From the beginning, I ruled out seeing national monuments as well as all the national parks because it just became too much. There are stronger people than I attempting that particular goal. However, I am making a few exceptions to that rule, one of them being Mount Rushmore. I don’t think that there is any monument that better represents the quintessential American road trip better than Rushmore. I mean, honestly, what is more American than driving hundreds of miles to see four white men carved into a slab of rock that belongs to a Native American tribe? Still it is an impressive feat given the era in which it was done and the fact that no one died doing it. I hope that one day we have the audacity to make the Crazy Horse rock sculpture a national monument as well.
This giant monolith is completely unique to everything else around it. It has long been held sacred by the Native American tribes in the region. However, being a tall, large, intimidating object, there is an innate desire to conquer it and climbers are drawn to it like ants. I can understand the desire. There are many places I wish to run because that is how I can best understand and appreciate my environment. There is no question that the common theme of my park tour is disputed ownership and priorities among users of the land. I never imagined my trip would by so morally conflicting. I mulled the debate over a local hard cider at the Firehouse Brewing Company.
The rock tour continued in the Badlands. The Badlands are an impressive formation. They look like blades sharp enough to cut paper rising straight out of the ground. What I find so fascinating is that they are essentially mud with rock cores and are slowly wearing away. Some day they won’t even exist. There are signs of partially decayed formations everywhere. It reminded me of a giant sand castle that is slowly worn away by the surf. You can still see that most of it is intact but eventually it will all be washed away. I can see why some would wonder why we are preserving something that can’t be preserved but these are questions for another time. Underneath it all are the things that used to be. The Badlands are a major fossil bed and as things erode, new discoveries keep showing up. Someday it will be my car keys.
What amused and baffled me were the numerous boardwalks on each trail. I am accustomed to these when the park is intending to keep people off sensitive areas but this did not seem to be the case at all. The primary goal was to “improve access”. To whom, I wondered? It would be nice to think this was accommodating those with true physical disabilities but mostly it seems to cater to the many flip flop wearing, out of shape tourists. Tourists that weren’t even willing to leave the paved road, I discovered. While have the parks has a lovely paved road with many beautiful view points, the other half of the park has a gravel road. Promptly upon leaving behind the masses, I was rewarded again with animals galore: bison, big horn sheep, coyotes, prairie dogs, turkey vultures and a burrowing owl. Worth every cent at the car wash. Never hurts to get a little dirty now and then!