Black Hills, Mato Tipila

Daily Itinerary

South Dakota's captivating landscapes play an important role in the lives of the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota. The land holds legends and history spanning back to creation, as well as hope and strength for the future.

There is a wide range of evidence in the form of rock art, cairns, and medicine wheels to suggest that various locations in and around the Black Hills had spiritual meanings and ritual uses. Some of the richest archaeological remains revealing a sacred connection to the area are exhibited in the region's rock art, and some of the largest concentrations of rock art panels, dating back over a period of 5000 years, are found in the Hogback Canyons of the southern Black Hills. The location was considered the axis mundi, or sacred center of the world.

Join us as we explore the Black Hills and Lakota cosmology and star knowledge. In Lakota cosmology, there were quadripartite divisions of everything: four colors (red, green, blue, yellow); four superior mysteries (sun, sky, earth, rock); four classes of gods (superior, associate, subordinate, spirits); four elements in the sky (sun, moon, sky, stars); four parts of time (day, night, month, year); and four winds corresponding to the four cardinal directions. All of these are symbolized by the Lakota cross-within-a-circle, a symbol which appears throughout the Americas. For the Lakota, it is the "sacred hoop" and represents the totality of their people.

The Black Hills were thought to be a terrestrial mirror of the cosmos, so the Lakota were simply "mirroring" the motions of the heavens. As the sun moved counterclockwise through the ecliptic, the Lakota were moving clockwise through the terrestrial analogues of their constellations.

The Lakota tipi's shape also mirrors the heavens: 3 poles for the North Star, 4 poles for the cardinal directions, 2 poles for "ears", equaling the 12 months and the 12 stars (morning, evening, 7 in the dipper, 3 in Orion's belt.)

Your Sacred Journey to the Black Hills will include exploration of:

  • Black Elk Peak
  • Sylvan Lake
  • The Badlands
  • Bear Butte
  • Mato Tipila (commonly known as "Devil’s Tower")

Day 1

Arrive into Rapid City, South Dakota. Check in to your hotel. Welcome dinner and orientation.

Day 2

Badlands_national_park_07_26_2005We begin our journey with a visit to Badlands National Park. The Lakota gave this its name, "mako sica," meaning "land bad." Located just east of the Black Hills of South Dakota, Badlands National Park consists of 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires blended with the largest protected mixed grass prairie in the United States. It is desolation at its truest, where you can look for miles and see no sign of civilization. The Badlands are filled with legends and ghost towns and for centuries have been met with a mix of dread and fascination. Hear the story of the Banshee of the Badlands, a ghost said to haunt the buttes, labyrinths, and canyons of this place.

Day 3

Harneygranite Today you’ll experience the mystery and lore of Black Elk Peak, the highest point in South Dakota. The Lakota Indians consider it a sacred place, a spiritual site that was used for fasting, praying, and meditating. They called it Hinhan Kaga Paha, which translates to “sacred scary owl of the mountain.” It is where Lakota Holy Man Black Elk of the Oglala Sioux tribe received his Great Vision that on Black Elk Peak he was standing in the center of the world.

Sylvan_Lake_SDNeedles_highway Soak in the tranquility of Sylvan Lake and then experience the unique and awesome Needles Highway as we continue on our journey. Travel to Deadwood and check in to your hotel. Dinner on your own.

Day 4

Bear_ButteToday we will visit the legendary Bear Butte, laccolith near Sturgis, a sacred place of Lakota vision quests. Over 60 tribes come to the mountain to fast, pray, and meditate.

Then travel to the strange and mystical rock formation known as Mato Tipila (commonly known as "Devil’s Tower") in eastern Wyoming, site of the traditional Lakota Sun Dance. The unique and striking geologic wonder steeped in Indian legend is a modern day national park and climbers' challenge. The tower is a solitary, stump-shaped granite formation that looms 1,267 feet above the tree-lined Belle Fourche River Valley like a skyscraper in the country.

Devils_Tower_National_MonumentAccording to legend, seven young girls were out playing when they encountered a great bear that began to chase them. When the girls realized they could not outrun the bear, they jumped onto a small rock and prayed to the Great Spirit to help them. The rock then began to grow, higher and higher into the sky. The bear jumped up against the sides of the rock, leaving giant claw marks, but he could not reach the girls. The rock continued to grow up into the sky, where the girls became the seven stars of the Pleiades.

The Sun Dance, one of the Lakota’s six great ceremonies, is a ritual where the dancer helps establish harmony with the cosmos for himself and his band.

From an astronomical standpoint, the Sun Dance is interesting because its elements display many of the features of the Lakota cosmos. The Lakota believe that the circle is a divine shape, primarily because so many things in the cosmos (the Sun, the Moon, etc.) are round.

Group dinner and overnight in Rapid City, SD.

Day 5

Check out and trip departure.