FRIDAY, JULY 22, 2016
When I woke up, I wasn't quite ready to do much today. I looked out of the window for a while. I don't know what to do about going home. We needed to figure out what we were going to do, what I was going to do. On his own, Thomas did some research and found out that the closest major airport was Denver International and it was a few hours away. His suggestion was that he would drive me there, I would fly home and he would take his time driving my car back. I appreciated this thoughtful consideration. By now, I had found out that my sister was coming home today to see our grandmother and pick up my niece and nephew from their week with my parents. She visited my grandmother first before she came to my parents and reported what sounded like glowing vitals. Both my mother and sister are medical professionals; therefore I trust their judgment about my grandmother’s condition. This is great, but I didn't understand. The news that my grandmother seemed to have stabilized took some of the urgency of returning home posthaste. Nonetheless, I was still torn. My family was telling me, “stay, she would want you finish the trip, finish it for her. You know how she is, she wouldn’t want you to come home if there was nothing you could do.” I also thought about my conversation with my boyfriend and how the recent loss of his father, was the voice of, “no regrets, no matter your choice.” I was torn but knew that we were far away and almost had all of the filming I needed completed. I would continue to evaluate the return and check in to see how my grandmother was progressing. Ultimately, I made the decision to not end the trip at once, but at least get back sooner. We would finish out the few days here and hightail it home. We rerouted the trip back to go the same way we came instead of the dip further south that added more time on the trip. The remaining reservations for the trip were with state parks. I emailed them and informed them of my need to cancel to get home sooner. They understood and sent well wishes. The last thing I wanted to do was ruin a relationship with the NASPD and the state parks that have been generous with their support and services.
Making decisions and catching up on rest took time away from the morning. In the photos that I have of the trip that we are recreating, there was a picture of my youngest aunt in a cave, with a National Park Ranger in the foreground. It had been grouped with the pictures identified as other locations in this area, but there happened to be two National Parks in the vicinity that are caves, Wind Cave and Jewel Cave, only miles apart. Trying not to make this a long drawn out decision, I figured we would pick at least one. It didn’t matter which, nor was this crucial. I selected Jewel Cave National Park. When we got to the ticket booth at the end of the parking lot, the Park Ranger informed us that all of the tours were booked and if we didn’t want to stick around for the only entry time that was much later in the day, we needed to get here when the booth opened tomorrow to secure a ticket. Plan B was to go to Rapid City to a hobby shop to possibly resolve the no drone issue. According to the website, this store sold professional quality drones and there might be one that Thomas would consider buying, or at least scope out.
First, we stopped back into town and stopped for lunch on Custer’s main street, Mount Rushmore Road. The place was flooded with tourist, now that we can see what was happening here in the daylight. As we were walking along, peeping into windows and at menus, one of the waiters from The Begging Burro came outside to persuade us to dine in their establishment for lunch. We had already almost decided to eat there and we weren’t a hard sell. The restaurant was nice and large and the front was connected to a shop. There were a lot of people dining and the waiter seated us at a table in the back. Next to pizza, tacos are a favorite. That was an easy choice for lunch. Ironically, the drink coasters at our table were advertisements for a hot air balloon company I had researched in the area. Ballooning is a popular activity here because of the breathtaking landscape of the Black Hills and I wanted to treat us to a ride. It was a milestone birthday year for us; mine was a few months ago and his was only days away. I thought it was a fun, spectacular idea (even if my nephew kindly asked me not to do it because it wasn’t safe). Once I discussed it with Thomas, it landed on the cutting room floor. His points were valid and I agreed, perhaps another time and place and less money.
Minus our original plan, there was still a full day ahead. We headed to Rapid City and on the way drove through a town called Hill City. The distinctive smell of fresh processed wood charged the air as we passed a mill. In an odd way, it was an earthy, soothing scent. Rapid City looked like a busy town in the valley. It was a weekday as usual for the locals. Thomas found the way to Who's Hobby Shop and in we went. Inside we found cool toys and people drooling over them. Wrey, most likely the person Thomas spoke with on the phone, greeted us and was eager to help. I took this shoptalk time to go outside to call my mother for an update on my grandmother and to talk to her again since my grandfather woke her to talk last night. She isn't as coherent as she has been. My mother manages the call for her. During the conversation, she mistakes something I said as someone being shot (my mom and I laughed). What was understood was that she knew who I was and she knows I love her and I know that she loves me more. Strangely enough, the main topic was the unusual heat wave. Evidently, Rapid City and this general vicinity made the national news for record-breaking heat. Being born and raised in Baltimore, I would prefer dry heat over the spongy, damp summer mugginess any day and hadn’t noticed it was that hot. Our conversation ended with me promising to drink plenty of water and I went back inside and joined Thomas. He and Wrey were still heavily engaged in conversation. Wrey came off as very honest and personable making him easy to talk to. Thomas decided that buying the drone there was not what he wanted to do and the conversation turned to Wrey’s experience living in South Dakota and places he suggested we should visit. On the top of his list was a place called Reptile Gardens that we passed on the way that had a massive parking lot, filled with a massive number of cars. We didn’t have the time to go, but I take his word and that of the hundreds of parked cars that it is worth seeing. Later my mom sent me a picture. Frances looked like herself.
Part one of the day was completed and it made the most sense to go to Mount Rushmore. I was under the impression that as humongous as the monument might be, it is not an all day affair and we could get everything we needed to accomplish in a few hours. Along the way, we saw wild sites of spindle trees and roads that cut through rock. Highway 244 takes traffic towards Mount Rushmore where you can see the presidents from outside of the entrance. There they are. Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln, staring square at you as drive up the road. While we drove around, they would come in and out of view until we parked at the top of the parking garage. Admittance to the park is free. Park guests are only responsible for paying for parking at a nominal fee. Once we parked, Thomas got out and checked out the perimeter of the parking lot and took pictures of the landscape in the distance. He may have been the only person there who came to Mount Rushmore to take pictures of all the stuff near it. Either way, I know they were going to be his usual amazeballs shots.
I reference the pictures from the original trip I printed to look for markers, confirm their vantage point of Mount Rushmore and grab my camera. Thomas gave me direction as he started filming me walking into the entrance of the park. Based on the original images and film, the long post and lintel feature engraved with “Mount Rushmore National Monument,” was added after their trip. It underlines the face of the monument. Throughout the walk onto the Grand View Terrace we stopped and took pictures along the Avenue of Flags and looked at the 50 state flags billowing in the wind. Clearly, a lot has changed over the last four decades. Trying to find the locations at which a few of the pictures were taken proved to be difficult. It may have been possible that those places no longer existed. The strange thing about seeing things in person that you have seen on TV and in movies and magazines, is that as impressive as it is to be up close and personal, it has the slight possibility of being underwhelming, but only in a jaded, unfortunate way (sideways face). This is NOT a reason to not see it. Mount Rushmore National Monument is an absolute marvel. The skill and forethought to erect such a monument is superior. Millions of people come here for a reason. With that being said, I was a tinge more excited about being where a classic Hitchcock movie was filmed, “North By Northwest.” Hitchcock is the director of my all time favorite movie, “Rear Window.” He is an unconventional storyteller and I treasure his work. Here is a thing to look for next time you watch the movie for you Hitchcock fans. If you didn’t already know or hadn’t noticed it, towards the end of the movie, after the characters have been all over the place chasing each other, there is that gripping scene inside Mount Rushmore’s cafeteria. In the middle of the eating patrons, before Eva Marie Saint's character “shoots” Cary Grant’s character, there is a boy sitting in the background who prematurely has his fingers in his ears, anticipating the gunshot.
Throughout the entire Grand View Terrace, tourists are jockeying for pictures. With a direct view of the monument, this is the best spot to add your head to the row of presidents. The Grand View Terrace is also the top and entry of the amphitheater that creeps down below. At night, the park has a laser show and a ranger talk. That is probably worth seeing. I think after only a short time of being part of the terrace gang, we decided to take the Presidential Trail that loops around the front of the amphitheater, if only to get closer or to get a different perspective. I think the notion is that since we have all seen their faces dead on, it would be nice to capture something different. The path was easy to maneuver and it did get us closer to the base of the faces. Along the way, there are a few viewing decks that make it easier to see more interesting angles of the monument. Having the ability to look through the lens of my camera gave me the opportunity to see the faces much closer. It is remarkable that they were able to carve the faces with that kind of precision out of the side of a mountain. I think I now know why I made the comment about being slightly underwhelmed. They did such an astonishing job carving the likeness of the presidents, that it is easy to take it for granted. I left with a much different appreciation.
Keystone is the valley city right before the entrance of Mount Rushmore. Each side of the street and the little streets branching off are door-to-door stores, restaurants, hotels and the like. If you can get a reservation in this town, you are either one of the lucky ones or the early ones. This is the Wisconsin Dells, or the Boardwalk of the town. If you want it, they got it, perhaps with your name plastered across the top. Thomas was on a hunt for a specific type of black hoodie and I was just on my usual souvenir hunt for any and everything. In the one store, the owner suggested we check one of his other locations in Hill City for the kind of sweatshirt Thomas had asked about. At the same time we were doing all this walking and shopping, our food meter ran low and we popped into a place called 5 Minute Pizza. It was practically a pizza Subway. Two men manned the shop and both were behind the counter. Very similar to Subway, there is a sneeze guard separating you from them and you let them know what kind of crust and toppings you’d like. Then they put it in the oven and give it 5 minutes. I assumed by their age and passion, that they were probably the owners and the primary staff. Not knowing what to expect, I think Thomas and I were both pleasantly surprised by the deliciousness of the pizzas. During the course of our meal, the same man from the sweatshirt store came into the restaurant. Right away, it was obvious that they all knew each other and are great friends. One continued to man the store, while the other came from around the counter and joined their friend for a leisurely dinner. I don’t recall how or when, but Thomas found out that all three were from Israel. How does one come from that far away and end up here in Keystone, South Dakota? I am starting to think that I want to come back to all these places for my next documentary, asking this question?
After we finished, we went next-door through the opening between the two stores. At the time of our pizza purchase, we were each given a voucher for a free beer. The store housed local products from Naked Winery and Sick and Twisted Brewing Company. I thought this was a great idea. The ploy, if you were interested, was that you could get your free beer and have it with your pizza, either combination, both in either place. They were encouraging mingling in the two stores. We never got the beer, but we did some impromptu wine tasting. The store attendant was already in the process of a wine tasting with a small group of women at the bar. While we were looking at the huge listing of tasting options, we overheard her talk about the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August. I had never heard of this rally and I couldn’t believe it when she said that last year they estimated that 1 million people attended. That has to be quite the visual, infinite rows of bikes lining the streets, not to mention the noise. The women left and it was only the three of us. We asked more questions and tasted a few more wines until I was satisfied with choosing one.
The sun had left the sky for some time and we walked back to my car in the night. There was still plenty of buzz in the streets. On the way back to Custer, we came past the west side of Mount Rushmore where Washington is in a full, gloriously lit profile with each and every star twinkling around him. Furthest away from the monument side of the road is a turnout for people to park for this view of Mount Rushmore, but it is practically invisible in the dark with no streetlights. Thomas managed to see it and pulled in and parked. Staggered within the minutes, the cars come up and down the road and most pull over on the shoulder to the right or at the very least, drive slow to admire Washington. Thomas is setting up for a nighttime shot of Mount Rushmore and it took time to prepare. I got out of the car too, for the air, and to watch him in action. On cue, one of the cars that pulled over on the shoulder of the road was blaring Lee Greenwood’s song, "God Bless the USA.” We both found this funny and terrifically patriotic and when they pulled away, we were left in silence again. Poised between Washington’s rock face and another just as large rock on this side of the road, I stood wrapped in my blanket. The breeze was heavy and hypnotic and I found myself swaying in it as my blanket flew like a cape. When I look up in the sky, I realize that these are the most stars I have seen so far on the trip. If it weren't for the cars driving by, you would think Washington was a saint and we are here below worshiping him. Instead, I was praying to God to keep my grandmother here for me to see one more time before she herself becomes a star in the sky, in an unearthly place. Thomas got his shot and the clouds started to roll in and take away the light from the sky. TO SEE IMAGE PHOTO COURTESY OF TA VISUALS
On the drive back to Custer, we noticed a large white neon sign on the top of a hill, like the Hollywood sign. I assumed that it spelled Custer, but the T is out. C-U-S-E-R. For this reason, I had the thought years ago about opening a business strictly for neon sign replacement. If you are a business, your sign should never be malfunctioning. To this day, there is a popular restaurant on a road I travel back and forth to my grandparent’s that is a constant reminder of the need for this type of business. The Golden Dragon Inn has read as the The Golden Dr gon Inn for a long time.
Although we are merely hours from the next day, we aren’t finished. Thomas wanted another night shot. The clouds had continued to fill the sky and it was evident that a storm was on its way and his final task was to photograph a lightning strike. We drove around the outskirts of Custer trying to find a clearing that did not have any existing light pollution. He found a spot and pulled off the road, parking at the end of a deserted looking driveway. This time I stayed in the comfort of the car as the thunder and lightning swiftly descended upon us. I don’t think I worry unnecessarily, however, I wasn’t sure how much I liked the idea of sitting out here in the middle of an open area with night shattering lightning and he is out there on the side of the road with his camera. I kept a close eye on him and one on the strikes. At one point, I tried to remember the method of calculating the distance of the lightning by counting the seconds between the strike and the thunder. In the distance, a dog started barking. Typically, I am under the opinion that if a dog is barking like that, they are concerned or disturbed by things humans can’t always discern. I had a feeling it was going to be time to go soon. In the very moments that the lightning seemed as if it were getting closer and the rain started to fall from the sky, Thomas got his last shot and dashed back to the car. PRESS TO HEAR AUDIO