Friday, July 31, 2009

Dances with Wranglers (South Dakota, Day 2)

Today the great state of South Dakota yielded up even more delights for us. We started out our day with a trek up to a place I have wanted to visit ever since I was a little girl. Yup, Mount Rushmore!

In pictures, Mount Rushmore always looks colossal, with the four presidential heads (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, respectively) completely dominating the Black Hills landscape. In real life, Mount Rushmore is much smaller than I expected. It still was amazing to see, though, and I certainly commend the National Parks Service for the fine job they have done in keeping the place up so well, and keeping costs down (there is no admission cost, only a $10 parking fee good for multiple days). One thing that stood out particularly to me (actually, I have thought of this many times over the years), is the fact that Calvin Coolidge was President when they began the project, and agreed to federal funding for it, but he never tried to make his own face one of those carved into the mountain. If they were to carve Mount Rushmore today, you can bet the current president would certainly make sure his mug was up there (that's not an Obama dig - I believe any recent or future President would be that way). Coolidge had class!

Immediately after Mount Rushmore, we made the very appropriate decision to go to the Crazy Horse monument. It's not finished yet, but it still put Rushmore in the dust! All that is completed so far is Crazy Horse's head and part of his arm, and the rest will probably not be completed in my lifetime. It is a beautiful, momentous tribute to Native American history, and it's abut time, too. In addition to the work-in-progress monument being carved into a mountain, there is also a fantastic Indian museum there, which took up a considerable amount of our time. It was almost as impressive as the Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. There were also numerous Native American artisans displaying and selling their beautiful work. Most impressive is the fact that Crazy Horse is being created entirely without federal help - all the funds have been raised through admissions, the gift shop, and donations.

In the evening, we stopped off at Fort Hays, which houses some of the sets used in the film "Dances with Wolves." It wasn't terribly impressive, but it made a nice diversion while we were waiting for dinner. For that important meal, we ate at the Flying T, which has a chuck-wagon dinner followed by a musical show. I couldn't believe how tender and juicy my roast buffalo was (I have plans to eat as much buffalo as possible while I'm out west, since I have yet to find any back east). The show was great. Local musicians The Wranglers entertained us with a rollicking blend of cowboy music and comedy. Nearly everyone (including me, horrid singing voice notwithstanding) joined in when they sang "The Battle of New Orleans," and I was beyond delighted to hear them perform "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," one of my favorite old cowboy songs (yes, I occasionally indulge in a bit of Roy Rogers or Gene Autry).

Tomorrow we're off to Deadwood. I can't wait to visit the same place where Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane one strutted with their weapons proudly cocked. So far, I think South Dakota is one of the most under-rated states in the USA!

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"