Day 5: Sunrise with the Presidents


Close up of Abe Lincoln on the face of Mt. Rushmore. I never knew his pupils were square.

I’ll apologize for the short post tonight, as it has been a very long day. It started well before sunrise, and ended well after sunset, in another state, and another time zone.

Sunday started at Mount Rushmore National Memorial outside of Keystone, South Dakota. I arrived just before the sunrise and had the entire park to myself as I watched the morning light illuminate the 4 presidents. Although the trail to the summit is closed this time of year, the main loop trail to the base of the mountain is open. At 7:30 this morning it was just me and the chipmunks on the path. It’s not a National Park or Landmark, it’s a National Memorial, and so the peace was fitting.

When I go the parks, I try to make pictures that are different than every other tourist makes. Sure, I have a few more tools in the bag to help make that happen, but I also look for the different angle, a unique framing, or interesting light. Being alone in the park this morning gave me the opportunity to explore all three.

I was leaving Mt. Rushmore just as more people were arriving. I headed to the perennially under construction Crazy Horse Memorial. It’s another mountain carving, but it is operated by a private non-profit and the sheer scale of the project dwarfs Mt. Rushmore. The horse in the sculpture, if and when it gets carved, will be 22 stories tall. Carving started in 1948 and will continue for years, in ebbs and flows as financial conditions allow.

The 2014 Kia Sorento at the under construction since 1948 Crazy Horse memorial.

The 2014 Kia Sorento at the under construction since 1948 Crazy Horse memorial.

Then began a long haul, traversing South Dakota from west to east, then south along the eastern border into Iowa and on to Omaha, Nebraska. Today was the longest driving day of the trip so far with 599 miles covered. Days like today are not the way to see the United States, unless you enjoy the view of freeway stretching out for miles. I’m trying to punctuate each day with at least one off the freeway foray.

If you’ve ever spent time driving in the plains, you’ve no doubt seen signs for Wall, South Dakota’s Wall Drug Store – “The biggest drug store in the world.” They brag that they have over 1000 billboards spread across 4 states, touting their 5 cent coffee, pictures with a Jackelope, and an amazing inventory of the souvenirs and supplies that every traveler needs.

It is also 30 minutes of my life I will never get back.

Imagine the worst, schlocky tourist attractions crammed into one city block and you have the Wall Drug Store. Maybe it’s better in the summer when it’s all up and running. Or maybe not. I should have gone to the National Potato Museum when I was back in Idaho, it would have been more exciting.

The day started early and finished late.  But I'm not complaining about the epic weather.

The day started early and finished late. But I’m not complaining about the epic weather.

Driving into Iowa it was like the world slowed down. Not only are the speed limits only slightly better than Oregon’s molasses-like limits, but they’re enforced by photo radar, even on the freeways. No fair, at that point it’s just about revenue.

Even after 12 hours behind the wheel, the 2014 Kia Sorento continues to impress. The seats are comfortable, supportive, and highly adjustable. The navigation screen graphics are some of the best in the business, and the dashboard layout is so natural that your fingers find the desired switch or dial without so much as a glance needed. Driving with a 75-mph limit all day brought my mileage down a bit, but that’s to be expected. Now that I’m firmly in corn-growing country, it will be interesting to see what the higher levels of ethanol in the gas here do to the efficiency.

George Washington's profile isn't visible from inside the memorial area, but rather from a road a couple of miles away,

George Washington’s profile isn’t visible from inside the memorial area, but rather from a road a couple of miles away.

So my former colleagues at The Oregonian challenged me not to shave during this trip. I’m sending them a self-portrait each day of my progress.  I will not be posting one here, but suffice to say that on day 5 I’m starting to look somewhat homeless. No wonder I got a horrible room in the hotel last night.

Tomorrow morning I get to look at airplanes at the Strategic Air Command museum outside of Omaha. Then it’s onto Kansas City and a hard left to St. Louis, Missouri.

Start: Rapid City, South Dakota
End: Omaha, Nebraska
Total miles: 599
States: South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska
Tomorrow: On to St. Louis, Missouri


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