Tuesday, June 28, 2011

the great american vacation, part 3

The satellite image above can be enlarged w/ a click. On the bottom right side is Badlands National Park. It looks like a landscape from another planet. On the left side is the Black Hills and the Mount Rushmore National Monument. These places are less than 2 hours apart by car and worlds apart in appearance.
Between the Badlands and Mount Rushmore are the towns of Wall and Keystone, South Dakota. Almost everything cheesy and patriotic and made in China is available in these tourist trap towns. The false front of western streetscapes in old movies is alive and well in here. Nothing is quite what it seems (but we all know better, don't we?). I make no claims to be above it all; I like t-shirts and the occasional shot glass and coffee cup.
I did not take the images on the left (immediately above) but I wanted all to get a feel for downtown Wall, SD. What I find worth contemplating is the juxtaposition of the awesome natural wonders and the souvenir stands which are full of the familiar, at best. Is there a deeper reason then a remembrance for such disparate phenomena to exist side by side? Does the souvenir stand help us exit the realm of the awe-inspiring and return to civilization and its discontents?
Here is Keystone, SD:
Here is my postcard image of Rushmore:
It is an impressive site. My interest begins with watching re-runs of North by Northwest on TV as a kid. It is big and many people view it with a reverence that borders  on the religious. Some say Van Morrison's Tupelo Honey refers to this.
Greenpeace activists used it to send a big message to Barack Obama a few years ago:
The mountain pine beetle is having a devastating effect on the pines that look so dark from a distance that it gives the Black Hills their name:
Still, there is something about a double rainbow at the end of a long day on the road.

These days my roots seem deeper than my wings can spread - that is to say I don't travel quite as well as I used to back in the day. I still like to see new stuff and I still like to experience the visually familiar, like Rushmore, in person but it is bittersweet in so many ways.
The sweetness is about the grand, expansive nature of this country; we have before us what we need to thrive - will we do it? The bitter is seen in environmental damage, man-made devastation and a sense of falling below potential.