The Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota has been on my bucket list for a while.
Crazy Horse was the war hero of the Native American Lakota tribe that defeated General Custer in the Battle of Little Big Horn. Mount Rushmore is a memorial of presidents of the United States, the government that appropriated (and continues to disrespect) the lands of the aboriginals of North America. The irony that the Crazy Horse Memorial lies between the Mount Rushmore US President’s Memorial and Custer, South Dakota was not lost on us.
We landed on a very rainy and cloudy day. In my mind, the mist that covered the mountain made it just that much more beautiful. The dark splendor of the determined face peering out of the rock captures the truth of my favorite quotation attributed to Crazy Horse:
“It’s a good day to die.”
This phrase goes far beyond the literal meaning of urging his warriors to fight to the death. It is also very much about doing in life what gives oneself purpose. The deep truth is echoed in the Tao of Lao Tze and many other great philophers: if life has personal meaning, then there is no fear of death. Any day lived to its fullest, is a good day to die.
(Click for larger version)
The mountain carving, which may take another generation or two to complete, is only one reason to go. There is a school funded by donations and admissions as well as a fantastic cultural center and museum.
Okaton, South Dakota was once a thriving community of rail workers and pioneer homesteaders. When the rail moved westward, so did the workers. The Great Depression made most of the remaining farmers move to the city looking for any kind of work.
Between the railroads closing that particular spur and the interstate highway I-90, the few remaining residents left only a shadow of a town and overgrown rail tracks.
Albuquerque, New Mexico is the top spot for hot-air ballooning.
We spent an afternoon at the Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, studying their long history of flight which predates airplanes by more than 100 years. The first passengers were a rooster, a duck and a lamb – since no one was sure if breathing would be possible while ballooning!
As so often happens, we made friends in a cafe. Fast friendships often happen through common interests, and this time it was flying. One of our new friends and Deena are both pilots. They then hooked us up with a local celebrity pilot and very experienced balloon team. Even though it was a little windy, we had a chance to soar. We loved both the flying and chasing on the ground.
Ballooning is an indescribable experience. It reminded us of scuba diving because of the floating weightlessness and quietude.
Especially fun is the first flight initiation! We enjoyed the official champagne toast, although we think having us make angels in the dust while drinking our champagne without the use of our hands was not standard practice! Then they read the Balloonists’ Prayer:
May the winds welcome you with softness. May the sun bless you with its warm hands. May you fly so high and so well that God joins you in laughter and sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.