• Liz Applegate

Travel Tip: Why I chose to "Rush-Less" at Mt. Rushmore

Updated: Jul 9, 2018



We need to slow down - just a little - to see just how good we really have it.

It’s 9:00 pm and I’m sitting in the Mt Rushmore amphitheater waiting for the nightly lighting show to begin. I knew it would have a patriotic spin to it because, well, we’re at Mt. Rushmore for heaven’s sake. (Side note: I find it ironic that the name of this iconic patriotic place is “Rushmore” as it invites you to actually slow down, relax and move back in time. However, I digress and I must keep moving 😉).

Rarely do I sit and think patriotic thoughts because of the rush of everyday life. These thoughts just don’t seep in because of the need to be here, to post that, to read this, to shoot that, etc.

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What DOES manage to seep in, however, is the cynicism that often surrounds this country. Disrespect for our President, past and present. Disrespect for our military. Even disrespect for our country’s history - for those who have lived and died so we can remain free. Sometimes the voices expressing frustration with what is wrong with this country are so loud that finding what is good with this country seems to get drowned out.

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But wait, let me back up. Earlier today we had been at the monument to see the sites and take in this amazing feat that is Mt. Rushmore. As I watched my 19-month-old grand baby, we skimmed the history of Mt. Rushmore and walked around the grounds. I’m sad to say it, but my thoughts went something like this, “yada, yada, sculpture by some guys whose name I can’t pronounce; yada, yada, amazing view; yada, yada, be sure to get the picture so you don’t forget this time, yada, yada, yada, yada...” A lot of facts. Not a whole lot of feeling. Let’s just say I really didn’t soak in a whole lot of patriotism. I was more interested in my Instagram feed and how I would portray this “experience” than I was in actually capturing the patriotism that was all around me.

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After a long day of seeing the monument and other sites nearby we headed back to our hotel for some much needed rest - with the intent to go back to Mount Rushmore for the lighting ceremony of the President’s faces later that night. I have to admit I really wasn’t that excited to go back as it was a 30 minute drive back to the monument from our hotel room, someone would get left out because the baby was sleeping and someone would have to stay with him and frankly I was somewhat all “funned” out for the day. Secretly I hoped everyone would give up on that idea and we would all just stay and hang out in the hotel.

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When the time came to go back, one person jumped on board, then another and soon the popular vote was swinging to head back to the Monument. What could I do? I HAD to go along (you know, the whole FOMO thing).

We parked and headed down to our seats in what we found out later was the George Washington section. The program began with a well versed Ranger on stage who was quite good at working an audience. We were asked to guess which famous person said this - yada, yada..some really great quote about our country and blah, blah acceptance and kindness towards others.

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At first the answers were easy - whichever president’s “section” you were sitting in was the right answer - if you were in the Washington section, the answer to the quote he gave was “Washington”, and so forth. But then he began to throw in some great curveball quotes from other famous people and the competitive nature in me kicked in - I began to listen more intently to see if I could catch those tricky ones.

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Following this fun interactive back and forth, our buddy the Ranger turned his attention to the Junior Rangers in the audience whom he had “inducted” and/or spoken to earlier that day. He asked them to solemnly promise to fulfill their duties as a Junior Ranger by following the “very important” instructions he was about to give - clean up around you, never leave any trash lying around, and be sure your parents don’t leave any personal belongings on the bench at the end of the program - “ I hate to fill out Lost and Found reports.”

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Following these instructions, we were directed to watch a well-done-for-the-time-it-was-made video on each of the four presidents whose faces reside on Mount Rushmore and the history on how the whole project came about. The film concluded by flashing a montage of different images representing the beautiful diversity of this country while the song America, The Beautiful played majestically in the background.



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I must admit, I finally quieted myself and listened, really listened, to what the Monument had been trying to tell me all day. To my surprise I found a small chip was broken off my hardened, cynical heart and in its place I found a small patriotic spot in its place. Hmm. Who knew?!

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Halfway through the film, spotlights were suddenly flipped on and the faces of the four presidents we had just learned about were illuminated. It was all pretty majestic.

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Chip. Chip.

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We were then asked by our Ranger buddy to stand and sing the National Anthem. As I stood in the dark with 200 of my new best friends and sang the words to the national anthem, I gazed up at the two things illuminated in the night sky - 1) our country’s flag, a representation of our country and all it embodies; and, 2) the faces of the four men chosen to represent those who have sacrificed, and continued to sacrifice, to make this country great. I suddenly found myself contemplating on what it really meant to be an American - even with all of its many flaws. Am I willing to recognize what is GOOD about this country?

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Chip. Chip.

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At the conclusion of the national anthem our Ranger buddy asked all of the military personnel in the audience (or a representative from each family who had lost someone from the military) to join him on stage. Again I felt my heart being chipped at as scores and scores of young men and old men alike silently filed down the darkened aisles to the well lit stage - willing to be recognized for the sacrifice they had made for this country.

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Chip. Chip.

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Then in silence, with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln looking on, seven of these men (while their remaining comrades in arms looked on) retired that same flag I had been reflecting on. It was done with respect. No fanfare. No elaborate ceremony. Just seven men - each in normal clothes, brought together by their love of a country they had each served - closed out another day of freedom by respectfully lowering the flag, folding it properly and retiring it so it could be raised another day to watch over our freedoms. It really was a beautiful sight.

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At the conclusion of this simple flag ceremony the night’s program was over. Complete. Pretty simple.

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I stood to leave but my eye caught a movement on stage. I turned to watch as some of those veterans still on stage began to shake hands with one another - the man who had brought with him two of his young children; the young woman who had also served her country; the older gentleman who had stopped at the monument on his cross country trip in his RV - they were all there, brought together by a single cause.

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It was time to go home. As we were leaving and everyone filed in next to those veterans returning to their seats, I noticed one guy - who had been sitting right behind us - return to his family. His young daughter jumped into his arms, gave him a huge hug and exclaimed, “You did it Dad!”

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My heart was full. He had, indeed, “done it” - not just for his daughter but for me and for you. What a lesson to be sure.

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This country is NOT perfect. We are an imperfect people with cynical views on life. We get so busy with life we don’t take the time to think for ourselves - we listen to the mainstream media which tends to focus on the flaws of this country instead of the good in this country. This country is good! It is not perfect but it IS good. There are good PEOPLE in this country. There are people who love their families. There are people who love God. There are people who still stand, and fight, and give their lives for this country. There are people who do quiet acts of kindness for others with no need for fanfare. This is a GREAT country and I’m proud to be a part of it. Are you? Are you willing to stand up and be counted as one who is proud to be an American? I found out I am. I discovered this about myself tonight as I felt my heart stir in a quiet, simple ceremony on a mountain in South Dakota.

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