In truth, I had not thought about visiting Mount Rushmore all that much.
It was an optional stop on my first trip through the Black Hills. Devils Tower was going to be the centerpiece of the journey, followed by Rapid City and Hill City, South Dakota, for the cosmopolitan experience and the wine experience, respectively. If we had time and the weather cooperated, we figured, sure, we’d see the faces of the presidents.
After all, it wouldn’t have been the first viewing for either of us. My boyfriend had visited the monument years ago with his family, and although I’d never actually been on the grounds, I’d glimpsed it from the road when I moved to Wyoming from Wisconsin, about three and a half years behind me now.
It was February – is there any better time to plan an interstate move? My mother had been driving my crumbling and very likely overloaded car on the icy roads. I was in the passenger seat, tending to my darling and ancient orange cat, who was relocating along with me. We had chosen a longer route that offered a view of the famous faces from the road, just to add a little sightseeing to the drive.
And when we reached that point – well, there they were. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln. It was undoubtedly cool to see them, but we were far away, so they were less imposing than they are from the ground at the monument. I remember driving slowly to take it in, but in retrospect, that could also have been linked to the condition of the road, the car, the wind – so new to us at the time – and my poor mother’s nerves.
In short, Mount Rushmore did not take my breath away the first time I saw it. It was impressive, but given the magnitude of the move I was making and the admittedly limited abilities of my brain, I was already overwhelmed. I lacked the capacity to be wowed.
So that’s about what I was expecting when we had discussed a potential return visit and then solidified those plans. But instead, when I caught my first glimpse of the four faces, they were blurry. My eyes had welled instantly. And although I hadn’t anticipated it, I knew why.
Back then, I had been taking the biggest risk I’d ever taken – a calculated risk, yes, but one that meant leaving my family and exploring unfamiliar terrain. It meant learning to live entirely on my own (well, with the darling orange cat). It meant bracing for the possibility of gaping loneliness in a place that was foreign to me.
As I looked up at the four of them, the transformations I’ve experienced since then tore through my mind like a river. I have found true friendships and discovered favorite places in Wyoming. I’ve drummed up the courage to make the first major purchase of my life – a car that starts every time I need it to and isn’t afraid of icy roads. I’ve traveled the state with my boyfriend and started to build a home with him. Nothing that I would have dared to hope on that icy February day.
All that time, those four faces were up there on that mountain in South Dakota, and that wind has blown over the fairgrounds and the prairies and the hills. And of course, they’ve all been at it much longer than that, and will continue to be – the presidents have been gazing at us for decades, and the gusts are simply timeless.
But I’m not. We’re not. We have such a limited time to do all the things we want to do – take adventures, learn new things, cultivate friendships, fall in love. We never stop chasing. It’s a lot to think about all at once.
But against the backdrop of Mount Rushmore, where time is slow and winds are strong, there’s time to think and reflect and smile. There’s time to think of how incredibly fortunate you are to have the friends you’ve found and to love the people you do. There’s time, too, to think about where you’ll find yourself the next time you see those faces – and how grateful you will be for all the moments in between.