George Washington. Thomas Jefferson. Ted “Theodore” Roosevelt. Abraham Lincoln. You might remember them from such films as North by Northwest, Superman II, and National Treasure: Book of Secrets. It’s okay if you don’t remember that last one, but it’s not the last time we’ll mention it in this miniseries.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, marvels, history, and institutions we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Beginning with 2003’s excursion to Washington DC, we added my son to the roster and tried to accommodate his preferences and childhood accordingly.
2008 was by far our least favorite road trip to date, and still holds the ignominious title as of 2018. Our next vacation had to be better. Step one was plain enough: we looked at Anne’s brainstorming list of future road trips and chose the one that screamed “dream vacation”. That’s what led to our long, long drive out to the farthest reaches of South Dakota and beyond. At nine days it was the longest we’ve ever taken. The farthest point of 1,180 miles made it the longest drive of our lives. It would be the farthest west we’d ever been up to that time. It was also our first vacation using exclusively digital cameras to record the experience, leaving behind the 35mm film of our childhoods forever. They weren’t expensive cameras for their kind, certainly not the most advanced as of 2009, but we did what we could with the resources and the amateur skill sets available to us.
We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.
From the Crazy Horse Memorial we had to drive north, then east, then south of Crazy Horse, then east again, most of this on steep mountain byways with few barriers between us and a lengthy plunge to fiery death and fleeting fame.
That gauntlet led to our next stop, the day’s feature presentation. We laid eyes on its southwest edge and screeched to a roadside halt for some choice staring.
At long last, we’d arrived at Mount Rushmore, the centerpiece of our vacation.
Admission is free, but they charge a fee for parking. Wiser travelers can save money either by hiking dozens of miles from Rapid City, bicycling up the steep hills and their narrow roads, or maybe hang-gliding.
The official stats: Rushmore was sculpted from 1927 to 1941 under the supervision of artist Gutzon Borglum. The heads of four fabled Presidents of the United States of America stand sixty feet tall and are composed of mostly granite. They’ve been added to, parodied, and destroyed numerous times throughout pop culture, but the real deal remains unblemished. It helps that they replaced the original sealant a while back and added modern hardware to monitor for geological issues.
I had never noticed the gravel pit cascading beneath it in photos or videos until we came to South Dakota in person. Now it’s the first thing I notice, every time. I also noticed we needed to stay mindful of our surroundings, as there was nothing to prevent wildlife from trying join our party.
The official name for the grounds are the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Its promotional literature utters the magic words that make any monument a winner: “The Visitor Center is free.” The exhibits show actual archival footage, testimony, tools, and near-death anecdotes about the arduous processes of planning, carving, sculpting, dynamiting, funding, marketing, and renovating America’s most beloved four-headed patriotic sensation. Also on display are examples of Rushmore in pop culture — that North by Northwest climax running on a loop, MAD Magazine covers, comic strip cameos, crap souvenirs from decades past, and so on.
Most important of all, the Visitor Center answered a question every American has had since childhood: why those four Presidents? Why not John Adams or FDR or General Grant or the short one or the unmarried one or the fat one? The long-awaited answer: the Presidents chosen were to represent the country’s birth (Washington), growth (Jefferson), preservation (Lincoln), and expansion (Theodore Roosevelt). Make of that symbolic significance what you will, here on these acres that were seized from the Lakota tribe circa 1876.
We spent more time in the Rushmore gift shop than in any other gift shop that week, then returned to the treacherous mountainside terrain that would take us back to Rapid City and to one more attraction before nightfall, if we didn’t pitch over the guardrail like a fleeing Mannix suspect first.
To be continued!
I was joking about the hang gliding, but I suppose you could try it. Keep in mind, not all aircraft are welcome. Drones, for example, are explicitly forbidden.]
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[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]