Notes from Our Vacation (Part 2): Rushmore

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On Tuesday, September 22, we visited Mount Rushmore. We were there around 1992 on a trip to Colorado. Back then, they just had a gift shop and an observation deck from which you could see Mount Rushmore in the distance. But they have totally redone it. I know we’re not supposed to believe that government can do anything right, but let me tell you–they did this right. Plus, there were far, far more visitors than I remembered on my previous two visits.

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As you come up the steps from the parking garage, you walk right toward the monument in the distance. It’s spectacular. It’s a very long and wide walkway. The latter part is lined with 14 pillars, each bearing four flags. That’s 56 flags–one for each state, plus each of the 6 US territories. After the columns is a large observation deck, with an amphitheater beneath it. You’re a lot closer than you were with the previous gift shop.

rushmore_steveatbase200.jpgBut that’s just the start. You can then take a path which circles around right up to the base of the mountain. You’re basically at the bottom, in the slag rock pile, looking up at the faces. Nice, very nice. You really feel like you’re a part of this monument, not just gazing from a distance.

By the time we browsed the new gift shop and ate a monstrous ice cream cone, it was probably 4:30. We headed on to our bed & breakfast. Just beyond the park, we encountered a whole bunch of cars stopped. Two white mountain goats were in the gully beside the road, and people had stopped to take pictures. So did we. Beautiful creatures.

We settled into our B&B, and then decided to return to Rushmore for the nightly program. And we’re sure glad we did. Hundreds of people were there, far more than I was expecting.

A lady park ranger led the program. She gave a lot of history about the mountain and the four presidents, and we watched a nice 20-minute film about Rushmore. As the film ended, the mountain gradually began lighting up, thanks to a beacon and a couple banks of powerful lights. There were no shadows among the faces. Very well done, and quite dramatic.

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The park ranger then invited all military vets to come down. Probably 60 did, lined up double-file across the wide outdoor stage. She found six volunteers to help lower the American flag, which they then folded into a triangle. I was very struck by several vets who stood at attention, saluting, while the flag was being lowered. Their reverence for our country ran deep. In the photo above, the one on the far right was the night’s only WW2 vet.

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The ranger then went down the lines of vets with the microphone. Each vet put his or her hand on the flag–just as thousands of other vets had done previously, with that same flag–and gave his/her name and branch of service, and maybe a little bit more–rank, unit, country where they saw combat. One woman came forward to represent her husband, a WW2 vet. Another woman was representing her husband who was in Iraq.

There was only one WW2 vet. When he mentioned serving in World War 2, the crowd applauded.That was the only applause of the night. There were many Vietnam vets, but no Korean War vets. However, some fellow guests at our B&B, who went the next night, said they had several Korean vets, but no WW2 vets. They also said the crowd applauded for each currently-serving soldier. So I guess the dynamics differ each night.

I had been to Mount Rushmore twice before. But with the enormous changes they’ve made (finished in 1997, we were told) and the evening program, I was just overwhelmed. I would gladly go back.

Time has proven that they made excellent choices in the four presidents chiseled into the mountain. Today, we might argue for FDR instead of Teddy, and some would suggest Ronald Reagan. But those four guys–Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt–were definitely larger-than-life presidents.

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