A trip to see Mount Rushmore has always seemed to be part of the standard family vacation roster. My family did, in fact, take this journey ... with my older siblings five years before I was born. So, seeing this area is something that I've always felt I still needed to do (hence its inclusion on my bucket list). Going alone was a very different experience ... I got several odd looks when paying my admission to places, and I said "one" ... but, I think that there was some family spirit with me as well. I found myself bringing fresh fruit and making sandwiches the first night to put in my cooler for the next day; totally something that I remember from family car trips of my youth. The fruit, especially, was welcome over the next few days. And, I found myself playing car games to make the drive more interesting along the way - also a remembrance of traveling with my family.
|The guide shows a technique to view rock carvings in full sun - see the thunderbird|
I had some other stops along the way. The first was the Jeffers Petroglyphs. These rock carvings are in south western Minnesota, and some are estimated to be older than the pyramids. It was a popular picnic spot for the early settlers, so there is more recent rock "graffiti" as well. It was quite windy and hot, so I didn't take the full prairie trail walk. One of the ironic things I noticed here was that there is a rock company located less than half a mile away crushing stone into gravel. You have to wonder if more carvings are disappearing there just to make gravel; the guide at Jeffers did say that the same rock ridge located on other properties in the area also held more petroglyphs.
|Walking trail at Pipestone National Monument|
The next stop was Pipestone National Monument. I was really impressed with this one. By a fluke, it happened to be "Founder's Day" which meant my admission was free. Despite this fact, there were not many people there. After lots of time in the car, the walking trail provided a lovely chance to stretch my legs as well as cool shade and the sound of cicadas and water. My family always jokes about the need to have a vacation include rocks and waterfalls ... well, there were rocks as an attraction in most places where I stopped on this trip, but this site provided the requisite waterfall.
|This sign on the trail was labeled "Oracle - look through the hole" ... here's what you could see.|
|Can you see the face in the rock?|
Along with the trails, the museum had more petrogylphs (found locally and removed from their original site) and some Native Americans carving pipe bowls. The catlinite (pipestone) is very soft ... there were some small pieces on display along with files and saws that visitors could try ... it was quite easy to score. The carver that I spoke briefly with said that it took 2-3 hours to carve a simple pipe - longer for more complex items. Only Native Americans are allowed quarrying permits, but the gift shop sold a wide variety of articles made with local stone.
My first day of driving ended with a gorgeous sunset as seen from the parking lot of my hotel. The colors changed in front of me for the last half an hour of my driving time; it was like driving into a very subtle kaleidoscope. I planned an early morning start, so I didn't do much sightseeing in Mitchell. Just a quick look the next morning at the famed Corn Palace. There had been an event in the area the previous night, so I shared my view of the exterior with the crews that were cleaning the street and picking up items like tables and porta potties ... made for some interesting camera angles to keep them out of my tourist pictures.
|My favorite panel on the Corn Palace|
I do confess that I stopped at some rather tacky tourist spots during this trip ... including the famous/infamous (your choice) Wall Drug. I didn't try the ice water, but the T-Rex was amusing (mostly to watch the reaction of the kids as it "attacked"). I imagine that I would find the T-Rex less amusing if I had to listen to it attack every 12 minutes all day long. I could tell that I hit a few quieter days of the summer ... there were still families around, but not as many young children as I expected anywhere. One of the store clerks told me that South Dakota schools had mostly already started for the summer. The gold mine that I visited in Keystone had children on the tour, but that family was also from Minnesota. Generally, my fellow tourists seemed to be in their 60s and to have all of the time in the world.
|Current state of Crazy Horse carving|
My next big stop was the Crazy Horse Memorial. I would highly recommend a visit here to anyone coming to the Black Hills. Unlike its better known neighbor - Mount Rushmore - carving on this mountain has been going on for 60 years with NO federal funding. The initial stages were done primarily by one man (Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski); work is now handled mostly by his family members. The whole complex is a tribute not only to the Native Americans, but also how idealism can bring great things into being. I would definitely consider coming back in a decade to see how much progress has been made on the mountain.
And, of course, the primary goal of the trip was to see Mount Rushmore. It was very much what I expected ... not sure if that's good or bad. I was interested to learn that the reason there is an area carved out by Lincoln's face was that it was planned to hold a brief history of the United States. I had also heard about the unfinished Hall of Records behind the faces, but didn't realize how elaborate those plans were until listening to the audio tour. How different would our understanding of the Egyptians or the people who created Stonehenge be if they had left something similar near their sites.