S. government eventually annexed the Black Hills and moved the Native Americans to reservations. Crazy Horse, himself, died tragically young when he was knifed in the back by American soldiers. Crazy Horse had entered a US fort under a truce flag to ransom his wife and daughter who were being held hostage.
I would sneer at you even if my face wasn’t frozen in this position.
Crazy Horse appears to have a permanent sneer on his face which does not make his appearance particularly friendly. The look, however, was the result of a scar left by a gunshot to the face by another Native American brave who was upset that Crazy Horse stole his woman. This woman, Black Buffalo Woman, was the love of Crazy Horse’s life. He was punished for running off with Black Buffalo Woman by being stripped of his war chief title. Even without a title, he was honoured among the Sioux and noted for never having been wounded in battle.
When finished, the statue will show Crazy Horse on his horse pointing to the Black Hills. It captures an iconic scene from Crazy Horse’s life.
The story goes that Crazy Horse was asked derisively by an American soldier, “Where are your lands now, Crazy Horse?” In answer, Crazy Horse pointed to the Black Hills and said, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”
Interestingly, Crazy Horse never allowed himself to be photographed. His likeness was described by several of his contemporaries to Korczak. Although friends of Crazy Horse said Korczak’s sketches were a credible likeness, the importance of the sculpture lies not in the physical likeness of Crazy Horse but in what his warrior spirit represents to his people.
Creating Crazy Horse Memorial
The memorial will be a series of superlatives as the statistics below show. The statue will dwarf many other world landmarks, including the pyramids of Giza. In a land of timeless wonder, it is only fitting that the statue itself shall be fitting as well.
When the memorial is finished, not only will there be the sculpture but also a Native American university and a museum. The memorial is not federally funded and relies entirely on visitor fees and donations.
Artist depiction of memorial when completed
The Crazy Horse Memorial has had its share of controversy. Some Lakota are upset that their sacred lands are being blasted to create a memorial. Descendants of Crazy Horse believe he would not have wanted their sacred lands destroyed to create a giant statue of him. Other Lakota believe that Chief Standing Bear went ahead and decided on the statue without asking the rest of the tribe what they thought. Yet, another point of contention, is that Korczak’s family is fundraising for millions of dollars over an extended period of time in Crazy Horse’s name. Cultural appropriation and all that.
Visiting Crazy Horse Memorial
When we visited, we took the opportunity to get up close and personal with the statue. The ordinary tour just takes you to the bottom of the mountain. Most of the tourists stick with this tour where you get to gaze up at Crazy Horse’s flared nostril.
For an extra fee, though you will be taken directly to the face area in order to get a better close-up view. The walkway we stood on will be the left hand pointing to the distance whenever it gets completed. Once they start carving this hand, no more visitors will be allowed up there as the ledge will be too narrow. We were able to see some of the workers who were hard at work under the blazing South Dakota sun. Contrary to what you may think, the sculpting is more than just blowing up things (although that seems to be a large part of it).
You can’t really get a sense of the scale of this sculpture until you are up close to it.
We figured our children will always remember when they were allowed to go onto the statue if they ever visit it again in the future. After all we did miss the boat on standing on a president at Mt Rushmore or a bit of the Sphinx!!
My family is dwarfed in comparison.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is located about 8 miles from Mt Rushmore. The Crazy Horse Memorial is pretty impressive and, if you are in the area, I urge to visit this amazing place. For me, it embodies the spirit of the American West – the courage, the romance, the tragedy and the unfailing hope of people, both as evidenced by Korczak and his family and Crazy Horse himself. This memorial will ensure that this period in American history will never be forgotten.