Monday, June 15th - We awoke this morning to a very welcome sight of sunshine coming in our window. After the storm last night, we were concerned about it being overcast today for our trip to Mt Rushmore. Instead, it looked as if we were going to get a very beautiful morning.
We exited the town of Deadwood and began our ascent through the mountainous area towards the monument. The drive was incredible, winding through lush green forests and the bluest lakes you have ever seen. Seriously, it was as if someone had turned up the saturation 150%. Absolutely gorgeous.
Kat started to really get excited as the GPS informed us that we were only a few miles away. Before too long, we saw the profile of George Washington, and within seconds, we were in line for entrance to the park. We sat and waited to pay for our parking, all the while taking in the monument that was so very close.
Once we parked, we raced up to the Grand Terrace to take in the grand spectacle, and grand it was. As you can imagine, there is no real way to describe what it feels like to be in the presence of something you've seen in so many history books, movies, and more. The monument was constructed over the course of 14 years, from 1927-1941, using a combination of dynamite and jackhammers. Dynamite took care of 90% of the work while the jackhammers and chisels finished off the remaining 10%. Each head is approximately 60 feet tall, and was constructed using a smaller plaster version as a guide. They would measure the smaller version, multiply it by 12, and then translate it into the larger version. The amazing thing is that not a single person died in the creation of the monument.
We took some pictures, walked the trail around the grounds, got some lunch (bison chili), and of course, souvenirs. And all the while, every time I looked at the monument, I couldn't help but be mezmorized by it. You really can't take your eyes off of it. The only thing I would have liked to see is the lighting ceremony they do nightly at 9PM.
By early afternoon, we were back in the car and on our way to Denver. It was about 400 miles away, meaning we had to make pretty good time if we wanted to be there before too late tonight. So down the mountain we went, traveling swiftly towards the state of Wyoming, with its red rock roads and all.
It's important to point out at this point that we were no longer on tourist roads. Route 80 is well known to be the road many take when driving across the US, so there are plenty of rest stops and food and gas and souvenirs and the like. But we now found ourselves simply surrounded by green meadows and rocky hills and beautiful skies filled with the mightiest clouds you've ever seen. What we didn't find ourselves surrounded by was a much needed gas station, for we only had about enough gas for another 40 miles of driving before empty.
About 10 miles from the WY border, we finally came across a very small town called Edgemont. There was basically two gas stations, one with a bar and one with a deli. And that was about it. We were undoubtedly outsiders here, in our huge Ford Explorer and Massachusetts plates.
So as we were getting ready to go, we were approached by a man, possibly in his late 40s to early 50s, with long white hair and a cowboy hat. I thought he might have had a bit of native American in him, but then he said he was from Jersey originally. He was very friendly, offering us an alternate route through Wyoming, and warned us of speed traps in the state. He even gave us a souvenir road map of South Dakota.
The sad thing about this encounter is that when he approached us, I couldn't help but feel like he was going to ask for money, or food, or a ride. Living in the cities of the northeast for so long, I've found that maybe I'm a little more jaded than I'd like to be, putting up my guard wherever I go. Here was a man helping us out (and I'm sure a little curious about where we were coming and going)and I kept thinking that before the end of our conversation he was going to lead us on a "back road" through the desert and take us out like in "The Hills Have Eyes."
This was a perfect example of why I needed this road trip. I needed to expand my ways of thinking, of feeling, beyond that of which I grew up with, and I hope that by the end of this, I will have done just that.
Back on the road with a full tank of gas and fresh drinks, we drove into Wyoming and stuck to the speed limit. The surroundings were gorgeous, and as I said, there was little to no gas or food to be seen for many miles on all sides.
Around 8pm, we made it to the Colorado border, where things were becoming much less rural. With less than 100 miles to Denver, the world became more familiar and chains like McDonalds reappeared after having been missing in action for the last 500 miles or so.
We had an adequate late night dinner at Perkins, and then proceeded onto our hotel, aptly called Hotel 3737 after its address. Now, we knew a couple things going into purchasing a room online for this place last night. For instance, it's supposedly in downtown Denver. Cool. It's also going through some renovations currently, but before the renovations, it got some really good reviews. Not a problem. Lastly, it was cheap as hell. In fact, the cheapest hotel yet, which is good when your budget begins to get thin towards the end of a trip like this.
We arrived around 11:45, and when I went inside, I already I felt as if this was going to be a VERY interesting experience. I don't know how to describe it, but simply put, this place was going through changes. Not only was it NOT in downtown like the site said it was, but things didn't really seem clean, rooms were being remodeled, one of the desk clerks was dressed in a hoodie, etc. And then our room, oh the room! The beds weren't quite made, and one bed was larger than the other. The walls were empty, and the bathroom was a bit on the grody side. Kat saw it, began laughing uncontrollably, and I think she may have lost her shit just a little.
Before we went to bed, we decided to take in what little Denver we could by going to a local dive bar called Harvey's Thunderbird Lounge. It was a pretty cool place about 30 blocks from the hotel, with super cheap beer and a free pool table. We had a couple drinks (Coors Light on draft, seeing as how we were in Denver and all), Arp and I went head to head in pool (I ended up winning 3 games to 1), and then off we went into the night back to our lively abode.
Tomorrow, we head to Colorado Springs and then onward to Utah.