"...to live in a country where you can take an ugly old mountain and put faces on it, faces of great Americans who did so much to make our country super great, well that makes me, Rebecca Leeman, proud to be an American."
-Becky Ann Leeman, "Drop Dead Gorgeous"
Well, I have a feeling after seeing the area around Mount Rushmore that the big old mountain that Becky speaks of was never ugly...
We just returned from vacation - one that rivals the best vacation I've ever been on, which was our southwest road trip from Vegas to the Grand Canyon to Sedona to Phoenix. We came home realizing that the one thing you absolutely must see if you live or visit North America is the Grand Canyon, and it piqued our interest in visiting other National Parks throughout the country. We knew somewhere down the road, Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills National Park would be another destination.
Flash forward six years, where we went from two to three in our family. We put off any big vacations for a while, because we wanted out daughter to be old enough to appreciate it and after several east coast road trips and a venture into Ohio last year, we felt she was ready for a "big" trip. Funny thing, though, we booked this whole trip about three weeks before our departure! We weren't sure we'd be able to swing it until the very last minute, but thanks to a few things going our way and cashing in some rewards points, it all worked out.
You may have noticed - we're movie buffs. Any chance we get, we try to work in some sort of movie reference, so as we tossed around the idea of visiting Mt Rushmore, I kept repeating the "big ugly mountain" quote from "Drop Dead Gorgeous". Sure, I was joking, but a part of me - maybe because I hated the Becky Leeman character and secretly snickered when (****SPOILER ALERT!!!) the gasoline soaked swan float she was riding on exploded - kind of felt a bit of animosity toward people that feel they have to make their mark on something pure and natural. I mean, I love my country - I bitch about it a lot less than most people I know, taking the good with the bad, voting every chance I get and trying to be a good citizen and do my part to make it work - but why oh why do you have to take a perfectly beautiful mountain and totally reshape it? Of course, I DID want to see it, and I knew I would ooh and aah over it, but pride and patriotism aside, I think that some of the most beautiful things about this country are the things we haven't touched.
One visit to the Grand Canyon instilled that in me.
Our first night in Hill City, SD, we took a little ride around town then past Mt Rushmore to get our first glimpse, and in a way I was relieved to see that it looked a lot smaller than I had imagined, so it didn't seem so "fake" to me. I was able to appreciate the man-made beauty it possesses.
Ok, so it's pretty. It's majestic. It makes you think about the foundations of this country, and some of the men who made it "super great". George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. When you think about the times they live during, their individual stories and their contributions to our country, you tend to forgive that a tiny piece of natural beauty was given up in their honor, so that we may be reminded of their history, and of ours.
You enter through the visitors' center, passing by columns adorned with each state's flag, as well as a few U.S Territories'. The sculpture seems kind of small at first.
At the base is an amphitheater, where people gather at night to watch a presentation as lights flicker on to illuminate the faces on the mountain.
What I didn't expect was how close you are able to get to the mountain. All around the base are trails you can walk to get different views of the mountain.
This one was taken from a chasm below the mountain, between two huge slabs of stone...
The walk goes on for quite a distance, some parts easy, some parts a little more challenging, but there are plenty of places to stop and rest.
Finally you get back to your starting point and walk up a few flights of stairs to the vistors' center.
After leaving the monument, most people head back the way they came, ignoring the little sign that reads "George Washington Profile View" but we continued around the mountain and came upon this....
I left Mt. Rushmore without any feelings that the beauty of nature had been violated somehow. It's another must-see for anyone who makes it to this part of the country. And not just because of the happy, feel-good, patriotic emotions it brings, but as you travel throughout the area you also have to, as a citizen of the United States of America, take a long, hard look in the mirror and realize that in addition to all the greatness our forefathers brought to this land, there is a dark side that we should not forget, either....
Our accomplishments and our mistakes, both personal and as a nation, make us who we are, and neither should be forgotten.
To be continued.....