Thursday, August 18, 2016
I spent a relaxing morning bumming around my hotel room, then it was off to Keystone and Mount Rushmore. Unlike the first couple of days of my trip, the weather had turned cold and drizzly. Being the observant person that I was, this fact hadn’t registered with me until I was well away from the hotel where my warm clothing was packed away.
My first stop of the day was at the Presidential Wax Museum in downtown Keystone. It was quite an impressive collection of life-sized replicas of each president and other famous personages. Some of the figures were arranged in various tableaus. In one exhibit, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were working on the Declaration of Independence.
In another exhibit, Abraham Lincoln debated with Stephen Douglas. In still another, Franklin Roosevelt hung out with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. Many of the figures did look like the people they were portraying; others had expressions that were…unique. George Washington looked pensive; Ronald Reagan looked deranged; Theodore Roosevelt just looked constipated (“Speak softly and carry Ex Lax,” his face seemed to say).
After seeing all there was to see in the museum, I headed a few miles up the road to Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
What can I say about Mount Rushmore? There were no surprises at to what it looked like (I have seen North by Northwest after all).
But to actually be there and to see it with my own eyes…It’s like visiting the Grand Canyon or Niagara Fall for the first time. You see pictures, you know what to expect, but then you actually go and see the thing in person and…it’s incredible. I got my first glimpse of Mount Rushmore as I was rounding a bend in the road that lead to the park entrance. One minute I saw a line of trees, and the next minute four presidential heads popped into view from a clearing. I suppose I could have been cheap and just pulled my car off to the side of the road to take pictures instead of paying to get into the park, but that felt like cheating somehow. Besides, from where I was, Jefferson was giving me the stink eye. I decided to move on.
Despite the drizzly, overcast day, Mount Rushmore made quite an impressive picture as I strolled past the gift shops, up the Avenue of Flags, and to the observation platform.
Beyond the platform a large amphitheater was constructed where visitors could watch the lighting of the monument during the evening hours. I took an absurd number of pictures, trying to capture just the right shot.
I had also wanted to hike along the Presidential Trail which wound its way around the mountain, but the weather would not cooperate. Instead, I ducked into the museum for an hour or two. I perused the gift shop and purchased an armload of books and a year’s membership to the Mount Rushmore Society. Eventually, the rain stopped and the sun came out. So I went back outside and took even more pictures of the monument. Then I called it a day.
Friday, August 19, 2016
I hadn’t intended to get such an early start the next morning. Knowing that I had a long drive ahead of me, I thought a sleep-late day might be nice. Yet, my eyes popped open at 6:30 am and I couldn’t slam them back shut, so I figured, why not? I packed up and enjoyed a hearty hotel breakfast in an uncomfortably crowded dining area. I shared a table with a Minnesota mom whose family was headed to Yellowstone. Upon hearing that I had just recently passed through the southern portion of her state, she told me about some of the things that I had missed, such as the double waterfall in Minneopa State Park (in Mankato). And there were other wonders, she assured me, such as…
“Corn,” her husband cut in sardonically.
I made my departure around 8:00. It wasn’t long until I had crossed over into Wyoming (my 42nd state). My original plan was to drive straight through the state making a few short stops along the way to make my visit count. The weather was a continuation of yesterday, cold and rainy. I had pulled into a visitor’s center where I was contemplating my route when I saw a TV monitor at the guest services desk. For some reason, it was showing a live feed of Devils Tower. I idly watched as gloomy storm clouds scuttled over and around the top of the structure, obscuring the view. Devils Tower was about 30 miles out of my way, the weather was inhospitable, but I decided to go anyway. And I’m glad I did.
When I arrived, the weather had improved somewhat, at least enough so that I could fill my camera with numerous pictures of the great rock.
Feeling rather ambitious, and knowing that I would be stuck in my car for a long period of time, I grabbed my umbrella and decided to hike one of the trails. The trail meandered through the forest around the Tower in a mile-long circuit. Once I got clear of the hordes of people all doing the same thing I was, the hike was quite peaceful and refreshing. I spent my time reflecting, praying and reveling in the quiet.
After lunch, I continued my road trip to the south and west. I watched as the rolling hills around gradually transition to a more mountainous terrain. By the time I had crossed over the continental divide, the sun had come out and I was hit with an array of dazzling colors from the hills around me.
It was dark by the time I entered Utah (43rd state) via I-80. All I could make out of my surroundings at this point were the looming silhouettes of the mountain pass. It was fairly late when I got to my hotel in Salt Lake City.