National Memorial

Fred’s Mount Rushmore National Memorial


The purpose of the memorial is to communicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States with colossal statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.

        Gutzon Borglum

Seven-hundred sixty-eight days. That is the number of days since we launched on this Odyssey and up until this past week we had not spent any time in our new home state of South Dakota. We also had not seen one of the most iconic symbols of America, Mount Rushmore, but that changed recently when we made the trip from our campground near Wind Cave NP to Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

I have to admit that we both thought that Mount Rushmore would be very touristy, crowded and a bit kitschy, but as we were driving up the winding road leading to the memorial we came around a bend in the road and there it was, the four great men carved in stone with a brilliant blue sky as a backdrop. Both Laura and I were struck by, well, the magnificence of the extraordinary sculpture.

The idea of South Dakotan historian Doane Robinson, the sculpture was designed and executed by the Danish-American Gutzon Borglum, an already accomplished artist when he undertook this monumental project, and his son, Lincoln Borglum. It was Gutzon Borglum’s idea to create a sculpture that included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, and to carve the piece in Mount Rushmore, near Keystone, South Dakota. There is a wonderful national park visitor center with a movie that explains how the project began in 1927 and did not end until 1941, just months after the death of Borglum, who labored tirelessly directing a team of workers over the 14-year period. Lincoln Borglum saw the project through to completion after the death of his father. Interestingly, 90% of the 60-foot tall sculptures were carved in granite using explosives, with jackhammers used to smooth out the rough edges.

Yes, we did have to pay $11 to park in a three-level parking garage.  Yes, it was crowded. And yes, there were somewhat kitschy items in the gift shop. But you know what, when you move past all of that, consider what an artistic and engineering marvel the sculpture is, walk through the Avenue of Flags from every state and look up at the four individuals who were so important in making this great country what it is today, you can not help but feel a tremendous sense of awe and pride.

Photos from Mount Rushmore National Memorial are below.

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in a photo set.  The sets are arranged to be viewed from the upper left corner across. To close a photo set, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.



Journey Through Nebraska and South Dakota

Ever since returning from our short “vacation from our vacation” in L.A. to see Garrison Keillor’s last show, we have been turning it up on national park and park unit visits.  We are taking advantage of the nice summer weather by spending the better part of July in the north central part of the U.S., a.k.a. the Great Plains grasslands area which, incidentally, we just learned is the largest ecosystem in the U.S. — who knew?!  Anyway, we are having a busy three weeks in Nebraska and the Dakotas before we make our way over to Billings, Montana, from which we will fly back up to Alaska to visit the final two [of the eight up in Alaska] national parks we missed during our trip up there last year.  But I’m getting ahead of myself — Nebraska and South Dakota first.

NPS Passport Cancellation StampI’ve decided to do something a little different with this post.  Instead of uploading photos from this Nebraska/Dakotas leg of our trip, I’ve decided to share drawings from my sketchbook.  For those of you who don’t know, the National Park Service Visitor Centers sell passport books and then each NP Visitor Center has passport stamps for inking into your passport book.  Instead of the traditional NPS passport book, I have created my own; I’m actually on my third book of sketches and stamps now — I figure I’ve drawn over 200 pages for all of the national park units that we’ve visited.

Here are my renditions of what we have seen in Nebraska and South Dakota:

My sketch of Scotts Bluff NMScotts Bluff National Monument – Gering, NE — The Oregon Trail represented promises of a new life out west.  The California Trail promised gold.  The Mormon Trail lead many seeking religious freedom to the Promised Land out in Salt Lake City.  All three trails brought early pioneers through Nebraska where, after weeks of travel across prairie grasslands, they met up with 800′ bluffs.  Thousands of wagon trains passed by the daunting bluff known as Scotts Bluff which was accompanied by a tricky climb through Mitchell Pass.  Also passing by here, in the short-lived era of the Pony Express [1860-1861], riders changed horses at the Scottsbluff station.

My sketch of Chimney Rock NHSChimney Rock National Historic Site – Bayard, NE — Before they got to Scotts Bluff, settlers saw this iconic rock monolith.  Visible for miles around in the flat Nebraska landscape, this eroded remnant of a butte reaches 325′ into the sky and was certainly a prominent landmark for the westward-bound settlers.

During our two-day stay in this area I couldn’t help but imagine what it must have been like to travel across the country in a bumpy wagon train — the dust from the dry tracks of the wagon trains that came before… the foul smells of the oxen… the unpredictable weather that no doubt included rain, sleet and snow… terrible terrible sickness and frequent death that beset travelers not up for such a strenuous trip… the list of unpleasantries goes on.  And yet in the name of “Manifest Destiny,” travel across the country these pioneers did, in search of a better life.  I guess I shouldn’t complain about my small closets in Charley, now should I…?


My sketch of Agate Fossil Beds NMAgate Bluffs Fossil Beds National Monument – Harrison, NE — Rich deposits of fossils have been found in this area by paleontologists suggesting that ancient but now distinct creatures once roamed in this area.  Given the volume of fossils here, it is believed that during a period of drought animals concentrated around the scarce watering holes that were available.  Over time they ate up all the vegetation around these few water spots, and then in the heat and drought grew too weak to walk farther out for food, thus they died by the watering holes, became covered in mud, and were then preserved as fossils.  Among the skeletons found here are strange looking creatures including a small rhinoceros, a carnivorous bear-dog, a land-dwelling beaver, a bad-ass hog, a tiny gazelle-camel, and other Miocene-epoch animals.  For over 100 years now paleontologists have been studying these fossils which has helped answer questions about the past.

A second part of this national monument is an incredibly impressive collection of American Indian artifacts given to one James H. Cook, a frontiersman in this area, by people of the Lakota (Sioux) tribe.  In 1874 Cook met Chief Red Cloud and the two developed a steadfast friendship over decades, during which time Cook received many gifts from the Indians.  Today the family’s collection belongs to the park and many priceless items are on display that tell of the Native ways of life.


20160717_185203Jewel Cave National Monument – Custer, SD — There are several cave systems in this area, including the nearby Wind Cave National Park — another Jolly Out There destination, of course — and each is known for something specific.  Jewel Cave is named for its gem-like calcite crystals that sparkle when illuminated.  These are just one of the many speleothems, or cave formations, that can be seen when touring the caves.  While Frostwork is the signature formation, others include Draperies, Dogtooth spar, Gypsum flowers, and even Popcorn and Bacon.

The only way to see the caves is through ranger-guided tours.  Jewel Cave offers a couple of touring options, but visitors only see a small portion of the 180 miles of mapped passageways; the rest of the cave has been set aside for research and is not open to the public.  Jewel Cave is the third longest cave in the world but it is still being explored and new passageways discovered by volunteer cave explorers.


My sketch of Mount Rushmore NMMount Rushmore National Memorial – Keystone, SD — What started as a preposterous idea to draw sightseers to the state of South Dakota became a work of art for the ages.  This is Mount Rushmore, the magnificent American symbol that honors our past presidents who were dedicated to the birth, growth, development, and preservation of our nation.  

Initially conceived to be a parade of Indian leaders and American explorers who shaped the frontier, the idea for a huge granite sculpture as a gateway to the West was met with skepticism and even hostility.  Undaunted by public opinion, champions of the idea called upon master sculptor Gutzon Borglum, a Danish (yay!) immigrant who was just beginning to achieve fame for his “big” work.  Borglum changed the location and even the subject of the initial idea, and in doing so elevated the memorial to a national cause.  

Calvin Coolidge dedicated the memorial in 1927 and work commenced.  It took 14 years to complete the four heads carved high into the granite outcroppings where the Black Hills rise from the plains [and incidentally, the original name of the rock Borglum chose was Mount Rushmore so the name stuck], but only six of those years involved actual carving on the rock face.  Borglum died in March of 1941 but his son supervised the final work which stopped in October 1941 on the eve of the U.S. entry into World War II.  Mount Rushmore overwhelmed its critics and continues to dazzle the world with over two million visitors each year.

My sketch of Minuteman Missile NHSMinuteman Missile National Historic Site – the grassy plains of SD — “At the end of World War II — the first and only wartime use of atomic bombs — the United States possessed only six nuclear weapons.  After the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb four years later, the arms race took off.  Within four decades, the global arsenal had multiplied to a peak of around 65,000 weapons.”  The display inside the Visitor Center at the Minuteman Missile NHS charts the world’s nuclear stockpile and illustrates how the United States , its allies, and its enemies went to the brink and back during the Cold War.

Fortunately for mankind most of the missile silos have been deactivated and destroyed, but a couple of these 1960s missile sites were preserved and turned into a museum where visitors can explore the significance of the arms race, learn about Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), and understand their role as a nuclear deterrent that maintained peace and prevented war.  Delta-01 is the launch control facility and a couple of miles away, Delta-09 is the old launch facility, both preserved in time.

So many park units… so little time to write about them!

We are on a tear — ten national park units in nine days!  We’ve seen so many wonderful park units on our drive from Salt Lake City to Chicago!!  We were very excited to travel through Colorado where we visited the Colorado Monument, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Old Bent’s Fort National Historic Site and Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.  And then there was Kansas where we visited Fort Larned National Historic Site and the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site.  Next came Missouri where we visited the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site.  And finally we made it to Illinois where we visited the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Lincoln Museum, and the Old State Capital State Historic Site.  Although not a national park property, we also visited the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home in Abilene, Kansas.  And finally, we traveled on or over several national historic trails including the Santa Fe Trail, the Lewis & Clark Trail, the California National Historic Trail, the Oregon National Historic Trail and the Underground Railroad Freedom Network.  Yes, that’s a lot of places to visit — I hope I remembered them all!

It’s killing me, but I’m not going to have the time to write specifically about each of these fabulous park units, but they do each deserve attention.  The forts were wonderfully re-constructed and we loved seeing how they were appointed with period-appropriate pieces, props, and supplies.  We had dinner with NPS ranger friends April and Cris when we visited Curecanti NRA — such a treat to see them again in a different park from when we first met each of them last August!  We spoke with and learned from several other incredibly knowledgeable and helpful interpretive NPS rangers at several of the other sites who made their pieces of history come much more to life — too many to name and thank, but we know you and remember you and thank you!  [Dexter A. at Brown v. Board — we look forward to seeing you up in Denali in July!]

Alas, we are in Chicago now and there’s so much going on here as we prepare to celebrate Fred’s big birthday, see friends and family members, and celebrate the upcoming wedding of daughter Claire and almost-son-in-law Kyle at two bridal showers in the coming couple of weeks.  These incredible park units are now in our rear view mirror but we loved visiting all of them and we would recommend each and every one of them for making our country’s history come alive.

Where are the Jollys heading next?

National Park Unit Visit Status - 3/14/16
National Park Units — pink highlights are those we’ve visited as of 3/14/16

This is a map we have hanging up inside Charley, our RV.  It shows all of the national park units, and the pink highlights show which ones we’ve been to.  Can you tell what area of the country we haven’t visited yet?  Well that’s about to change as we make our way back to the Midwest for a few family events here in late March and early April.

We’re routing through southern Colorado, Kansas and Missouri, then up through Illinois on our drive east, then when we return to Salt Lake City [where we left Charley] in mid-April we will travel through Iowa, Nebraska and the northern part of Colorado.  This trip will get us to three of the four remaining states we have yet to visit on our Out There trip — Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska — and we expect to get to another 12 or so national park units, including another one of the big Parks — Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

This summer we’ll pick up our remaining state, North Dakota, and we’ll visit all but one of our remaining national parks by the end of September.  We’ve saved the most difficult park to get to — National Park of American Samoa — until Spring 2017 after the rainy season down in the islands.

Expect lots more miles by our end-of-the-month tally, and watch our Out There By The Numbers counts continue to go up in our other categories, as well.  And on we travel….

Three National Park Units in Oklahoma

As we look to wind up our two-turned-into-two-and-a-half-year road trip in October of this year, we are now paying more attention to routes, remaining national parks (16 at the time of this post), missing states (five) and figuring out how to efficiently get to all of our remaining sites before turning Charley back to the Midwest and calling our trip “complete.”  It was with this in mind that we pointed north to Oklahoma.  Being in Texas, we were close, and we weren’t sure how we’d loop back to this area in these next several months if we didn’t do it now.  So with that we drew up our plans to visit Oklahoma, our 46th state.  [Our remaining states now include only Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and North Dakota.]

We took in all three of the national park units in Oklahoma during our time there, each being very different in place and purpose.

Chickasaw NRAPublic art to honor the Chickasaw in Sulpher, OKChickasaw National Recreation Area — Located in the town of Sulpher in Southern Oklahoma, this NRA preserves natural mineral springs and nearly 10,000 acres of forest land and recreational lakes.  Initially preserved as Platt National Park, it is today Chickasaw NRA in honor of the Chickasaw Indian Nation and in recognition that the lake as a recreation area serving northern Texas and southern Oklahoma.

As with many old national park units, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) had a hand in building many of the picnic shelters, campgrounds, dams, and bridges here.  It is, indeed, a beautiful area — from the town’s public art that honors the rich Native American history to the Travertine Nature Center built over Travertine Creek to the hiking trails, springs and lakes.  We are, once again, grateful that many saw fit to protect this special place.



Oklahoma City National MemorialOklahoma City National Memorial — This solemn place remembers April 19, 1995, when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was destroyed by a bomb in the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.  One-hundred sixty-eight people were killed in the attack and now 168 chairs sit empty next to the reflecting pool representing those who died.  The memorial also remembers the survivors, the rescue workers, and all those who have been forever changed by this event.  A survivor wall, memorial fence, children’s area, and old elm tree that survived the blast also sit on what is now sacred soil and make up this memorial.

Written on one of the twin Gates of Time, “We have come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever.  May all who leave here know the impact of violence.  May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope, and serenity.”  Amen.

Oklahoma City National Memorial



Washita NHS
Washita Battlefield National Historic Site — The word ‘battlefield’ should be removed from the official title of this national park unit; this was a massacre, not a battle, of an Indian village full of defenseless women and children by the U.S. Army who was directed to make war on the Cheyenne people.

In the mid-1800s, decades of conflict had been playing out across the southern plains that are now Oklahoma.  In the name of Manifest Destiny, early settlers moved westward though these lands, assisted by the newly-laid railroad lines that brought more and more people through the area.  Feeling threatened by the Native Americans who were protecting the land that rightfully belonged to them, tensions increased as fundamentally different cultures clashed over who should live on these lands and how they should be used.  As the U.S. government attempted to force Native American tribes to reservations, inter-tribal battles took place as did rebellions by revenge-seeking young Native warriors avenging the attacks against their ways of life.

Washita NHSWhile the exact events of the morning have been debated, it is a fact that peace-inclined Chief Black Kettle, his wife, and scores of Cheyenne woman and children were killed in a surprise attack at dawn’s early light on November 27, 1868 at the hands of Lt. Col. George A. Custer and his men.  In a particularly brutal move, Custer also ordered the slaughter of some 800 Indian horses and mules, a move which crippled the remaining Cheyenne communities.  Washita NHS protects this sacred site, and while it is not a busy park unit, it is a very important place for reflecting on the price of progress and the cost of peace….


For a more in-depth accounting of this tragedy, read here.

De Soto National Memorial

De Soto National MemorialA short hour drive from where we’re now staying in Tampa is another of our fine National Park Units.  De Soto National Memorial remembers the life of Hernando de Soto, a Spanish Conquistador who came to La Florida in 1539 under an agreement with the ruler of the Spanish Empire, Charles V, to “explore, exploit, and colonize Florida, bearing all costs.”  If successful, de Soto would get to share in the riches he plundered** and he would get to govern this new colony.

Camp Uzita
Camp Uzita – a replica of the camp de Soto and his army set up when they set foot in La Florida on May 30, 1539
Living History demonstration by an NPS park ranger
Living History demonstration by an NPS park ranger

De Soto arrived in Havana, Cuba, in June 1538, then added to his expedition’s ranks with enslaved followers including several women, artisans and priests, 200 horses, a herd of pigs, and fierce hunting dogs which were used as weapons against the Native Americans who crossed him.  He and his five ships landed near what today is Tampa in May 1539, and left a temporary colony of 100 men here while he and his army spent the next four arduous years exploring the interior of the American Southeast.

A replica of the base camp that de Soto set up when he arrived here, Camp Uzita, serves as this National Memorial’s primary exhibit, and as is par for the course at these wonderful national park units, the exhibits on the property were outstanding, and the lessons to be learned here remain relevant.  We were treated to a movie in the Visitor Center which told of de Soto’s doings and reenacted his journey, and the resident NPS ranger gave a living history lesson about de Soto and why it’s important to know about and commemorate his activities, even as he was a ferocious brute!

Coming back to de Soto’s story… motivated by glory and wealth and looking to claim additional land for their kingdom, de Soto’s army soon found themselves dependent on the local Indians to guide them on their trails and help them survive off the land.  But as de Soto became more impatient for the gold he was seeking [that the Indians kept promising was just a bit farther away to move this brazen army further afield], his journey became more difficult.  Indians, catching on to the explorers’ brutality and not wanting to assist de Soto in these efforts, inflicted great damage to de Soto’s troops, and in May 1542, the exploratory journey was over.  De Soto was dead by fever, and the remains of his army aborted their plans.  They buried their former leader in the Mississippi River, spent one more winter on the riverbanks, then built boats, abandoned some 500 Indian ‘slaves’ in alien country, and in July 1543 they floated down the river to the Gulf of Mexico.

De Soto's route - 1539-1543
Hernando de Soto’s route in search of treasure — May 1539 – September 1543

In all, de Soto’s army traveled some 4,000 miles in the southern United States – from Florida north through the Carolinas, then westward to Texas.  His expedition was the first of any Europeans to go as far west as the Mississippi River.

Spanish Conquistador garb
Spanish Conquistador garb

De Soto’s chroniclers recorded their observations about the landscapes and societies of this New World.  Published in four narratives, these recordings, along with archaeological artifacts, helped scholars retrace de Soto’s route and gain an understanding of the now-obliterated native populations that once flourished here.  A nice guy he was not as he and his vicious army killed and enslaved thousands of Indians in their relentless pursuit of gold and riches.  Interesting to note, as well – the pigs that were introduced in this land carried diseases to which the natives were not immune, and this, too, contributed to the decimation of the Native American people.

In the end, de Soto found no gold, nor did he establish any colonies, so his expedition turned out to be inconsequential for Spain.  And it was disastrous for the Indians it encountered, leaving behind disease and social dislocation.  De Soto’s acts of inhumanity are not celebrated here, but the chronicles created by his men are a rich store of information about the American land and its first people, and in this is the value of remembering de Soto at the De Soto National Memorial.


** De Soto had already had a taste for plundered riches.  For those familiar with the history of the Inca empire, it was brought down by another Spanish Conquistador, Francisco Pizarro, and none other than a young Hernando de Soto assisted Pizarro.  De Soto used his wealth from that pillage to to finance his journey to La Florida.  Isn’t history awesome…?!?


USS Arizona Memorial / Pearl Harbor

December 7, 1941 – “a date which will live in infamy…” declared then president Franklin D. Roosevelt, one day after Japan’s attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor.  An hour after this famous speech, the United States was officially brought into World War II.

The USS Arizona was one of 20 battleships and other large vessels that were sunk that day, and some 2,000+ people were killed.  The Arizona was too badly damaged to be raised, repaired, and returned to service, so it remains beneath the waters of Pearl Harbor, along with the bodies of most of her crew.  Today, the USS Arizona Memorial honors those who died on the battleship and elsewhere in the Japanese attack.

I don’t think you really “enjoy” being here, but it is an important place to visit, honor, give gratitude, remember, and reflect….