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The mo­men­tum led to the open­ing of a cathe­dral-like vis­i­tors cen­tre in 2000, with a mu­seum, Na­tive Amer­i­can cul­tural cen­tre (where lo­cal artists come to work), bustling restau­rant and state-of-the-art cin­ema. Crazy Horse is squarely on the west­ern sight­see­ing cir­cuit, al­though it still main­tains its down-home, fam­ily feel, per­haps be­cause seven of Zi­olkowski’s chil­dren still work full time on the site and 28 of his grand­chil­dren are sea­sonal wait­ers in the restau­rant.

Al­though carv­ing is pro­ceed­ing on the 22-storey-high horse’s head, no­body in the fam­ily will dis­cuss when the mono­lith may be fin­ished.

‘‘ There’s no way to es­ti­mate,’’ says Ruth, Zi­olkowski’s widow, in her mid70s, when we meet for a lunch of tacos. ‘‘ It would be noth­ing but a wild guess any­way. We’re not try­ing to be dif­fi­cult. We just don’t know.

‘‘ Kor­czak al­ways said it wasn’t im­por­tant when it was fin­ished.’’

Later, wear­ing a hard hat, I visit the work­site, strolling along Crazy Horse’s out­stretched arm and drink­ing in a view that seems to stretch to New York City. The work is over­seen by the Zi­olkowskis’ eldest son, Casimir, who talks about his fa­ther with wry af­fec­tion. ‘‘ He was one of a kind, that’s for sure,’’ he says with a laugh. ‘‘ We had our fights, like ev­ery fa­ther and son.’’

Work­ers are dili­gently lay­ing dy­na­mite, al­though they are also us­ing tools that would have been science fiction to Zi­olkowski when he was alive: ground­pen­e­trat­ing radar, elec­tronic det­o­na­tors, pre­ci­sion ex­plo­sives and 3300C torches to pol­ish the gran­ite. Daugh­ter Monique prefers to plot the carv­ing us­ing a scale model, as her fa­ther did in the ’ 50s. She uses plumblines to mea­sure dis­tances, like the an­cient Greeks; re­ly­ing on a com­puter, she says, ‘‘ feels like cheat­ing’’.

‘‘ Only in Amer­ica could a man carve a moun­tain,’’ Zi­olkowski once de­clared, a sen­ti­ment that, per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, has not won over all Na­tive Amer­i­cans. In re­cent years a group called the De­fend­ers of the Black Hills has ar­gued that the re­gion, which is sa­cred to the Lakota, should be left alone.

Spokes­woman Charmaine White­face says the fact that this new sculp­ture in­volves an im­age of a revered Lakota leader does not make it less of a vi­o­la­tion than Mt Rush­more. Work should sim­ply stop on Crazy Horse, she says. ‘‘ Let na­ture re­claim the moun­tain.’’

But this is the US and no­body leaves a project half-fin­ished. To­day, Crazy Horse is go­ing from strength to strength; there are even two an­nual fes­ti­vals that en­cour­age vis­i­tors from across the na­tion to en­joy the Black Hills’ crisp sum­mer nights. The first is on June 26, the an­niver­sary of the bat­tle of Lit­tle Bighorn as well as Ruth Zi­olkowski’s birth­day; the sec­ond, on Septem­ber 6, is Kor­czak Zi­olkowski’s birth­day and, ac­cord­ing to Lakota sources, the an­niver­sary of Crazy Horse’s early death at Fort Robin­son.

On my last night in South Dakota, I visit the Septem­ber ex­trav­a­ganza, join­ing a stream of about 3000 pic­nick­ers sit­ting on hill­sides be­neath the stars. A Tech­ni­color laser show turns the half­carved moun­tain­side into an enor­mous cin­ema screen on which Na­tive Amer­i­can pet­ro­glyphs and his­toric pho­to­graphs are pro­jected to the sound of mu­sic and nar­ra­tion.

Fi­nally, in the dark­ness, roars go up as 20 con­sec­u­tive dy­na­mite blasts shoot out along Crazy Horse’s arm, giv­ing a spec­tac­u­lar breath of life to the sculp­ture.

Driv­ing back to my ho­tel that night, I see the name of the Lakota’s white en­emy, Custer, marked ev­ery­where on the Black Hills. To­day he is com­mem­o­rated in the Custer State For­est, where buf­falo have been rein­tro­duced af­ter com­ing close to ex­ter­mi­na­tion. (The US Army funded buf­falo hunt­ing to wipe out Na­tive Amer­i­can food sup­plies.) The largest town in the Black Hills is called Custer. And, bizarrely, white towns­folk have even put the Custer name on a moun­tain­side in large white cap­i­tal let­ters, like the fa­mous Hol­ly­wood sign. But af­ter the night of cel­e­bra­tions at Crazy Horse, it feels as if the his­toric bal­ance is at least start­ing to be re­dressed.


The eas­i­est way to visit the Crazy Horse Me­mo­rial is to fly to Sioux City, South Dakota, and rent a car. There are plenty of mod­er­ately priced ho­tels in the town of Custer. It’s worth spend­ing sev­eral days ex­plor­ing the Black Hills, which have a haunt­ing beauty (they are the old­est moun­tains in North Amer­ica). www.crazy­ www.south­dako­ta­ho­

It’s a blast: Ex­plo­sions carve the fea­tures of Lakota war­rior Crazy Horse

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