A South Dakota Flashback on a Missouri Drive

I had a long drive today, but since I calculate that I’ve made this drive at least 60 times in the last 25 years, it wasn’t remarkable. It did feel a little weird, however, to be driving solo without the family along. One big difference: today I have total control over both the music and the snacks.

This doesn’t mean the voices of my loved ones aren’t being heard, though. For example, I shuffle through the CDs for the next selection and I think I hear, “Geez, do you think we could listen to something recorded in this century?” Stopping for snacks: Mmmm, pork rinds. “Dad, that is so gross.” Sorry, can’t hear you over the crunching and the loud music.

I do start to think about family trips we’ve taken, such as the big trek through South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming a while back. I remember typing some impressions into the trusty laptop. Are they still there? Oh yes, and with just a couple of clicks…presto! Instant blog!

“Oh, that’s just too easy.” Sorry, not listening.


We are drawing near to Mount Rushmore, and our eyes scan the hills and horizon around us looking for the first glimpse. But first our eyes must sweep past the countless brightly colored and/or flashing signs promising us the Black Hills’ “best, cheapest, most beautiful, most convenient or most shameless” memorabilia.

Highway 14 is the major artery into the Mount Rushmore area, which I suppose makes us tourists the lifeblood of the businesses in Keystone. Many must pass this way, and there is the inevitable competition to see to our undeniable needs to eat, sleep, go to the bathroom and buy forgettable mementos. I’m struck by the fact that people will drive hundreds, even thousands, of miles to see spectacular scenery or a monumental example of human art and endeavor and then want to commemorate the awe-inspiring experience with some crappy piece of plastic.

The process has been going on in this area since the first Conestoga wagon had a Wall Drug sticker pasted on its back bumper, and Keystone – located at the base of Mount Rushmore – is its own monument to the economic freedom ensured by the rocky busts ensconced above. Gift stores and restaurants line both sides of the main route through town, each one apparently named after a cowboy, an Indian or a president. Just as prominent are the billboards promoting Gutson Borglum-related sites and attractions. Borglum was the sculptor, visionary – and marketing maven – who through his will and perseverance created the Rushmore monument and, for all intents and purposes, Keystone as well.

The town reminds me of Gatlinburg, Tenn., another village that clings to the side of a mountain and exists solely to collect whatever money can be shaken from the tourists’ pockets by gravity or impulse. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see many of the same lame postcards of “country” humor here in Keystone that I saw in Gatlinburg 30 years ago. Everything from jack-alopes to the bald man’s hairbrush and folksy plaques with universal truths using colloquial spelling. I’ll grant you there is one distinct difference between Keystone and Gatlinburg: you’re not likely to find a bust of Lincoln in Tennessee.

Spearfish to Rapid City
The sky is at war with the earth. Streaks of lightning marble the dusky sky over the Black Hills, striking hilltop after hilltop. Occasionally a sheet of yellow appears, completely filling the space between two hills.

There is a history of mostly peaceful detente between the earth and the sky, punctuated by what appears to be spectacularly violent episodes such as this one. The thunder booms from the sky to the hills as if to say, “This time, this time I’m taking you down and knocking you flat.” The perpetually shrugged shoulders of the hills seem to respond: “That may have worked for you in Iowa, but it ain’t happening here.”

Or perhaps the thunder is the voice of the hills, answering the challenge of the sky with a collective roar and rumble from deep in the throat. The fact is, this is an old marriage, and nothing will get settled tonight. This, too, will blow over, and in the morning it will be as if nothing has happened.

Kind of like this blog…

2 thoughts on “A South Dakota Flashback on a Missouri Drive

  1. I have taken that trip a few times myself… one of my memories consists of visiting Reptile Gardens in Rapid City and seeing all of the James Carville look-alikes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.