Fiction that explores the monsters and strangers among us.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

August 2, 2009

From I-90, Joseph and I spy Rapid City in the distance, urban sprawl amidst the grasslands, brown and dingy against pale grey and yellow of dry grasslands. I take U.S. Rt. 16 to avoid the downtown while wondering if the local restaurant from my visit two years ago is on Rt. 16. We don’t spot the place on Rt. 16 or St. Joseph Street when we backtrack into Rapid City.

A brand new Starbucks stands where something else once stood on a corner and we discuss if this was where the restaurant of my memories once stood. Heading out of town, we find a good breakfast in a crowded Perkins.

Outside, the highways of western South Dakota erupt with the roar of Harleys headed to and from Sturgis where the annual biker rally doubles the population of the state. Sturgis is west of Rapid City and after breakfast we head south on Rt. 16 in search of dead presidents.

A biker in a tall silk hat passes us, then a group of three biker women. Later we see a continuous string of Harleys, some outfitted like Hollywood image Hell’s Angels while others appear to be renegade accountants on a weekend jaunt. Two wheelers, three wheelers, and even a tiny four wheeler ride along towards Mount Rushmore.

Joseph takes a gander at Mount Rushmore for the first time while I’m on my second pilgrimage to this icon to presidential greatness. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt keep watch over the Black Hills with a wary eye towards Crazy Horse, the mountain of an Indian forming out of rough hewn rock to the south.

The entry gates are wide and pay tribute to the states with their flags and marker stones. All the while, the presidents stare down upon us as if to ask our politics or how stands the union. If all men are created equal why stand these men so tall and frozen in white granite?

What surprises most about Rushmore is how small the faces actually are. They take up what appears to be about one-third of the hillside. Photographers over the years carefully chose their angle to capture the majestic splendor of this great sculpture. The result was to form an image in the mind of huge proportions. The reality disappoints.

Yet the monument reminds us that with great achievement comes great honor and the greatest achievers deserve the greatest honors.

A Native American Indian might see Crazy Horse as a great leader deserving of a monument, but the carving at Crazy Horse is worthy of a Caesar. An entire mountain melts against the hot South Dakota sun, leaving behind the image of Chief Crazy Horse upon a mighty stallion. His face is complete and polished. I touched that face on my past visit when I received the VIP tour.

Today, Joseph and I follow the parade of Harleys to the parking lot. We walk to the end of the lot and take photos of the mighty warrior whose roughed out arm points to a brighter future for his people.

Crazy Horse, like the rest of us, is a work in progress. Our children’s children may one day see the completed work. The statue will stand without peer in size. Mount Rushmore would fit along the side of Crazy Horse’s head, tucked in above the ear. Even the Colossus of Rhodes was a mere mortal by comparison.

We do not linger at Crazy Horse where no tours of the mountain beckon this day, no fireworks make claim upon our time, and a gift shop overflowing with bikers does not beckon us.

The road calls us south towards Custer where we turn west and follow U.S. 16 northwest on a path heading back to I-90 but this time west of Sturgis and the biker crowd.

Custer is a tourist trap town with a Sheriff’s office and courthouse side-by-side. I warn Joseph that it indicates what they do with speeders in these parts – haul you back to Custer for conviction and fines. We stay within the speed limit.

We make it as far as Bozeman, Montana and stay the night at the local Days Inn. Bozewell is a clean town and home of Montana State University. Imagine going to college in the shadows of great peaks beckoning you to a career worthy of a future stone carver’s craft.