Lurking in the Mist
23 May 2008
One of the things that makes this country fun to explore is that its size and history imbue it with much variety, both in terms of terrain and culture. In these few short weeks on the road, I’ve driven through forests, plains, bayous, deserts, and mountains, and seen communities, food, art, and architecture representing dozens of cultures from across the globe. Surprisingly, the only thing that’s been mostly consistent has been the pleasant weather. Until this week.
To exaggerate only slightly, we had a blizzard on Wednesday, a typhoon on Thursday, and today, the clouds themselves descended from the heavens to survey the damages wrought by their attacks.
They were kind enough to wait until after we had seen Devils Tower, the great, sinister butte jutting out of northeastern Wyoming. It was a fairly quick visit, because if you’re not going to climb the tower, your options are limited to a couple of short trails around its perimeter. Having been initially introduced to the tower as a youth by Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a short visit was for the best anyway; if we had stayed much longer, I wouldn’t have been able to stop myself from finding a large pile of mashed potatoes from which to obsessively carve a replica of the tower. I mean, the fact that my photos from the site would make anyone think I’ve never seen a tree before already does little to silence any doubts about my mental health.
It was around the time we hit the South Dakota border that those warmonger clouds began their baleful descent, just in time to render Mount Rushmore indistinguishable from a blank sheet of paper. This was some of the thickest fog I’ve ever seen, and the only evidence that it was hiding something was in the gift shop selling images of that something emblazoned on almost every product humanity has endeavored to mass produce. That a thing so notoriously large and unmistakable could be fully obscured by anything was beyond comical, and we were kind of disappointed that things cleared up enough to actually get a good look at the monument for a few minutes.
It was everything you’ve seen in the pictures with one big exception: The pictures make it look like something an intrepid explorer might delightfully stumble upon whilst hiking through the untamed wilderness, a marvelously-preserved relic of an extinct civilization. In fact, viewing Mount Rushmore means standing on a large stone platform in front of a larger amphitheater, surrounded by parents barking at their kids to settle down, and using the kids’ full names so it’s clear they mean business. I wonder how many times Cortés had a magic moment shattered in that fashion.