At Wind Cave yesterday, Ranger Sam explained how the flow of air into or out of the cave works just like a barometer and can be used to predict the weather. Although yesterday was a hot, clear day, wind was really howling out of the tiny natural entrance, meaning barometric pressure was falling. I had originally thought that I’d hire a guide today through the Sylvan Rocks Climbing School to set up some easy top-roped climbs for the boys, but the cave said “No, don’t waste your money.” And it was right. By midmorning we had cloudy skies and thundershowers.
We drove the Needles road anyway to gawk at all the cool rock formations, and the rain let up enough for us to do some cool scrambling around.
Will wonders where this goes; Andrew says “Daddy, I want down.”
This place is awesome!
From there, we drove on towards Mount Rushmore. I wasn’t sure what, if anything, the boys would get out of a visit. Then again, when my family visited in the mid-Eighties, I wasn’t sure what I would get out of it either, and I remember it completely exceeded my expectations. I remember being moved by the sculpture and impressed with the Park Service’s classy treatment of the site. I wasn’t sure if the boys would like it, but I had faith in Mount Rushmore and went anyway.
You know where this is going . . .
My first clue came on the drive there. The desk lady at our hotel suggested taking the Iron Mountain Road to get to the mountain because of the views you begin getting from a distance. Sure enough, the boys enjoyed the way the Presidents played hide and seek over the hills and through the trees for a while, and they loved trying out the quarter-powered view glasses at the road’s summit overlook. But what caught my eye was the sprawl of infrastructure at the mountain’s base. In this next shot (shot from the hip, so to speak, as we came out of one of the road’s famous tunnels), look at all the light-colored buildings just beyond the Harleyphiles’ heads.
Warning: Objects in viewfinder are MUCH closer than they appear.
So what you are looking at is a six-story parking garage. It’s even more imposing up close, but I couldn’t snap a picture because I was in an insistent line of traffic and had to reach for my wallet; there’s no where else to park, and they charge you ten bucks (my expensive, recently purchased Federal Lands Annual Pass got me nothing).
From the top of the parking stucture, you get funneled into a long granite-paved mall, flanked with pillars and spanned by colonnades and festooned with flags. If that’s not enough pomp and circumstance for you, you can salute the animated Stars and Stripes fluttering in the digital wind on the huge Jumbotron screen along the way (I kid you not). The only thing missing was piped-in patriotic hymns, which might have been helpful in drowning out the constant drone of sightseeing helicopter tours overhead.
Drawn like moths to the Jumbotron.
At the end of the mall, you pass through a final colonnade and find yourself on a viewing platform which affords an awesome view of a yawning, granite-tiered amphitheatre which can probably seat ten thousand people and which is fronted by a big stage with an impressive, retractable stainless-steel curtain. What an awesome venue this would be for Sean Hannity’s Freedom Concert tour! Oh, you can see the mountain from this platform, too.
I keep trying to dredge up my 20-plus year-old memories of what it was like before. I remember classy. I remember understatement. I remember the mountain’s being the center of attention. I wish I could still picture it clearly in my mind’s eye.
By far the best views, and the only ones worth seeing anymore, are to be found along the trail that gets beyond all the hoopla and approaches the carvings from just below. It still has the power to move you. And God bless the young Ranger leading a tour along this path that we passed; her narration (the little bit I was able to listen to before the boys pulled me onward) conveyed more of the drama and greatness of these men’s lives and contributions than any amount of granite masonry ever could.
I think Teddy Roosevelt’s face is set furthest back because he would absolutely recoil in horror at what has been done to this formerly classy unit of his National Park Service.
In the end, the boys had a decent time. They loved the display in the visitor center where you could depress a plunger and trigger footage of blasting from the monument’s creation, and they were thrilled to see a mountain goat at close range as it picked its way through the talus slope below the carving (I have to point out here that mountain goats are an introduced species, not native to the Black Hills at all).
Oh, and in the car on the way there, Will laughed louder than I’ve heard him laugh in ages when I said you could go around the other side and see the carvings on Mount Buttmore.
Tonight, we sleep in Sundance, Wyoming (“Where The Kid got his name!”). We sure didn’t get very far today . . . thank you, Mount Rushmore! Tomorrow morning we visit Devil’s Tower and make for Yellowstone. We’ll be camping for the next several nights, so it may be a few days before I can post again.