Mt. Rushmore, a beautiful sight
Photo by Dorock

I just love the national parks. When I was a high schooler in Houston, Texas, my parents tried to get me to think about being a dentist when I grew up. All I seemed to hear before leaving for college was “Think about it. A dentist.” This was a routine plea from Mom and Dad. But every time I heard the word dentist, all I could picture in my mind’s eye was a ranger giving a tour at Yellowstone, or another ranger explaining the hiking perils at the Grand Canyon. I didn’t want to be a dentist; I wanted to be a ranger.

I never took my parents’ advice, and I never became a ranger either. But I never gave up a love for the park system.

On our Western Swing, Patti and I left northern Colorado, headed through Wyoming to South Dakota to visit Mt. Rushmore. As a reminder, one summer when I was 19, I worked for my father in Wyoming. On one weekend, Dad and I went to Mt. Rushmore and I loved it, so since we were somewhat in the vicinity, I thought Patti might enjoy Mt. Rushmore, too.

After we left Cheyenne, we headed north to Newcastle, Wyoming on a two-lane road that was about 250 uneventful miles to our hotel. And, yes, it was truly miles and miles of nothin’ but miles and miles. In fact, as we saw our gas tank get closer to empty, we went through 2-3 towns that did not have any gas stations nor any restaurants.

There were antelope everywhere. Actually, about as many antelope as there were cattle. And, on this particular road, Patti and I would top a hill and see about 20-30 miles of the road up ahead. At any given moment, each of us expected to see Tom Hanks dressed up in running shorts and shoes, filming a scene from “Forrest Gump” — with “Running on Empty” by Jackson Brown playing on the XM.

Roads and miles in the West just don’t seem to be the same as anywhere else in the U.S. For example, if I have a routine 30-mile trip along the interstate here in Texas, it’d probably take me 20 minutes, 30 minutes tops. Now, if I have a routine 30-mile trip to make in Colorado, it could be 45-minutes to an hour. Twists and turns, ups and downs in elevation are factors we rarely have to figure into our planning in lower elevations.

When we made it to Newcastle, we found our motel — the Pines Motel. Actually, it looked a bit more like the Bates Motel, and no Tony Perkins in sight, thank goodness. A hotel with 12 rooms all in a row, with your parking spot directly in front of your door. Ah yes, the good ole-fashioned western motel. Patti checked us in and we took the room. The lady who checked Patti in asked her if we wanted coffee in the morning and poured some coffee into a filter for us to use in the coffeemaker in our room. Very quaint and very small. It was the pride and joy of a mother and her daughter. The next morning when we were getting ready, I noticed one thing that I had never noticed in any other hotel. There were two thick, fluffy bath towels and two very thin bath towels. I never noticed this in Ritz Carltons or Four Seasons, but having two different styles of towels was nirvana to me. I like the thin towels and Patti likes the thicker ones. We both got our wish in this very small, charming, out-of-the-way hotel in Newcastle, Wyoming. I will never forget that.

On the road into South Dakota and Mt. Rushmore, we could see the impact of the tree beetle on the forests of the Plains. There were acres and acres of dead trees on both sides of the road. In many cases, residents hate storms because they worry that a lightning strike will start a fire that will spread like an infectious disease. But almost as dangerous were the tree beetles that would go through trees as if they were the mightiest saws. Again, acres and acres of blighted trees lost for a generation.

Crazy Horse memorial is showing progress
Photo by Dorock

On the way to Mt. Rushmore, we passed by a similar massive sculpture of Crazy Horse, key figure in the Plains Indians who figured prominently in the demise of Custer and his troops at the Little Big Horn battle. This sculpture is almost three times larger than Mt. Rushmore and celebrates the Plains Indians that occupied the Black Hills. At the Crazy Horse memorial, there is an impressive array of Indian artwork — very impressive.

Mt. Rushmore is one of my favorite places. When Patti and I arrived, we were both very impressed that the park was crowded. It is a very remote monument, built in the Black Hills near Rapid City, South Dakota, but it still is not really near anything. So, we were very pleasantly surprised to see quite a few people all around the site.

We both wanted to find the place where Cary Grant and Eve Marie Saint shared a meal during “North by Northwest.” But the Visitor Center and Avenue of the Flags have undergone recent restorations. The columns with the flags that make up the walkway to the best vantage point to view the sculptures represent all 50 states.

It’s just beautiful
Photo by Dorock

We also wanted to see if we could hike up behind the heads (answer: no way, Jose).But, with the renovations, there is a Presidential Trail that goes right up to the rock slag field that lay below the sculptured heads (don’t you dare try to steal a rock from the slag field). There are all sorts of very imaginative and creative things to enjoy at the park, including an audio tour, junior ranger programs, a museum and theater and daily ranger-led programs. We didn’t have the time to stay till evening, but the evening lighting ceremony is quite moving, from what others told us.

In the theater, the movie that shows the history of building of the monument is very impressive.

Here are a few facts about the monument:

  • Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor, and his workers started working on the site in 1927 and it was finished in 1941
  • Each face is 60 feet tall
  • Each eye is 11 feet wide
  • Washington’s nose is 21 feet long — all other noses are 20 feet long
  • Washington’s mouth is 18 feet wide
  • Originally, Jefferson’s face was to the left of Washington’s on the mountain
  • 400 workers built the site
  • Washington was chosen because he was the first president; Jefferson because of expansion (Louisiana Purchase); Roosevelt because of development (Panama Canal and national parks); Lincoln for saving the Union.

And there is even space still up there for Patti
Photo by Dorock

If you are thinking of visiting, don’t forget the bookstore. Some of the photo books showing the construction of the monument are awe-inspiring, and the process that Borglum used to transfer the measurements from the plaster casts to the granite mountains is so dadgum impressive.

If you want more information about Mt. Rushmore, go to

For the past three and a half weeks, Patti and I have been traveling. We put the trip meter on 0 when we pulled out of the driveway and after conclusion of the trip, we noticed the same trip meter read 4646.2 miles. For this trip, I believe there was a memory for every mile. Let me tell you how this started.

Early in our marriage, Patti and I had the “vacation” talk. Together, we discussed and resolved answers to the following questions: How do you like to spend your time on vacation? Where do you like to go? Are you a “go-see-things-and-keep-going” person or a person who likes to go land somewhere and relax?

After our discussion we realized that the two families we came from had different answers to these questions. Patti and her family were pretty much go to the beach, crash, relax, refresh and return. And, since her dad was a teacher, sometime her vacations were two months or longer at the beach. My family was pretty much the opposite: Dad would have, at the most, two weeks off. We’d go see things and keep going. We’d get back home the Sunday before Dad would have to be back at work on Monday.

But, over the years of our marriage, Patti and I refined our answers to these same questions a bit more. Patti is a water/beach person; I’m a mountain person.

So, for this travel trip, Patti graciously agreed to do a mountain trip with me. Besides, we wanted to be in Missoula, Montana on the appropriate date to see our niece, Ciara, graduate from high school. We wanted to drive and not fly.

Along the way, we had Sirius/XM radio to keep us company and informed. We enjoyed the highway travel, and, I must admit, when I was driving, I spent very little time looking at the road because I was “goshing” and “geeing” about the high peaks, snow fields, vast plains, the endless beautiful vistas, the babbling brooks and creeks next to the roads. These creeks flow quickly toward the Mississippi on the east side of the continental divide and toward the Pacific on the west side of the divide.

We were tourists all the way. While we enjoyed seeing the massive wind farms in West Texas, the ominous presence of the long-dormant volcano, Capulin Mountain in northern New Mexico, was a reminder of what the land was like long before it was civilized.

We visited Pike’s Peak near Manitou Springs, Colorado; Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado; the wide-open plains of Wyoming; Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota; Devil’s Tower in Wyoming; Little Big Horn River and Custer’s last stand in Montana; very, very windy plains in Idaho; Brigham Young’s beautiful and enticing Salt Lake City; the site of Butch Cassidy’s first bank robbery, Telluride, Colorado; the inspiring glacier and wind-sculpted Shiprock in New Mexico; the adobe pueblos of Santa Fe; the very, very small towns of eastern New Mexico and West Texas.

Devil’s Tower

That was quite a bit of driving, but we enjoyed every minute of it. While we drove, I kept thinking of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, and Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways. Passing through the canyon lands of Utah, I kept looking for John Wayne on horseback looking for Natalie Wood, dressed as an Indian squaw. We tried not to speed and just soak up the ambiance of the landscapes. As such, we had plenty of time to talk and laugh and be distracted by an endless supply of beautiful sights.

But since every day is a new opportunity for a learning experience, we did learn a few things along the way. Here are just a few:

  • The vastness of the mountain views, the endless rolling plains left Patti and me with a feeling that every step we took and every mile we drove, we were surrounded by God’s imagination
  • The damage a simple tree beetle can do to a forest is just astronomical and very disappointing
  • The higher up you go in the mountains the less obesity you see or notice
  • In talking with various people along the way, the longer people lived in the shadow of gorgeous mountains, the less they noticed them
  • Along the two-lane roads in Wyoming, just because a road sign says its 42 miles to the next town doesn’t mean there will be a gas station or cafe there
  • Even though Devil’s Tower is famous for the alien encounter scene in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kindit is also a religious site for numerous North American Indian tribes, and houses one of the largest groundhog communities in North America
  • It was very refreshing to see Mt. Rushmore very crowded with visitors, even though it is in a remote part of South Dakota
  • in 2012, because of the influence of Wal-Marts, Best Buys and other retailers, Montrose, Colorado looks just like Dothan, Alabama, and that’s a real shame
  • If you walk down the sidewalks of Telluride, Colorado and you see a couple walking a Lab, a Golden Retriever and a lamb wearing a diaper, you are not seeing things
  • I have first-hand evidence that it is very much not true that when you hit a golf ball at 10,000 foot elevation it will go farther than if you hit the ball at sea level
  • Touring the entire breadth of the Little Big Horn Battlefield, one can’t help but feel that Gen. Custer was so stupid, so vain and so arrogant, and 210 American soldiers were sacrificed because of his flaws
  • There is absolutely no feeling I have ever experienced like standing before a church congregation and thanking them for their prayers to God for my health and well-being.

And because of these learnings, 4646.2 has become an important number to Patti and me.

I’ll share details with you over the next few weeks. God bless you all.