I confess to being a little disappointed this week. I had images on my head of fireworks bursting overhead as a band played the Star Spangled Banner and 4 presidents were illuminated by the rockets red flare. Unfortunately, Mt Rushmore no longer have fireworks – or much in the way of festivities – on the 4th of July.

Don’t get me wrong. Being there on that day and seeing the grandeur of Borglum’s masterpiece, surrounded by Americans wearing red, white and blue was still an inspiring morning, it just wasn’t what I expected.

(c) Luke Ballard

(c) Luke Ballard

We had arrived in South Dakota late the previous night and in preparation for a big day, we left the RV park at about 6am in order to get good seats, which turned out not to be necessary.

Seeing as our plans changed for the day, we decided to see some of the surrounding countryside in the hopes of finding photographic opportunities – or a good party. Photos ops abound in South Dakota, and our first stop was Crazy Horse. If you thought (and I’m sure you do) that Mt Rushmore is impressive, then you really need to get yourself to the Crazy Horse mountain.

(c) Luke Ballard

(c) Luke Ballard

Firstly, it’s bigger. A lot bigger. The presidents on Mt Rushmore could fit into just the head of Crazy Horse, which while having been worked on for 66 years, is nowhere near completion. I’m not even sure if it will be completed in my lifetime, though I sincerely hope so. The monument, when finished, will be Crazy Horse riding a horse, like this image here. In fact, you can see the mountain in the background.

(c) Luke Ballard

(c) Luke Ballard

Secondly, unlike Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse is being carved/sculpted without any government funding or assistance. The original artist, Korczak Ziolkowski, started work in 1948 and the project has since been carried on by his wife (now deceased) and then by his children. When you enter the welcome center, there’s a 20 minute video for you to watch which redefines inspirational.

(c) Luke Ballard

(c) Luke Ballard

Following Crazy Horse, we visited the town of Custer and Custer State Forest before relaxing for the rest of the 4th with burgers on the grill and a few drinks.

Prior to Photographing America, I was a little dismissive of the Dakotas. I had seen elements of South Dakota in some of my favourite movies and TV shows, I grew up with westerns so the Badlands were high on my list – but seeing them up close was better than expected. I felt like I had stepped out of a scene from Val Kilmer’s “Thunderheart” of Kevin Costner’s “Dances with Wolves.”

(c) Luke Ballard

(c) Luke Ballard

Deadwood was another town high on my bucket list, but in this instance it wasn’t as good as my imagination. After visiting Tombstone in Arizona, I expected Deadwood to live up to the expectation, but instead it was a poor shadow of it’s past – though I still whistled songs from Doris Day’s “Calamity Jane” as we drove through.

(c) Luke Ballard

(c) Luke Ballard

Wild Bill Hickok’s grave was a must-see as well as a drive to North Dakota (just over the border) so we can cross all 50 states off our list when the tour is ended.

(c) Luke Ballard

(c) Luke Ballard

There was one last visit to Mt Rushmore, we wanted to see it by night and lit up, perhaps to assuage our disappointment at the absence of fireworks.

(c) Luke Ballard

(c) Luke Ballard

The next day, we drove south to Nebraska, on the way to Denver for this weekend’s classes. I’m sorry there isn’t more to report, but with the 4th of July, news is a little thinner.

Next week we’ll have much more to share from Colorado!