The (Dead) Presidents of the United States of America

Ordinarily, when we make our epic journey across the heartland, we travel through Montana and North Dakota. But this time the professor had it in his head that he wanted to find a new route. To break up the monotony that is the vast expanse and lack of interstate Starbucks of our former routes. Also, he wanted to see Mt. Rushmore.

Which is in South Dakota.

So he cobbled together a slightly more southern trajectory to accommodate his childhood dream. He assured me it would only be one hour longer than our usual route. (I remain unconvinced.)

Thus,  on the second day of travel, we left the ‘comfort’ of our Best Western hotel room in Billings and headed towards Sioux Falls. In search of dead presidential faces carved-upon rock. (Dynamited-upon rock, actually.)

After many, many hours of driving, we veered off Interstate 90 and headed north on 16 towards the world-famous monument. ‘Who do you think is on that mountain,’ the professor asked the peanut gallery in the back of the car-van. Ever the educator. ‘George Washington,’ the Gort guessed. Which I personally found rather impressive since I’m not sure I knew who was on the mountain. (Actually, I’m still not sure I know who is on the mountain.) ‘Who else,’ the professor continued. ‘Stinky?’ the Hen guessed. Which I found decidedly less impressive. ‘Barack Obama?’ the Gort tried.

After another forty minutes of driving, we came upon a curved section of road with a designated area for cars to pull over and view the presidents in all their glory: Ta-Da! Mt. Rushmore.

And so, having seen the Presidents, I thought we’d turn around and get back on I-90. But the professor wanted to get a closer look. So we drove on, through the designated ‘park’ gates, where we paid the $11 parking fee. And we walked. With our three boys, all clad in red t-shirts, in various states of cooperation.

‘It’s a flashback to my childhood,’ the professor muttered, shaking his head at his red-shirt-clad sons. ‘My mom always made us wear the same shirt when we flew back to the States.’ ‘Well, there is something to be said for it,’ I opined, marvelling at the ease with which I could pinpoint the location of boy 1, 2 or 3. Simply because they were wearing the same colored t-shirt.

Next to leashes and muzzles, it’s a must for traveling with three small boys.

We meandered along the designated walkway, past the slightly contrived ‘sculpture’ areas where various park rangers waxed on enthusiastically about the intricacies of the monument. The Gort wanted to walk on the foot-wide wall surrounding the walkway. Having once been a small child myself, I understood the impulse to walk upon constrained surfaces. But his not-yet-two year old brother wanted to follow suit. And he would surely fall off the wall and injure himself, or one of us adults would have to hold his hand for the entire duration of the walk.

Umm, no thanks.

So we tried to explain to the boys that walking on the wall was prohibited, which led to weeping and gnashing of three sets of teeth, which led to all passersby staring at the screaming, red-shirted children and their inept parents, which led me to say ‘that’s it, we’re out of here,’ and the professor was all ‘what, we came all this way and now we’re just leaving?’

So he lectured his sons. And we stayed and we walked and we carried our youngest two and we gasped for breath after climbing a bazillion stairs.

And we saw Mt. Rushmore from a slightly closer vantage point than when we were in the car…..with our confined, subdued children.

I mean, seeing all the flags lining the walkway to the monument, and having the opportunity to purchase Mt. Rushmore pencils and books, added considerably to my monumental experience. But I think I would have somehow been okay if I’d just snapped a picture from the side of the road and driven back towards the interstate.

8 thoughts on “The (Dead) Presidents of the United States of America

  1. This really has to do with your previous writing post about not getting enough sleep and what not… When you get to Muncie, come into school and treat yourself to a facial, haircut, pedicure, manicure, whatever. It’s all pretty cheap. I would love to see you! Let me know if you’re interested. If not, we can just meet for coffee too, or ice cream… Muncie Custard is right next to my school… haha! 🙂

  2. What do you have against Mt. Rushmore? Must be all that time in Canada has made you unAmerican! Just kidding! An extra hour to your already epic trip? Yikes! You are a good woman!! (Hopefully you will be rewarded by many roadside coffee shops that also sell Cheetos!)

    PS Dressing the small ones in the same color doesn’t just work for boy-children, we do it as well. I have also heard that buying your children swimsuits (each their own color, the same every year) is a great way to round them up or locate one if she – or he – wanders off.)

  3. But if you stayed in the car, you wouldn’t have found the lost city of gold!

    Wait, that was Nicolas Cage, not you. I guess I was off by just one letter.

    I want to go see the monument soon too, and now that we live closer, it might happen. But we lived 1.5 hours from the Alamo for 13 years, and we never managed to take the kids. Just think about the wonderful memories of this trip that in a few years you will convince the boys they have.

  4. Kristen and Diana, yes I think I’m just grumpy we arrived at Sioux Falls at 1am!! I actually did enjoy the walk around the grounds (once the boys stopped yelping). Heather I’m counting on your magic abilities to fix Percy’s hair. I will send you a message when we get to Muncie!

  5. When me and my brothers were your kids’ age, we would pile in the car for a road trip to the West coast in the summer to visit Grandma. While a decidedly shorter route than the annual Johnson trip, there were NO stops. I don’t think I can count how many times I longingly looked out the window as we passed the ‘Enchanted Forest’ on hwy 1 – as we sped past, yet again.

    Fast forward a few years and my mom made a point of ensuring that we stopped and smelled the roses….errr… tumbleweed in the Dakotas on our way back from the college graduations of me and my bros, stopping at the Laura Ingalls Wilder homestead, Wall Drug, and Mt. Rushmore. The one tourist spot we missed was the Corn Palace in Mitchell. The thrill and excitement of these stops doesn’t quite make up for the lack of Starbucks en-route… but as an adult making those stops had a quirky kind of enjoyment to them.

    Whether or not you can identify the Presidents represented there, at least your kids won’t be longing for a visit to the rock-heads on every subsequent road trip to Indiana 🙂

    Enjoy the rest of your trip! Falls Park in Sioux Falls is nice – and has no 1ft wide perimeter walls to tempt the boys 🙂

    1. Julie, I remember that sign for the enchanted forest – and looking longingly at it as we sped past one trip to Seattle. Maybe someday? 🙂


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