After reluctantly leaving Grand Teton National Park we headed east toward South Dakota and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. On our way out of Wyoming we encountered a long stretch of road construction and marveled at the skill and planning needed to undertake such a project.
Have you ever driven behind a pilot car annoyed at the slow speed? Next time you’re sitting in traffic waiting for the flagger to allow you through, look around at the awesome equipment these contractors use, maybe you will be amazed just like we were.
Even if you don’t share our enthusiasm for road construction (we are partial to it after all), simply notice the math involved in getting you to your home, it might make your wait a bit more tolerable, and please do give them a break!
Mount Rushmore is located in South Dakota in the midst of the Black Hills National Forest. The forest is a beautiful place full of gothic-looking rock formations and pine trees.
Our must-come-back-to list is growing exponentially!
The original idea for the creation of the Mount Rushmore Memorial was to carve enormous figures into the granite rock of the mountain not of four US presidents but of important Native Americans; and it was thought up by Doane Robinson, historian from South Dakota, in order to promote tourism to his state. It was sculptor Gutzon Borglum who later choose not only the site of the carvings but also the four figures which would be carved into the mountain. Borglum didn’t live to see his work completed but his son, Lincoln, continued his father’s work and the Memorial was completed in 1941 with, surprisingly, no accidental deaths.
The presidents chosen by Borglum to represent the values of the United States were:
George Washington – Struggle for Independence and Birth of the Country
Thomas Jefferson – Territorial Expansion of the Nation
Abraham Lincoln – Preservation of the Union of the Country
Theodore Roosevelt – The Development and Expansion, not so much in land but in influence, of the US on the world.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding the memorial since the Black Hills mountains are sacred to Native Americans and having Mr. Borglum carve statues of white men who took their territory was considered a desecration by them. Another statue, this one of Crazy Horse (Native American warrior), is being constructed nearby. However, this site is also embroiled in controversy since some in the Native American community feel that carving anything into the mountains is a desecration.
About three million people visit Mt. Rushmore every year and it was very crowded on the day we were there. You enter the memorial through the Avenue of Flags where a flag from each state is placed atop a column with a plaque indicating the year it joined the Union.
There is also a short trail leading to the base of the mountain where you can look up and see up close the presidential heads. Although the Black Hills are full of wildlife, we only saw a goat on this trail which is understandable given the number of people on it.
The ice cream parlor here claims to make their ice cream following Thomas Jefferson’s original recipe and thus we had to sample it.
It was tasty on a very hot afternoon. It is awe-inspiring to tour the small museum which contains pictures and artifacts of the making of the memorial and realize, just as with road construction, the amount of skill and work that this enormous project took.
Every night the Memorial is lit up after a short ranger talk and it is a beautiful sight, worth staying for although pictures do not do it justice.
We made our way south the following morning eager to get home. Our chosen roads took us through a small sliver of Nebraska where we found a tiny little gem of a museum.
The museum is free to enter. At first sight it is a dusty, forgotten place not worth a second look but Fernando and I were taken in by this very simple planetarium.
We loved it so much that Fernando tried to buy it from the host, but no amount of sweet-talk would make her part with it. The boys discovered life before Apple here as the host (an 80-something very patient woman) took us around and regaled us with stories from her youth. She showed us the telephone interchange which was (wo-)manned by an operator.
She told us how several families would be assigned one phone number and each family would have a different ring. As a little girl, she had her neighbors ring memorized (two shorts, one long) and would pick up the phone and listen in to their conversations until told to get off the line. I’m sure the neighbors did the same all around.
She showed us a very primitive clothes-washer, (wo-)man-powered of course, and many odd items such as a hog-scraper.
The best part was that they were all items she remembered using in her youth and could explain in detail how and why they were used along with unique stories from her own life.
The kicker for the boys was this turntable.
Although they’ve seen turntables before, they had never actually seen a working one and when this one began turning and an old country song filled the room, their eyes opened to the size of plates. For all of us, this wax record was a surprise.
Before vinyl, recordings were made on wax rolls by Edison. Can you imagine taking some of those rolls on a road-trip?
The museum contains a myriad of items, from clothes, books and machines, to fossils; none of it categorized as it ought to be but the hosted tour answers every question you might have and then some. Don’t drive out of your way to come here but if you ever find yourself in Bridgeport, NE; stop at the Pioneer Trails Museum, you won’t be disappointed. As we were leaving, our host’s 93yr-old mother, who lives alone we were assured, called to check in on her daughter. That made us laugh and the boys got frightened expressions on their faces picturing themselves as grown men being called at odd times by their old mother I am sure.
After this short break, we made our way home through beautiful fields of sunflowers.