Mount Rushmore

Monday morning was Labor Day. We ate breakfast at the Starbucks and looked for a Radio Shack or some other electronic store to find a USB cable that had a mini-USB plug on one side. I had to get the images off my memory cards or I would be limited by the one remaining card to how many pictures I could take at Mount Rushmore. I was able to get a signal for my Droid and used the Places app to find a Radio Shack. It was barely past 8:30, but we headed for the store anyway. We had no idea of store hours, especially with the holiday, but it was less than a mile away and so worth taking the time to find. I was lucky, because the store was already open when we arrived and had just what I needed.

Today it was my turn to drive. We left the store and headed back through town to the main street that would take us out to Mount Rushmore. I think it was about twenty miles or so to the monument park, but the road was very pretty through the mountains. Dark pine trees were clumped everywhere on the hills, which is probably why they’re called the Black Hills. The weather was overcast and windy, but it didn’t seem too bad — until we actually got to Mount Rushmore. And there, it was actually cold. I was wearing a fleece jacket that the wind gleefully ignored, and my hands got so cold and stiff that I had trouble operating my camera lens.

The overcast sky was actually a bit dramatic, looming over the monument with brooding dark clouds. It seemed as though the four presidents were deep in thought, wrestling with some deep philosophical issues. I’ve wanted to see Mount Rushmore since I first saw Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest.” Well, the monument is impressive. Photographs really can’t do it justice, because the size is just not something that you can appreciate until you are actually standing in front of it. The museum has exhibits showing how the sculpture was carved, and pictures of men sitting in bosun’s chairs or standing in crude wooden boxes to do their drilling or chiseling. I cringe at the thought of hanging off the side of a mountain, but to do that while operating a jackhammer in the wind and cold defies imagination.

We stayed outside and took some pictures before touring the museum. Once we thawed out, we went back outside and found that the sky had started to clear. Blue patches appeared in the clouds and washes of sunlight swept over the monument, changing the play of light and shadows on the faces. Every minute it was different. I kept taking pictures, varying the shutter speed as necessary. Most of the time I prefer to use the manual setting on the camera, but I also tend to use the aperture priority setting. That means I set the lens aperture myself, but allow the camera to select the shutter speed. Aperture priority gives me a lot of creative control and with a digital camera I find myself taking multiple pictures with different aperture just to see the effects.

After a few more pictures and touring the museum, we had lunch and headed back towards the entrance, taking pictures of the flags along the walkway and waiting for the wind to straighten the flags before we snapped a picture. We took a few last photos of the memorial and went back to the car, buckled in, and got out the atlas. Next stop, Wapiti Valley, Wyoming. And hours of driving…