Oh, give me a home, where the antelope roam, ...
June 20, 2013 | Leaving Estes Park was a matter of finding Big Thompson Avenue and following it as it became Big Thompson Canyon Road following the Big Thompson River down to the lower elevations. I don't know who Big Thompson was, but he must have been an important someone.
Out on I-25 North, I was relieved to find that the Coloradoans do, indeed, know how to drive 75mph. Shortly I was in Wyoming to be greeted by countless roadside billboards advertising fireworks — open all year round! That was when I realized that I saw hardly any billboards in Colorado, so they do know how to do something right.
While driving through Wyoming, I kept a sharp eye for Dick Cheney, in case he should stick his head up from his hidey-hole and present a suitable target. Of course I didn't see him. Damn!
While driving through the countryside of Wyoming, which by the way is quite beautiful, I kept seeing tan and white animals munching grass near the highway, generally alone or in a pair. Finally, just as I was nearing the South Dakota border at the other end of Wyoming I saw a whole field full of them.
I stopped the car and took aim (with my camera!!!!). The three standing right next to the road were curious and brave. As I snapped away they minced closer and closer on little hooves. Then the silliest thing happened: as soon as I got back in the car, they took flight and ran toward the alpha male standing in the field. And that's when dozens and dozens of them got up from their resting places and became a genuine herd.
Although I have been to Mount Rushmore as a lad, I have almost no recollection of the monument itself or the surrounding area. So as I approached it was as good as for the first time. And here is where preconceptions played tricks. I knew the faces were huge but as I looked around I really didn't see any mountains that looked large enough to hold something of the size depicted in pictures.
Eventually I arrived at the interesection in Custer, South Dakota, where a sign pointed left to Mount Rushmore. And still there was a long drive. The monument, itself, when you finally get there, is arranged like a freeway toll plaza with multiple booths and lanes in to the parking area ($11, thank you very much but your Senior Pass doesn't work for parking, but don't worry, you can now park here for a full year!). There were plenty of spaces in the multi-level parking structure.
The monument is marvelous. You walk from the garage up a central promenade lined with columns bearing the names of every state and the year of admission, the state flags, and the Fab Four are visible centered through all this. When you finally reach the end of the promenade, you find yourself on a viewing deck, just above a giant amphitheatre with a stage below the faces. Then, if you take the stairs or the elevator down, you discover that there is another whole level occupied by two theatres, exhibits, museums, etc.
Three things I had not appreciated: (1) there are movies of the sculpting of the monument — the one I saw was narrated by Tom Brokaw. (2) There are big streaks of quartz (I suppose) running through the granite and you can see these as streaks across the faces. (3) While only the faces of Tom, Teddy, and Abe are showing, the figure of George includes his upper torso — you can see the lapels of his uniform jacket.
The exhibits showing how the workers were suspended on the mountain face and the techniques for transferring the studio scale models to the mountain itself were just fascinating.
Then... I was all excited to see in one of the exhibits that when George's face was revealed they had sewed the largest American flag ever, and in the days before the unveiling had draped the flag from the Alex Johnson (no relation, one presumes, to Howard) Hotel in downtown Rapid City, the very hotel where I was booked to stay!
But my excitement turned to frustration and high dudgeon to discover when I got to downtown Rapid City, the whole downtown was blocked off for some kind of summer street festival, and the hotel was in the center of this blocked off area! It was impossible to reach the hotel using Sophie's supreme navigation skills. When I finally got there by ignoring some of the street blockades, it was only to find a young pipsqeak stationed at the front door to suggest that I might find a place to park "3 or 4 blocks, over there." Harrumph!
I called the hotel and cancelled my reservation and headed for the I-90 freeway east. I got as far as Wall, of the eponymous drug store, and decided to call it a day. I found a room in an hotel, went out for a bite, and came back not at all satisfied by poor food and even worse service.
Last updated on May 12, 2016