On Our Way to the Tetons!

On the way to my first major destination, Grand Teton National Park, I took a few smaller stops at other national park units along the way.  In one day I was able to visit Mount Rushmore, Jewel Cave and Devil’s Tower National Monuments, in addition to the Crazy Horse Memorial (not a national park unit).  South Dakota stuns the visitor as flat prairies give way to the rugged peaks of the Black Hills.  Most people are entirely unaware of the geologic and biological diversity of this area of the country.

It is quite overwhelming to stand under the gaze of Mount Rushmore after seeing its iconic visage in textbooks all throughout childhood.  This park unit draws a diverse crowd and its impressive to see people from so many backgrounds nervously climbing curvy mountain roads to see these carved rocks of history.

In an attempt to match this grandeur with native Indian history, creation of the Crazy Horse Memorial was begun over half a century ago just a few miles away from Mt. Rushmore itself.  The late Polish sculptor who began the project was the subject of much controversy for his slow progress and refusal to include others in the completion of the Memorial.  Still today, only the face of the great Lakota leader looks defiantly into the Black Hills.  Visitors must view replica statues to see the final product, which will likely still not be finished in our lifetimes.

A quick stop by Jewel Cave, the second largest cave system in the world, revealed that even the small and relatively unknown US park units boast impressive records in the world of natural wonders.  Finally, as I passed into Wyoming, I arrived for the night at Devil’s Tower.  This huge monolith of igneous rock seems to pierce itself out of the rolling hills that surround it.  The geologic wonder and America’s first national monument created by Teddy Roosevelt, still serves as important component of many native tribes’ religious and cultural beliefs.  During June of each year, the Park Service requests that rock climbers refrain from tackling the mountain out of respect for the tribes.  However, this closure is merely voluntary and many native groups are dismayed by the idea that such a sacred place is open to tourists.  Due to the combination of bad storms, smoke billowing in from a nearby forest fire and an eerie evening spent in the campground, I know firsthand the intense spiritual power that surrounds Devil’s Tower.

Next stop: Grand Teton!

Posted in Summer Park Tour