North by Northwest–Where is America?

Several good friends encouraged me to go see Mount Rushmore when they learned that I would be going to Rapid City, SD, in my quest to see more car museums.

I hate to show my cynical side, but I avoid what I perceive as tourist traps.  Although they often are quite inspirational or historical I find that I go with expectations that are unmet and then leave with a certain level of melancholy that I wished I did not have.

I was resolute this time.  The level of encouragement I had received was enough to overcome my trepidations and I inserted the coordinates into my GPS and put on a good attitude.

It was a good five hours to drive from Montana to Rapid City and by that time its hard to be excited about a lot of things except maybe a clean restroom.

Shortly after departing Billings I spotted an interesting kind of automotive flea market off to the side of the highway so I pulled off to take a look.


It was fascinating to see the cars that they had there.  Many were not much more than a body and chassis, but classics none-the-less.


Here was a Henry J of all things!


And one of my favorites – a Citroën from the 1960’s.


These cars had air suspensions that you could use instead of a jack if you needed to change a tire.  They were the car for French politicians and aristocrats.


This one will bring a tear to Noel’s eye.  Probably the best Volvo ever built.





All kinds of great cars. This was better than two cups of strong coffee.

I was on my way with many hours to go.



This was a grand motel – once.

I would pass through several Indian (Native American) reservations and that always meant one thing.  Casino.

Well, I guess since they cannot get our government to recognize that every treaty was broken, and all their land was stolen, then they should be able to hit the white man at his weakest point – greed.

Personally I stay away.  Not that I don’t feel like contributing, but all I ever could do is lose at a casino.  Not even a token winning streak.  I may as well have just walked in, opened my wallet, and handed them all my money, leaving myself bus fare.  It would save a lot of time.



Many of the houses out here in the wilds of Montana were modest homes.  Usually with plenty of cars around it.  Maybe it is because several people live there, even though it is small.  Or maybe it is because as the cars break down there is nowhere else to put them.  In the days before cars if a horse was worn out, got sick and died I suppose you might bury them, but who wants to dig a hole for a car.


Several areas I went through showed signs of huge forest fire having burned through just a year or two prior.  That must have been especially tough for people who lived there.  Trying to recover from the loss of a house with the income levels around there must be almost impossible.

I have had some forest fire training and some small experiences in helping with fighting brush and small woods fires.  Nothing like what must happen out here.  The small brush fires I helped with were bad enough.  With a big Montana forest fire the wind would be whipping up to high velocities and the temperatures would be unbelievable.  Fires that huge make you feel very small and powerless, very quickly.


I stopped briefly to check out these vehicles in a small town a couple of hours from my destination.


With only about an hour to go to get to Mount Rushmore I have to admit that I was bushed.  It had been a lot of driving.  It also always seems to take much longer to get to a place you have never been before.  I guess because everything is so new and you have no reference points as you drive.


I drove on.  I would have taken more shots as I got closer, but the bugs had really covered the windshield to the point that it was tricky to get the camera to focus past them.


Seeing this short tunnel up ahead was an encouraging sight. It had that National Park Service look to it.


Then the inevitable appeared.  Gross capitalistic consumerism.


Just a few miles from this historic and awe inspiring sight was everything possible to suck your money away from you and replace it with utterly useless crap.

Finally I reached the parking area.  Wow, it cost $11 to park your car – and you have no other options by the way.  No U-turns.  They must make a fortune – truly.

I parked the P71 and strode to the entrance to the entrance (that’s not a mistake, they really have an entrance to the entrance).


And then more walking.  Which is fine with me, but I was concerned for the habitually overweight tourists.


And here was the entrance…


And the sight to behold…







I don’t know.  I think I liked it better in North by Northwest.  People wore suits back then and looked like they had some respect for the significance of the place and its meaning.


America has become so casual.  No one was swelling with pride, that I could tell.  They were just taking photos with their iPads, iPhones, and some were even taking videos – of stone likenesses – that didn’t move.  Hmmm.

But I was moving.  I was done.  So I spent eleven dollars for about two minutes of camera time.  Sorry, but people were more interested in where they could get an ice cream than in the significance of the work that had been created here.  I wonder how the sculptor would feel.  I wonder what the four fellows would have to say about it.

This is a special place.  A very special place.  I wish the people here reflected that it their behavior and demeanor.  Of course all the crap stores you have to pass on the way up doesn’t exactly set the tone.  I wish the crap could all be washed away and maybe have a dress code…

I’ll shut up now.

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2 Responses to North by Northwest–Where is America?

  1. Kevin says:

    I agree with you Jim. I have to say I am not a fan of defacing natural beauty for an un-natural wonder, I would have preferred it left as a mountain, but that could be the Brit talking. :o) Great photos.

  2. Noel Ward says:

    I went to Mt. Rushmore a couple years ago as a side junket on a biz trip to Rapid City. I thought it was inspiring, but for the men who are represented, not so much for the monument. Washington, Jefferson, T.R, and Lincoln were leaders with passion and imagination and vision. We don’t have leaders like that any longer and our nation is vastly and irrevocably poorer for it.

    Not a far from Rushmore another monument is in progress; a Native American astride a horse, high above the lands where his people once roamed as free as the buffalo. Where his people were promised they would have their lands “as long as the wind blows, the grass grows and the sky is blue.” An clear lesson in not trusting the government.

    As for the Volvo, the car Jim found biodegrading by the road was a PV544. Those were pretty cool. Mine was a few years newer, a ’66 122S, known in Volvo circles as the Amazon. In hindsight, “The Beast” as I called it, was one of the better cars I’ve owned and one that I should not have sold. It needed an engine rebuild and still think of how much fun it would have been to have dropped a tweaked Volvo engine into it (or a 289 Ford V8) and beefed up the suspension. Oh well.

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