Our story to get to Mount Rushmore was not quite the American dream I had pictured in my head but I was so proud of myself and my family for rising above the challenges and enjoying our time together. Thanks to our newest family member, Betty the GPS, we knew our latest destination was only a half a mile away.
After long stretches of flat highway behind us, we were all pleasantly surprised to see a bustling downtown Keystone at the bottom of Route 16A, only a couple miles from our campsite as well as the world famous tribute to our Presidents.
Before you were even able to get to the mountain carvings, you had to pass through this tourist community that was a combination of the Hampton Beach boardwalk and an old Western mining town. Keystone offered a strange combination of charm, history and tourist magnets all rolled into one. You could take an old fashion steam train through the mountains or grab a cold beer and buffalo burger in a sidewalk café dressed to look like a saloon. Right around the corner were helicopter rides that offered breath-taking views of the Black Hills. My boys could not resist the Alpine Slide that took them high into the mountains only to zoom down, celebrating their youth at every turn.
Even with all that excitement, the main attraction is Borglum’s tribute to our country’s leaders. Leaving Keystone, you travel up Mt Rushmore for about 2.5 miles before you get your first glimpse of George and Abe. Wow.
Cars were pulling over to capture this spectacular work of art from every angle. It was just breathe taking. Due to the Independence Day celebrations, the streets were lined with cars – you know the people who were smart enough to get there early. Our plan was to be one of those smart people but it was more important that Dennis got a few minutes sleep to ensure he stay awake for the real celebration.
We headed up the mountain around 3 pm and quickly discovered we were about 3 hours too late to get a spot close to the top, however it didn’t matter, we were there. We packed our best intentions along with good attitudes, rain gear, travel games and chairs and started our climb to the top. About one mile into our uphill journey, we dumped our best intentions to lighten the load. Another mile later, our good attitudes were replaced by sheer determination. “We drove 2000 miles to see the fireworks and I’ll be damned if a little walk is going to stop me now!” I heard myself repeat again and again. Dennis worked hard at keeping Luke motivated. “It’s just around the corner” he told him, “keep going, pal, we’re almost there.” By the 10th corner and no end in sight, Dennis lost his credibility but gained a great punch line to keep us amused the rest of the walk.
At the entrance of the Monument, we were greeted by thousands of people from around the globe who shared a common fashion trend of trash bags and plastic ponchos. Every good seat from the center point of view was taken. I love my family deeply but somewhere up that hill, we transformed into the family you dread will sit near you…you know the one with the loud bickering kids, the obsessive mother trying to find the perfect spot moving every two minutes and the father whose patience had reached its breaking point.
We squeezed our chairs into the middle of the crowd. The boys were happy, they could see everything. Me, not so much so my quest continued. I found a nice spot on the side of a trail and much to my children’s’ and husband’s dismay, we moved. Twice.
After getting settled in, the sun came out, people were happy. It was going to be great. I even called my parents to let them know we suffered but it was worth every minute. I could look up at the trees and see George looking down on me with a smile. Happy 4th, George! Then, that black cloud of bad luck that hit us in NY somehow followed us to South Dakota. The clouds rolled in, followed by heavy fog. George, Abe and the boys started to fade. Within a half hour, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees. I’m not sure if they just got cold but George and his friends disappeared. The fog was so think you couldn’t even see the mountainside. It was only 50 feet away an hour ago but now it’s gone. George, where did you go? What about my fireworks?
As the launch time drew near, the organizers made a bold decision to launch them regardless of the weather conditions. The noises were awe inspiring. The sky changed beautiful shades of red and blues as the bangs and pops and booms continued.
Every now and then you could make out the tip of a burst but all in all, the display was a bust. I’m not sure if it was a tragedy or a comedy but either way I couldn’t help but grin ear to ear throughout the entire event. I loved every minute of it, knowing this experience will be with me and my family for the rest of our lives. Sure, real fireworks would have been better but nothing could top the experience we shared.
As we began our 3 mile journey back down the hill, the stars began to make an appearance as the clouds slowly disappeared. Maybe if they waited a ½ hour we would have seen a different show but in my mind it was the best July 4th celebration ever!
- Believe the reviews. Any major fireworks display draws massive crowds. Get their early and bring snacks, drinks and your patience.
- Be prepared to wait long periods of time both before and after the fireworks.
- Be flexible and don’t forget the real reason for the celebration. Hug the next Serviceman or woman you see and say THANK YOU for your freedom.