I am back from one of the best vacation experiences in a very long time. We began by flying to Denver from Orlando, a pleasant 2 1/2 hour journey. We then sojourned to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. I've read and seen hundreds of pictures of this monument from early childhood but didn't realize how little I knew about the history and controversy surrounding it. Firstly, I discovered that it originally began as a tourist gimmick that was supposed to take 2 years to complete. But the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, foresaw something bigger. Borglum had worked previously on the Stone Mountain sculpture of Lee, Davis, and Stonewall. Borglum foresaw a monument that would encompass the ideals of America and become a tribute to our republic and celebration to Democracy. I was surprised at the emotional impact the monument had on me and my family. My father just stood there and stared at it for a long time. I walked around the monument perimeter and walked around Borglum's studio. It was interesting seeing how he worked and how the sculpture was created. What was supposed to take 2 years, actually took 14. When we made it back to the Gift shop Bookstore, we met one of the original workers who drilled on the sculpture. He was a tough old cuss and reminded me of my grandfathers. He said that at first it was "just a job" but later he and his fellow workers began to see the work as a calling. They saw that they were helping to create something that would last longer than the Pyramids. Later in the day we went on to the "Crazy Horse" monument dedicated to the great American Indian leader, who was instrumental in defeating Col. Custer. What is interesting about this monument is that it was designed by a Polish American, Korczak Ziolkowski and is worked upon by his family. Although, the Native American leader, Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear originally commissioned the sculpture, there are few Native American's actually involved in it's construction. Most of the money to carve the monument comes from donations of the largely white American visitors. I wondered while I was there, given the huge amount that the Seminole Tribe and other Indian gaming casino's have made, why don't they help? You would think they could spare a million or two. Perhaps they have given something, I don't know, but they weren't on the donor list that I could find. I couldn't help but wonder if the monument is really a White-man creation to White-man guilt?
The next day we crossed Wyoming and headed to Yellowstone. Yellowstone is the nation's and World's first national park. It is simply breathtaking in it's beauty and serene loveliness. We were only able to see about 10% of the entire park. However, we hit most of the highlights that you read about, such as "Old Faithful" and the many other natural hot springs. We arrived at the Old Faithful area, just as the geyser was about to erupt and got several great pictures. We toured around and saw about every animal you can imagine. Elk, deer, bear, moose, all kinds of birds, and plant-life you can conjure was there to enjoy. The park restaurants, lodges, and other facilities (even the auto-mechanic shop) had a real 1910-1920's look and feel to it. It was interesting that they continue to keep the old fashioned look. That made the park all the more enjoyable for the architecture. At any moment I expected to see Teddy Roosevelt turn the corner and waive. Later that day we visited a tourist trap gold mine and panned for gold (I didn't pay for my trip but it was a hoot playing the prospector. All I could think about was Bogey and the Treasure of the Sierra Madre). Later that next day we went to the Buffolo Bill (William F. Cody) museum. And saw the original stage-coaches, costumes, and even Annie Oakley's guns. There was so many posters and press clippings about him that you forget what a superstar Buffalo Bill was and how much of the American West he played a part in, from the rise of the rail-road to the Civil war to the end of the "wild" Indian Nations and the closing of a colorful part of American History.
My parents then went home the next day and we took a over night camping trip deep in the Shoshone National Forest Wilderness area (which connects to Yellowstone). We took horses about 10 miles into the park and camped by the river. It was wonderful to fly-fish with my sons and take in the natural beauty. This photo here is taken from my chair at our campsite. This was Cindy's first experience camping and she really enjoyed it. We then rode out and drove to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Forest for the rest of the time. I had been there with my Uncle Dwight in 1997 and it was just as beautiful as I remembered. We drove the car to the top of one of the highest peak that was actually above tree line and into Alpine Tundra area (about 11,764 feet above seal level). The boys got to play in the snow which is an unusual treat for Florida Boys. The air was so thin though that I got a little sick climbing up the remaining 300 feet of the mountain to the top. We finally made it down and ended our vacation to a trip to the US Mint in Denver for coins (as you can buy them direct from the mint with no mark up for Proof-sets and other collect able coins).
All in all, it was a great time and a rare look at the magnificent beauty and grandeur of our beloved nation.