November 7, 2012 – Wednesday
From the hotel, it took less than 30 minutes to go from developed city to rural area, and soon we reached the entrance to the Black Hills National Forest. After having my preconceived notions of national parks delightfully squashed by Badlands National Park the day before, I looked forward to going to Mount Rushmore (although one should note the differences between the national park Mount Rushmore versus the national forest Black Hills).
After another short drive (less than 15 minutes), we reached Keystone, South Dakota. Again, because it was out of season, the town was pretty much deserted. I imagine it must be pretty bustling during high season.
The entrance to Mount Rushmore National Memorial is pretty much right next to Keystone. Once you see the sign, your alertness goes up; how much longer until the actual Mount Rushmore? When will we see our first glimpse of it?
The answer: only two minutes later, just around the bend.
Even from this distance it was amazing to see it in person, to see those faces actually carved into the rock (well, mostly George Washington’s profile). We all know that it’s a carving, but there’s something about seeing it in person for the first time. It seems plenty real reading about it in a book or seeing it on TV, but after that first “wow” moment you realize that this is real, and what you thought was real before was just an impostor. There really is nothing like experience.
One interesting thing about the memorial is the number of out-of-state cars in the parking lot. It’s as if Mount Rushmore is a pilgrimage site for people from all over the country (and Canada, too):
- Alaska – the Last Frontier
- Idaho – Famous Potatoes
- Illinois – Land of Lincoln
- Mississippi – Birthplace of America’s Music
- Missouri – Show Me State
- New Jersey – Garden State
- North Dakota – Discover the Spirit – Peace Garden State
- Ohio – Beautiful Birthplace of Aviation
- South Dakota – Great Faces. Great Places.
- Wisconsin – America’s Dairyland
- British Columbia
- Saskatchewan – Land of Living Skies
There is definitely something to be said about American ideals that all these people want to come here and view this monument to some of the men who built this country. I was feeling particularly patriotic myself when viewing the memorial and the accompanying exhibits and storyboards in the museum. The story of how this country came to be is almost legendary, and these men are almost revered as gods, which while good for national pride and identity is also something we have to be careful of. One must not forget why this country was founded in the first place, and also remember all the ugly things that occurred along the way. As they say, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
There is also something to be said for the permanence of the memorial. It is conceivable that all the history, knowledge and accomplishments mankind has collected on the internet (or books) could some day be wiped out by a natural, planetary disaster (it’s difficult now even to access data from a floppy disk). Physical, tangible monuments like Mount Rushmore or the Statue of Liberty, on the other hand, will probably still be around in a thousand years, not unlike some other wonders of the world that have been left to us by previous generations. This to me is one of the most noteworthy aspects of these monuments.
Speaking of wiped out, we ate buffalo for the first time at the cafe to get some food before the long drive to Wyoming. JC had a buffalo hot dog while I had buffalo stew. Not unexpectedly, we couldn’t really tell the difference between buffalo and beef.
We headed back to Highway 16 via 244 and drove towards Wyoming. I remember JC falling asleep and me driving by myself for a while, just the two of us in our little rental car on an open road with the sun blaring above. That’s a nice memory.
Not long after that, we made it to Wyoming 450 for the long trek through the Wyoming plains. As this was just a regular state highway (as opposed to the interstate), there were no rest areas or service stations or anything. There was a place to stop 23 miles into the road at the Texas Trail Historic Marker. I used the opportunity to water the grass a little bit. 😛
As we continued on, other than passing through the town of Wright and using the rest area there, it was just us, the road, and the setting sun. I don’t remember passing any cars at all. Again, it was as if we had that little slice of Wyoming all to ourselves. It’s hard to describe the feeling: maybe a mix of being at peace, contemplative, and feeling lucky to be alive. I would live in that moment if I could.
Probably because we stopped to see Mount Rushmore, we did a lot of night driving that night. It was on a couple more state roads (Wyoming Highway 387 and Wyoming Highway 259), and then Interstate 25 into Casper. It was really dark on the state roads. Once we got to Casper we somehow found a Thai restaurant nearby and ordered takeout. I never imagined that I would be eating Thai food and drinking Thai iced tea in Casper, Wyoming, but that’s what we did, and it was pretty good, too! A great ending to another great day.