MT. RUSHMORE / BIGHORN NATIONAL FOREST

// Day 6: Mt. Rushmore + Bighorn National Forest

Hallelujah, is that the sun!? It is almost shining when we wake up, and the rain has stopped, leaving the ground damp but not soggy, and the picnic table usable. Packing up is a breeze and we are on the road by 8:30am. We are headed for Mt. Rushmore, just a few hours away. There is nothing but wilderness in between until we reach Rapid City, where we restock on bread and cheese.

We see those stone faces long before we reach them in the car, up into the Black Hills and through an entrance gate where we are charged an $11 parking fee. The parking pass is good for the rest of the year, they tell us. Just in case we’re back in the neighborhood. What a deal.

Mt. Rushmore is, unlike many things in life, exactly like the pictures. Four massive, stone-carved faces jutting out of towering rock, and hundreds of people down below, staring up. We take a walk through the museum on the lower level and I am fascinated by the story: a local politician keen on creating a large-scale sculpture of local heroes to draw tourists to South Dakota hires a passionate artist from the South to design the monument and raise support for the project. Controversial, dangerous and over-budget, and described by President Calvin Coolidge at its dedication as being “decidedly American in its conception, in its magnitude, in its meaning, and altogether worthy of our country.” Is it incredible or ridiculous? Maybe it is both.

The clouds are back in the sky by the time we get back on the road. Our goal is to make it as far as we can by nightfall and find a hotel so we can be at Yellowstone as early as possible tomorrow morning. Our drive runs through Bighorn National Forest, an unexpected treasure. Up out of an endless green valley and over a mountain. Snow peaks, soaring rock walls, moose, mule deer. We squeeze out the other side, the road appearing no bigger than a thread as we look back on the range. I think of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce and the image of the crack in the ground of heaven that contains all of hell. There is such vast and terrifying wildness offered to us. Kyle and I give thanks for a God who delights to create.

We roll into Cody, WY around dusk, just outside of Yellowstone. A quick Google search returns The Irma: Buffalo Bill’s “Original” Hotel, which he built in 1902 and named after his daughter. It is a no-brainer to stay the night there, and we score a standard king with a view of the mountains for only $91. It is late by the time we get checked in and back out the door to dinner, and only one local restaurant is even still open, but we enjoy a lighthearted dinner and drinks there. When my meal comes, I mistake a side of horseradish for butter, and am quite distraught when I liberally dip a fry into it. Kyle has a hearty laugh at my expense.

A restful night of sleep in a bed, and tomorrow, Yellowstone!

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