Travelog: Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Day 1: Mount Rushmore

You can fool some people all the time, all people some time, but not all the people all the time.

– Abraham Lincoln

Two questions. Why this quote ? And why now, in travel log ?

Two answers. This is the only quote handy enough for me on top of my mind while racking my brain for any famous quote from either of the founding fathers of USA, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. It was committed to my recent memory through very engaging read “21 lessons for the 21st century” by erudite author Yuval Noah Harari. Answer to second question must be passively presented itself through first answer when I listed out four very famous political figures of USA carved immortally in stone monument. Yes , I visited Mount Rushmore during my July summer break.

As mentioned in the title, Yellowstone was prime objective of visit. Mount Rushmore is no where near it or even falling on the way. When I settled down with my flight plan and finding airport nearby Yellowstone, I found it difficult to sustain the flight within budget that can give easy access to Yellowstone. So gradually moving away from Yellowstone, that had inverse proportion to flight prices from Indianapolis, I was settled down with Denver. And if I’m flying till Denver, there is no harm in driving 6 more hours to visit famous monument at the appropriate time of 4th of July.

Itinerary of the day

Fly from Indianapolis to Denver -> Drive through Wyoming to South Dakota -> Stay in Hill city, SD

Early morning blues to catch the flight from Indianapolis airport at 6:00 AM in the morning were quickly washed away by, first stress, later with rise of panic, by seeing so many of vacation goers lining the shuttle bus stop towards terminal. We were running late due to the unexpected rush of vacationers doing the same, catching early morning flights to various other vacation spots. We had to let go off one shuttle and catch the next one due to jam-packed shuttle bus from parking lot to terminal. Rushing through all the security, we could manage to settle down with joyful vacation mode only when we realized that flight was modestly delayed.

Though flight was delayed from Indianapolis, we were early to arrive at Denver. I must say, Denver airport is humongous. We arrived at wing C that holds 100 gates and there are two more wings, A and B, having same number of gates. So roughly 300 gates to board from/arrive to. As our day was well-planned, we had our breakfast and coffee at airport in leisure before going for the rental car.

Planning head corroborates with economical mind: if you planning to go to Yellowstone national park, plan well ahead of the time. Whether you travelling from far (like me) or nearby, get your flight/car/stay sorted out well in advance. It will save you lot of trouble as well as money. There is no such thing as "last minute excursion planning" when it comes to Yellowstone. I'll revisit this again during following posts.  

Where cows outnumber the humans

Driving through Colorado to South Dakota via Wyoming, if not speckled with spectacular views, still holds dazzling limitless stretches of grassy knolls and pastures. Wherever you see, you’ll find tiny dots of grazing cows everywhere. Passing through Wyoming feels like serene, relaxing long drive amongst countryside. Special mention to rest stops that were well-maintained, clean and rife with Wyoming tidbits info boards nestled amongst tall trees and vegetation. Also, did I mention all of the rest stops were solar powered ? As we approached the black hill forests, we were greeted with heart stopping close encounters of either white-tailed deer or mule deer (didn’t know which) jumping suddenly out of the nearby bush and crossing the road in heat of oncoming vehicles, not alone but tagged by baby deer as well, on multiple occasions. It was equally exhilarating and scary. Black hills forest was dotted with expanse of needle like pines, firs, birch and spruce (mostly Ponderosa pines). It was around 6 hours drive from Denver to Hill city, SD where we planned to have our first stay.

Founding fathers of biggest democracy

We stayed in the heart of Hill city, SD. It is 10-12 minutes away from the famous monument; Mount Rushmore. To utilize the longer summer daylights of the month of July, after checking-in and refreshed, we headed towards Mount Rushmore. To see four carved stone faces in millions of pictures and photographs is not the same as to see them in person. The site itself is well managed. Even after many tourists, the parking facility was smooth and quick. While you walk through stone pavements towards far lingering giant stone faces, you couldn’t miss each of the 50 states of USA flags displayed elegantly with their year of admission and state number on bronze stone plaque beneath. The monument itself is enchanting. Amphitheatre below the mount Rushmore monument was full due to ongoing live shows and music on occasion of 4th of July. Stony gazes of huge faces of former US presidents urges the visitors to stroll through nearby museum and shops to gain more knowledge and history of the towering monument and more towering prestige of the living beings it represented.

Greatest Democracy carved in stone

A monument’s dimensions should be determined by the importance to civilization of the events commemorated

– Gutzon Borglum

Mount Rushmore National Memorial pamphlet

Slightly elevated face of George Washington above others was, without doubt, the first choice of chief Italian architect Borglum as Washington was the 1st president of the United States and played a key role in independence from the British empire. Thomas Jefferson was the 3rd president who was principal author of declaration of independence. As per the original plan, Lincoln was not part of it and hence, Theodore Roosevelt got third place, even though he became president after Lincoln in chronology. Building the Panama canal was the biggest achievement on Roosevelt’s name. Later on, looking back into the past, one would not want to miss the achievement of Lincoln as greatest political figure. Ending the civil war and slavery could have not been swiped under the rug and hence he got his place on mount Rushmore. It was evident that the maintenance team had worked hard though all these years since inception of the monument (31-Oct-1941) till date. As if faces have been emerged overnight with natural phenomena, broken stone pieces and debris was still adorning the monument underneath.

Where T-rex roamed

South Dakota is paleontologist’s dream. Area was rife with “giant lizards” in Jurassic era. Hence, you’ll find lots of dinosaur centered parks and museums in and around cities such as Rapid city and Hill city. If you plan (in fact, its advisable to do so) only for South Dakota and Black hills as one single vacation destination, then there will be lots of other nearby well-known places to roam around. Black hills forest is the one. Badlands state park is another famous destination for those who love bizarre and arid natural geological formations. One of the famous hike is Devil’s Peak, made famous by Spielberg’s The close encounter of the third kind. Hill city, where we stayed for the night, also had famous museum of the Black hills Institute. Due to time constraints, we could only enjoy few elaborate fossils displayed outside the museum and not able to visit museum proper. Hill city was mainly consisting of main street that was buzzing with music and joy of roadside bar and eateries by the time we return back from Mount Rushmore. Gift shops of antiques and souvenirs were aplenty and memorabilia were many to choose from, but the experience of visiting the Mount Rushmore in person, carved as long-lasting memories wrapped in happiness, was the ultimate gift we accepted in earnest and prepared ourselves for Yellowstone and Grand Teton.

Date of visit: 3-July-2022

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