After a nice breakfast of eggs, bacon and pancakes in the tacky tourist town of Keystone, I drive up to Mount Rushmore. This is the first stop on my trip that I have really been looking forward to (besides seeing Franz in PA). The monument is more impressive than I expect – the magnitude of the faces in the mountain is impressive, to say the least, and the grounds are well designed to give visitors incredible views of the four presidents – Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt (whose grandson lives in my neighborhood in Brooklyn Heights), and Lincoln. Getting to the park early is best, I decide, as I don’t have to deal with the crowds I see streaming in as I leave the park.
No other national memorial gives me such a sense of awe, the National Mall in Washington DC comes close, but there is something amazing and special about Rushmore being that is it in the middle of the Black Hills, removed from urban areas. Rushmore combines man-made beauty with natural – it is a unique combination.
After Rushmore, I head to Wind Cave National Park, the third longest cave in the US. The Lakota Indians describe Wind Cave in their creation story – it where they are supposed to have sprung from the earth. Along with about 50 others, I am escorted down the twists and turns of the cave by a perky park ranger named Nina. She tells us that Wind Cave is home to 95% of the world’s boxwork rock formations, which are quite impressive, and quite delicate (“if you can break a potato chip, you can break the boxwork,” Nina says to the crowd).
We descend through various rooms and narrow passageways. Nina shines a light on one room to reveal the formations, which are even more amazing when we can actually see. The next room, she turns off the lights; first using a candle lantern to give us a sense of what it was like for early explorers, then she blows out the candle to give us a sense of the darkness. At the lowest point on our tour (there are tours that go farther into the cave) Nina tells us that things left in the cave may be here for a very long time – like the early explorers footprints, newspapers, etc – so to be careful. I offer a prayer to the cave and leave the frustration, anger and sadness that I experienced in the first six months of this year. We take an elevator back up to the entrance of the cave. (yes, an elevator!).
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