June 21, 2019
“Imagine going to the holy land in Israel, whether you're a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim, and start carving up the mountain of Zion. It's an insult to our entire being. It's bad enough getting four white faces carved in up there [on Mount Rushmore], the shrine of hypocrisy.” -Russell Means
Here I am, 40,000 miles away from where I started. I have seen more than I will ever be able to remember. This feeble mortal brain cannot hold every moment, every emotion, every memory. Treasures weathered away. I have my catalog of images to remind me. Two terabytes and counting. A lifetime of wonder reduced to a collection of pixels and words. I’m not even halfway done yet.
Somewhere in the Black Hills of South Dakota, four stone faces stare out blankly over the heads of a throng of tourists and into the distant horizon of America. For millions of years, the granite domes of Mount Rushmore stood watch over the land. In just a few short decades they have been reshaped by the hand of man. Now, the disembodied heads of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln stand guard – over what, I don’t know. I have never liked this place. This is the one unit of the National Park System that I wish did not exist. As a sculptor, I admire the work. I am impressed with the scale and the challenge – even the accuracy of each likeness. Also, as a sculptor, I wish it wasn’t there. I wish the mountain was still intact. Only the hubris of man could ever try to outdo natures perfect forms. I loathe that Post-Victorian sensibility of dominion over all the natural world. The same attitude that carved road tunnels through living sequoias, hammered off stalactites in Oregon Caves for souvenirs, and caged bears and cougars for gawking tourists. Rushmore was timeless – austere and permanent to us feeble mortals. Now it is temporal – defined only by the meaning and importance we place upon it. Will the next generations remember who those white men were – in a hundred years, 500, 1000?
Down the road and into Wyoming sits Devils Tower – an unadulterated natural form, also sacred to American Indians. Here, nature shows off her work. A natural sculpture so magnetic and powerful in its totemic presence that it draws you in from the moment you see it jutting out of the horizon. Austere. Mysterious. Beautiful. Timeless. American Indians called it Bear Lodge. Recent lobbying efforts have been made to change the name back – arguing the name Devils Tower is anathema to this place of peace and prayer. I couldn’t agree more. This trip has borne out many beautiful contradictions, and visiting Rushmore and Devils Tower back-to-back has revealed yet another. This is the kind of perspective you get from a trip like this. It is stunning to live these moments each day. It is an eye-opening experience that I wish I could share with every American. For now, I will do my best to share these memories through my images and words. A lifetime of wonder, all too soon weathered away.
Parks visited since June 11th:
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
Effigy Mounds National Monument
Pipestone National Monument
Missouri National Recreational River
Niobrara National Scenic River
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
Badlands National Park
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Devils Tower National Monument
Jewel Cave National Monument
Wind Cave National Park
Scotts Bluff National Monument
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
Fort Laramie National Historic Site
Rocky Mountain National Park
Dinosaur National Monument