KEYSTONE, SD. It’s morning in the Black Hills of South Dakota and it’s cold and damp.
In the mountains the suns come up over the rim of the narrow gorges and daylight creeps down the opposite side at a snails pace. Heavy dew forms early in the night and may never burn off entirely if the day is cloudy.
The tent has a heavy layer of beaded raindrops from yesterday’s shower and the inside walls are damp with condensate. If the clouds don’t part and allow the sun to dry it, we’ll have to shake it out when we break camp and put it away damp.
I envy the people who live here.
There is nothing quite like driving along the winding roads built through the narrow valleys walled by steep tree-covered hills. Perhaps your destination is within those hills, as ours was, or perhaps you’re on your way to someplace on the other side of them. But when you leave them you’ll dream about the the low clouds entangled in the tree tops for the rest of your life.
We’re camped outside of Keystone, a town of about 300 permanent residents and it seems like tens of thousands of transients. We set up at Kemp’s Camp, a delightful campground just a couple miles outside of town on a side canyon.
I’ve been here several times before, the last time with my children in a happier time. I brought them back with me to make new memories.
We have a guest with us, a young lady from Poland who is thinking about studying in the United States. With a limited time left on her visit we thought about taking her to see something really spectacular within a reasonable driving distance.
The Black Hills are home to two of three examples of American mountain sculpture, Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument, the latter still a work in progress.
Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mt. Rushmore, wanted to build a gigantic monument to the men who made America that could not easily or conveniently be pulled down by later generations, as has been the fate of so many throughout history. Most recently the twin Buddahs blown to bits by the Taliban barbarians in Afghanistan.
Korszak Ziolkowski’s family are engaged in a generations-long project to memorialize a great chief of the first nations of America, defeated but not conquered by the new American nation.
It is entirely fitting that the two monuments should be located close to each other. Just as it is entirely fitting that the great bas relief carved into the side of Stone Mountain, Georgia should honor the heroes of the Confederacy.
We are what our history has made us. If we did not honor the courage of those whose defeat led us to become what we are, we would be a petty people without honor.
And what have we become, what will we become as a nation?
In a short while we will break camp and decide where we will go and what we will see next.
Wherever we decide to go, we’ll start out across highways carved through mountains, covering distances in a day that used to take months for the first pioneers.
That’s what we have become, perhaps along the way we’ll get a hint of what we will become.