That’s what surveyors call Mt. Rushmore, since Roosevelt was not a surveyor. Surveyors are extremely proud of the foundational role surveying has played in our country, and rightly so.
(Warning for extreme grumpiness and ranting.)
I gotta say, though, that I approached Mt Rushmore with a cold shoulder. I mean, nearly everyone in this country lives on land stolen from the people who were here before us, but Rushmore especially is a tribute to the kind of patriotism these days that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about that. Heck, Custer is the name of the state park we stayed in, and the town park we stayed in the night before has a monument in the middle all about a guy who killed an entire village of people.
I mean, really. The Black Hills are sacred to the Lakota Sioux, so the carvings are a giant desecration (de-sacredizing). Icing on the cake is that the Mt Rushmore artist had been associated with the Ku Klux Klan.
From our few days of observations here, a lot of old white men come to the area to “deepen their patriotism,” as one billboard says. Heck, at the Mt Rushmore Brewery, we saw three guys sporting American flag shirts. I figure it’s like people going to a Grateful Dead show and wearing a tie-dye; these folks visit a massive symbolism of patriotism so they break our their flag clothing.
To this homogenous group of visitors, add dudes who like riding their motorcycles here because of Sturgis, and everywhere is Male, Pale, and Stale (thank you, Gavin).
Furthermore, did you know about the carving war going on near the Battle of Big Horn?
A carving (that will be much, much larger than Mt. Rushmore) of Crazy Horse has been in progress for decades, and it also is sacrilegious to some of the Sioux. Apparently, the guy who devoted his life to the work never put it up for a vote among the elders, and they said they’d have nixed it. I mean, the mountains are beautiful as they are.
“The whole idea of making a beautiful wild mountain into a statue of him is a pollution of the landscape. It is against the spirit of Crazy Horse.”—John Fire Lame Deer, a Lakota medicine man (I got this off Wikipedia)
Then there’s Crazy Horse himself, who, by all accounts, would have hated it. For example, he insisted on being buried so no one would mark his grave. Oh well.
(See comments below for better info.)
You can see how big it’s going to be with his horse under him and his arm outstretched, pointing to his ancestral lands.
I guess the history of the land—plus the recent hacking of patriotism by bigots—and how much patriotism was on display everywhere all soured my experience. I mean, I love this country, but I feel like my patriotism has been overshadowed by a small-minded kind such that mine is losing its potency.
On to the beauty.
Custer State Park
The national forest and state park near these carvings is all rock outcroppings above lowlands of Ponderosa Pines.
I think lots of this park was built by the good ole civilian conservation corps in the 1930s, (a part of our history thanks to Roosevelt that I feel patriotic about!) and the work is amazing. The hills are dotted with several narrow tunnels and “pigtail” roads that wind down in a spiral.
We stayed at the state park for three nights and hiked to Cathedral Spires, but the hike wasn’t as spectacular as we’d hoped. I figure, maybe the audience for the hike descriptions don’t do a lot of hiking.
We read that the trail was strenuous and breathtaking. For us, it was crowded and anticlimactic.
However, when you can see out over the Black Hills to the flatness of the Badlands, that is breathtaking.
A better hike the next day took us through the pines and along a babbling brook—it really sounded like it was talking.
We walked over mica and quartz up on the rocky outcroppings.
That’s my new favorite term, “rocky outcroppings.”
We saw a load of wildlife, but I’ll save that for a more pleasant entry!