I first visited Mount Rushmore a decade or so ago, after a three-day drive from Houston. From Laramie on Monday, we left before 8:00 a.m. and were there in time for a picnic lunch under the watchful gaze of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln. The drive is mesmerizing. I’m still coming to terms with the spectacular Wyoming landscape: treeless rolling hills, rock formations, canyons and gullies carved by wind and water, and cows. Lots and lots of really big cows.
The Mount Rushmore Memorial sits in the Black Hills of South Dakota, an hour and a half east of the Wyoming border, among pine trees and rock spires. Ten bucks allows you to park there for a whole year; there are no entry fees. There’s a short loop trail from the amphitheater that gets you a bit closer and affords different angles of the presidents. It was along this path that I observed that Lincoln looks a bit like Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) from the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes, but perhaps that was because the chins of his companions in stone are clean shaven.
After lunch, we set up our tent at Sheridan Lake, then escaped to our car to read from Rex Alan Smith’s The Carving of Mount Rushmore while being pummeled by a hailstorm. Washington, because he was the first President, and Lincoln, because he unified a divided nation, were the first to be considered for the monument. Jefferson was added both for the Declaration of Independence and the Louisiana Purchase, and Roosevelt because of the Panama Canal. The Memorial’s architect, Gutzon Borglum, abandoned his work on the Georgia Confederate Monument to work on the Mount Rushmore Memorial, “In commemoration of the foundation, preservation, and continental expansion of the United States.” Work was begun in 1927 and finished in 1941, at an overall cost of just under one million dollars.
Warning: political commentary (skip to the next paragraph if you’re not in the mood)
I couldn’t help but be reminded of what we’ve lost, looking at these figures against the backdrop of today’s wasteland of political corruption and impotence. Washington was elected unanimously for both of his terms, without wasteful campaigning. Jefferson considered his presidency as public service, not self-service. Lincoln embraced the ideals of unity and equality, rather than division, strife, and bigotry. And Roosevelt not only protected the country from unbridled capitalism, but also gave us 230 million acres of national forests, wildlife refuges, and national monuments. So much has been undone in such a short time, and against the standards of the great men on this mountain, the only carving our current president warrants is on a wet turd.
End of commentary
On Tuesday, we had intended to drive north through the Black Hills and back into Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower but opted instead for another visit to Mount Rushmore (this time with a leisurely and expensive walk through its vast gift shop). From there, lunch and shopping in nearby Keystone and a visit to a couple of wineries. Red Ass Winery featured some spectacular reds and some rhubarb wines, but Naked Winery was a bit more fun. Rachel took us on a flight featuring Dominatrix, Penetration, and Climax, all of which we brought home.
Near Mount Rushmore is the Crazy Horse Monument. I was suckered in ten years ago but decided to keep my money this time. From the road, it looks the same as it did then: a single face on the top of a mountain. I’d go again when it is finished, but it won’t be, at least in my lifetime. They’ve been at it since 1948 (that’s 71 years and counting). With assets of $77 million and annual revenues around $12 million, there’s really no rush, I suppose. Visitors can see the imagined final product on coffee mugs, T-shirts, and tchotchke, all of which must help pay for very tiny carving utensils.