I can’t fairly describe how I feel being in the West again, actually in the mountains. I know we’ll see taller peaks and climb to higher elevations, but simply coming to this place brings inescapable and conscious peace.
It’s been 43 years. To be candid, I never thought I’d make it back.
Deb felt well enough yesterday to undertake a long-anticipated road trip from our base near Deadwood. The route we took backtracked on I-90 to Rapid City, turning south on US Route 16 toward the smoke-shrouded Black Hills. Following the signs onto 16A, we passed through the hoppin’ little town of Keystone before continuing on South Dakota Route 244.
Everywhere we looked the landscape was stunning. Mile after twisting, climbing mile, the roads were smooth and well-maintained. Curves and grades had me stirring Mercy’s six-speed constantly, with many sections making me glad I was driving a Jeep and not our bus — and I reminded myself that these were some of the region’s milder roads.
There came a point when 244, winding upward at 10%, made a long, sweeping right-hand bend. Exiting the curve and looking through the windshield, the faces of Mount Rushmore came into view for the first time.
The sight took Deb completely by surprise. She made a sound, something between a gasp and a shout. It quite literally took her breath away.
A short ways farther up the road we turned into the Memorial parking complex and found a spot for Mercy. The place was busy but not totally jammed, making for a pleasant visit. The new plaza, which I hadn’t seen before, is extremely well designed and executed — it really elevated the experience (designated “free speech” areas notwithstanding).
Visiting the Mount Rushmore Memorial is a very American thing to do. We found it profoundly moving — not like Arlington, of course, or the Wall, but because in symbol and in scale it represents what makes this country exceptional. Our emotional reaction to the Memorial was fueled, I think, by the knowledge that America is in deep trouble right now.
A friend of ours, a true Patriot, often says that when he leaves this life and moves on to the next, he wants to be able to face the Founders and assure them that he did everything he could to preserve the nation to which they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.
Before Deb and I left Mount Rushmore yesterday afternoon, we turned toward the faces one last time. We promised Washington and Jefferson — solemnly and out loud — that we wouldn’t let them down.
Then, naturally, we went to the Mount Rushmore Memorial Ice Cream Shop and had some vanilla — I mean, we’re still tourists. Besides, this particular vanilla was made according to Thomas Jefferson’s own 1780s recipe. Delicious.
Deb took the wheel and drove us back toward Deadwood. We stopped in Rapid City at the Landstrom’s Black Hills Gold Factory, picking up a couple of items to commemorate our wonderful day, and later in Sturgis for dinner.
Back at the campground, I plopped down in a camp chair with my computer. A setting sun lit the hilltop behind our site. Three whitetail deer — a buck, a doe and a youngster — browsed less than a hundred yards away.
After dusk it got chilly quickly and I went back inside. Looks like we’re in for a mid-August cold snap the next few days. Maybe a bit of rain, too, enough to do more than settle the dust.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.