Crazy Horse vs Mt. Rushmore

ABOVE The giant sculpture of Crazy Horse from below, South Dakota
ABOVE The giant sculpture of Crazy Horse from below, South Dakota

The world’s largest sculpture in the making stands head and shoulders above Mt. Rushmore


LOCATION The Crazy Horse Memorial is in the Black Hills of South Dakota near Custer, about 40 miles (65 km) southwest of Rapid City


DAYTIME TEMPERATURES Jan: 22°F (-6°C); Apr: 45°F (7°C); Jul: 72°F (22°C); Oct: 48°F (9°C)

Carved into a granite outcrop in South Dakota’s Black Hills, Mount Rushmore is one of America’s most patriotic landmarks. Here, the 60-ft (18-m) faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt gaze out across the Great Plains. Journey 17 miles (25 km) to the southwest, however, and you’ll see a newer, larger, and equally impressive sculpture slowly being carved out of another mountain.

The monument depicts Native-American hero Crazy Horse, the Lakota warrior who defeated General Custer at the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, and is chiseled out of Thunderhead Mountain, a site considered sacred by some tribes. The figure sits astride a galloping horse and has an outstretched arm pointing towards the southeast – a gesture that is meant to recall his poignant words: “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”

Work on the sculpture started in 1948 when Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear asked Korczak Ziolkowski, a Polish-American sculptor who had worked on Mount Rushmore, to design a monument honoring Native American people. Crazy Horse never allowed himself to be photographed, so rather than being an exact likeness, this sculpture represents the spirit of Native America.

The face, measuring 87 ft (27 m) high, was completed in 1998. Workers are now blocking out the horse’s head, and depending on what is happening on the day you visit, you may be able to see and hear the explosive blasts used to shape the rock before carving begins. When it is completed, the sculpture of Crazy Horse will be 563 ft (172 m) high and 641 ft (195 m) long, dwarfing Mount Rushmore.

The enormous sculpture was unfinished when Ziolkowski died in 1982, and his wife and sons have continued his work. Ziolkowski refused to accept government funds, believing it would compromise the project’s cultural and educational mission, so this work-in-progress is entirely funded by donations and admission fees.



Mount Rushmore, which was completed in 1941, is one of the most iconic images in America. Whether or not its patent nationalism appeals, the sheer scale of the monument is impressive. So too is the story of how 400 workers blasted and carved it out of a granite ridge at a height of 5,725 ft (1,745 m).

You can’t help marveling at such details as George Washington’s nose or Theodore Roosevelt’s moustache, as well as at the beautiful scenery of the Black Hills.


The presentations given to visitors are staunchly patriotic in tone, and some of the monument’s symbolism may be lost on those who aren’t familiar with American history. Mount Rushmore is highly popular in summer, so expect crowds.


Bring binoculars to better see the sculpted details and to spot mountain goats clambering around the noble faces. Arrive early to beat the crowds and catch the clear morning light. Observe how the faces appear to change with the movement of the sun.


Getting There and Around

Flights go from major US cities to Rapid City Regional Airport, which is 40 miles (65 km) away from Crazy Horse. You will need a car to drive to the monument. Several car-rental companies are located at the airport.

Where to Eat

Diners, cafés, and steakhouses in the area serve regional fare, such as burgers, steaks, and buffalo. The Steak ‘n Ribs Place in nearby Custer is set in a handsome bank building dating from 1881.

Where to Stay

The Victorian Custer Mansion Bed and Breakfast has charming rooms and serves hearty breakfasts.

When to Go

Spring and fall have the most pleasant temperatures and fewer crowds than the summer.

Budget per Day for Two

US$200 including admission, accommodations, transportation and food.

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