I can’t imagine what else happened on this trip to make me forget committing petty larceny in Deadwood!
Mary and I are walking around, Mary was trying to finish the “big as her head” ice cream cone while we went looking for Wild Bill’s grave. We couldn’t find the cemetery entrance, so we kept wandering aimlessly. I saw this wine shop which had a sign outside saying “free wine tasting inside.” Having just paid $300 for a bottle of.water, I thought, the least Deadwood owes me is free wine. Mary passed and stayed outside with her ice cream head.
“Hi, can I try the white?” I ask all why-yes-I-taste-wines-all-the-time-like.
“Sure, which one?”
“Er…a sweet one?” I reply all okay-you-got-me-I-don’t-know-a-thing-about-wine-like.
She pours out a glass. I drink it down. It is the worst tasting swill you could possibly imagine. I shiver to think of it.
“Can I try a different white?” I manage through my gag reflex.
“Sure, hon.” She pours me a glass from a different bottle.
I down it and swish it around like in that movie…but I was mostly just trying to wash the swill taste out of my mouth.
As I begin to swallow, I notice a price sheet taped to the counter:
Wine tasting: $20 (free with purchase of $25 or more.)
I nearly choke as I half spit the wine back up and half try to swallow.
I’m coughing hard now.
“Um…oh…I thought the tasting was…free…I didn’t see the sign…outside it just said…”
I continued to cough.
“Oh, do you not want to continue then…”
“Um… *hack*…no…not really…sorry…I’m not from around here…” Tourist card? Don’t leave home without it!
“Ok, don’t worry about it.”
“Okay. Thanks. Sorry,” I bolted for the door. Mary was sitting at one of the outdoor tables and I was like “Let’s go! Let’s go! Wine not free. Money. Let’s go!”
She just sat there licking.
I crossed her off my list of getaway drivers for when I pull my big bank heist.
Anyway, I have wanted to go to Mount Rushmore for a long time.
I can’t say for sure when the inclination first struck me, but there it stayed. The only problem was I lived in Brooklyn and Mount Rushmore lived in South place I will never in a billion years visit.
So, that was that.
Until today! Or that day, you know what I mean.
I didn’t really sleep that night so I had lots of time to figure out what I wanted to do.
South Dakota is surprisingly rife with national treasures.
The big President heads, the hot springs, Crazy Horse, big parks. We had a full schedule ahead.
I wanted to see Mount Rushmore in the day and the night, so I thought that should be our last stop at around 6, and then we’d stay till sundown. That way we wouldn’t have to pay the entrance fee twice. Luckily, the parks department already accounted for people like me! Once you buy the parking pass, which is the only thing you pay for, it’s good through the end of the calendar year.
It’s like South Dakota is truly committed to being the “creative representations of Presidents,” state.
Onto Mount Rushmore…
At first blush, the carvings of the presidents aren’t very impressive. As you stand outside, looking at the banner welcoming you to the park, they kind of just sit in a teeny corner of the mountain and you’re all “that’s it”?
There were these kids on the tour doing some school assignment. They kept peppering Ranger Sam with questions like “why did you become a ranger?” And “what’s the best part of working at Mt. Rushmore?”
And he’d give a packaged answer and tell them to pick two to write down.
Not his first rodeo.
I liked Ranger Doug. He’d ask us American history trivia questions like “which President on Mount Rushmore has the least education”? “And what was the Louisiana Purchase”? as we’d walk the trail circling the monument. I totally knew all the answers, but I was too cool to raise my hand and answer them. Junior High all over again.
I learned A LOT about the monument. Like…did you know that Borglum (the artist) chose the three Presidents who would appear on the mountain all by himself? The Governor of South Dakota, who hired him for the project, originally wanted the carving to depict heroes of the West, like Lewis and Clark and Red Cloud, but Borglum was all O_O. Instead, he decided to choose subjects with a national appeal. He chose Washington (obvious), Jefferson (for being the expansion President…Louisiana Purchase and whatnot) and Lincoln (for holding the Union together President). But Stephane, there are FOUR Presidents on Mount Rushmore, you said three! Did you make a mistake? Um, no. No talking, while I’m talking. #RUDE. Borglum originally put Jefferson’s head on the far right and one day just decided it didn’t look good there, so he blasted the face off and started over, but now he had a gap between presidents that he needed to fill, so…he added his good friend Teddy Roosevelt!
Roosevelt was the most controversial choice because he had been dead for less than twenty years and people were still smarting from his third party run at a “third term.” But Borglum thought Roosevelt was a “President for the People,” so he put him right up there. Interesting, right? History is so fun. #Nerd
I asked Ranger Mike a couple of questions after the tour. First: no, there was never a plan to chisel the full bodies of the presidents. Second: It’s unlikely that President Obama will be added. By congressional order, Mount Rushmore was declared a finished work of Borglum and cannot be touched. Also, no one is allowed to climb Mount Rushmore (or else, I would have done it. It looked even easier than the Devil’s Tower.) I loved visiting! The place is truly breathtaking. I mean, wow:
After Mount Rushmore, we did a driving tour Mary found in this South Dakota magazine. According to the magazine, if we followed this particular loop, we would end at the Hot Springs of South Dakota. I believed these springs to be the source of youth and eternal life. So, I had my swimsuit on under my clothes and a towel in the car. We drove through a huge forresty park and then we went to the Crazy Horse monument.
There is a story that the Native Americans, specifically the Lakota Indians, believed the black hills of North Dakota to be sacred. As America pushed further West, they extracted promises from the American government that the Dakotas would belong to the Lakotans forever. Never to be touched. No backsies. The government agreed. Dude, the hell is in the Dakotas anyway? Oh. Gold? Um… at which point, I suppose President Johnson wrote a letter along the following lines:
Dear Lakotans, This is a little awkward…
So the Lakotans lost their land, all their descendants were rounded up and relegated to reservations and then white man carved up their mountain with big president heads.
But then, twenty years after Mount Rushmore was finished and the Indians laid their guilt trip, a Lakotan elder adopts the Bugs Bunny maxim, if you can’t beat ’em…carve up your own mountain! They hire a Polish sculptor who worked with Borglum on Mount Rushmore to not just carve a mountain, but actually TRANSFORM a mountain from a mountain into a 90 billion foot statue of Crazy Horse!
This has been going on for SEVENTY YEARS! And there’s no end in sight! They haven’t even carved the horse yet! I was stunned. Mary was telling me that there is a lot of controversy within the Lakotan community about the project. Crazy Horse himself was camera shy and didn’t even like to be photographed, let alone have a mountain chiseled down into his form. Also, the project, despite stalling for decades, has repeatedly refused Federal funding. They made some free enterprise, no government handouts argument, but my lawyer’s instinct tells me that federal funds would come with federal oversight. Mary thought I was being overly critical. But she was soon to come around.
It was nearing one o’clock and she suggested we eat at the Crazy Horse cafeteria.
“Ooh, they have sweet potato fries,” she said as we waited in line. The wait was rather lengthy, but when we were seated, we both ordered lemonades and they came quickly. Maybe it was walking around in a swimsuit all day, but I was thirsty! The waiter came to take our food order and Mary was all
“Sweet potato fries! Sweet Potato fries!”
“Oh, I’m sorry ma’am. We’re out of sweet potato fries. We had a huge tour bus through here earlier. They cleaned us out! We barely have any glasses left!”
“What? But…” She ordered something else and the waiter left. I wasn’t gonna say anything, but…
“See?! SEE?! I knew something unsavory was going on out here! They promise unsuspecting Americans sweet potato fries and then you come in and sit down and sip the lemonade and then WHAMMO! They’re out!”
She completely agreed.
After Crazy Horse, we passed some Wind Cave thing and we saw all these prairie dogs – which aren’t dogs at all, more like mole rats… and then came to the Hot Springs. (NOT PICTURED!) Do you know WHY it is NOT PICTURED? DO YOU? BECAUSE THEY DON’T DAMN WELL EXIST!
We drove around this broke down South Dakota town for 30 minutes looking for these magic hot springs AND ZIPPO!
If you could have seen my sad little bathing suit wearing for nothing face. Your heart would have just broken, I tell you what.
Oh, how I cursed the name of South Dakota. I called its mother names and expressed my clear preference for North Dakota.
Suddenly, Mary pointed out the window: Look!
“What? Hot Springs? Did we find them?!!”
The funny thing about running into buffalo by the side of the road, is that earlier in our trip, I had pointed to wildlife on the roadside and been like “Mary! Buffalo!”
The next day, I saw a whole clump of buffalo and they were totally moving, so I was all “Mary! Buffalo!”
“Those are cows, Stephane. Cows.”
Shut up. You’re a cow.
I wouldn’t be fooled this time. But then Mary pulled over the car and started taking pictures, so I figured these actually must be real buffalo, so I went on safari…
Then they charged at me, I screamed, created a stampede, and we were killed when our car was crushed and they ate our faces. Stop it. That didn’t happen. Well, I did scream cause that one buffalo totally did charge me!
As we drove away, I texted my resident Bills fan, VinNay, a picture and titled it “Your mascot.” He writes back “That’s bison.”
“Shut up. You’re bison.”
I was still rather salty about South Dakota. We finished the driving tour at some weird park with a filthy filthy pond:
In failed hot springs and sweet potato fries, we went back to our motel. I was so going to jump right into the pool, but Mary said we had to head back to Mount Rushmore for the night lighting ceremony. Bollocks.
“Name all the state capitols named after Presidents.” Go on. Name them, bet you can’t!
Then the ranger gave a stirring speech about all the sacrifices George Washington made for his country, first in the French Indian war and then in the Revolutionary war. He was shot so many times it was a miracle that he survived! But when the revolutionaries were victorious, and offered him the post of King, he flatly rejected it and said any American who would accept such an offer should be hanged on the spot! And then they showed a film of America’s expansion and our lands and monuments and it ends with the screen turning blue, an image of an American flag flickering across while the words to the Star Spangled Banner scroll up the screen. The music starts to play and everyone begins to sing the national anthem.
Afterward, all the veterans, active military and military families are invited down to the stage for a flag presentation and you just want to start chanting U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! And invade someplace!
When that’s done, and before you even really notice what’s happening, America the Beautiful is playing and the lights are illuminating the faces of the Presidents: