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Site Seeing Part 2

by larrydachslager on November 1st, 2013

In the summer of 2009, I decided to take another long solo road trip.  I chose Mount Rushmore as a destination for several reasons.  First, it would give me the opportunity to visit South Dakota and drive through states I hadn’t experienced.  I was excited to see as many states as possible because, by that point in my life, I still had yet to leave the United States.

Another reason I chose Mount Rushmore is that, after polling a great many friends, I discovered that nobody I knew had ever been there.  The notion that I would be the first in my social and familial circle to see the iconic presidential faces in person excited me.

Naturally, another reason I wanted to visit Mount Rushmore was its connection to Hitchcock and the climactic scenes in his North By Northwest.   (Legend has it that Hitchcock wanted to call the film “The Man In Lincoln’s Nose.”)   For the movie, some of the Mount Rushmore scenes were shot on location in South Dakota, but the filmmakers were not allowed to film on the actual sculpture.  Therefore, the scenes in which Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are seen traversing across George Washington’s hairline were accomplished through post-production special effects.



However, most of the scenes in the surrounding tourist areas and commissary were the real deal.


Since this is a movie blog, I’m going to keep the non-Hitchcock-related info to a minimum.  But here are a few facts that you might find amusing and/or relevant.  Nestled at the bottom of Mount Rushmore is the town of Keystone.  It has a population of 311, according to the sign.  Keystone’s current purpose is to serve Mount Rushmore’s tourists.  It is filled to overflowing with activities including a toboggan slide, a train ride, a helicopter ride, a miniature golf course, and a caverns tour.  There are also several Mount Rushmore museums and a Presidential Wax Museum.  During my stay in Keystone, I did everything – yes, even the toboggan.   I decided that the average Mount Rushmore tourist must be fairly stouthearted because the activities were surprisingly strenuous.  Even though I lean toward the claustrophobic, I do enjoy caverns.  This caverns tour was no leisurely stroll through the stalactites and stalagmites.  It was fast-paced and required a fair amount of contortionism.  I was exhausted afterward.  Even the mini-golf, called – I kid you not – Holy Terror Mini Golf, was tougher-than-average.

Another nearby indoor mini-golf place was called “Putz-n-Glo.”  I guess they’re not up on their Yiddish in South Dakota.

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I’ve never been much of a picture taker, preferring, instead to use my memory rather than see my vacation through a viewfinder.  My mother, an avid photo maven, insisted that I borrow her digital camera for the trip.  It was a strong reminder that one should always listen to one’s mother.  I ended up being extremely grateful that I had the camera with me.

One of the available options was a ten-minute Mount Rushmore helicopter ride.  As far as I know, I didn’t know anyone who’s ridden in a helicopter either, so I plied myself with Dramamine and climbed aboard.  Thankfully, I have no fear of heights and enjoyed the ride immensely – snapping several photos along the way.

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Rushmore 12

If you’ve never been in a helicopter, the best way I can describe it is that it feels like being in a plastic bubble that’s dangling in mid air.   It was just the pilot and myself, so I decided to make conversation.  Though the propeller was very loud, we were wearing headphones with microphones, so we could speak at normal volume and didn’t have to shout at each other, the way they do in the movies.   As we flew closer to the faces, I decided to bring up North By Northwest.  I was surprised to hear the pilot say that he’d heard of the movie, but had never seen it.  His job is to fly around Mount Rushmore, and he had never seen North By Northwest!   As it turns out, this conversation was the beginning of an equally surprising trend that would continue throughout my visit.

The following morning, I was more than ready to drive up to Mount Rushmore itself.  On the way up the road, I was excited to see this sign:

Rushmore 6 At the Visitors’ Center, they have a display of “Mount Rushmore In Pop Culture” with examples of the four famous faces as seen in daily comics, The Muppet Show, etc.  Blended among the cartoons and photos, were a few laminated newspaper clippings and behind-the-scenes photos of the location filming.   That was it.  When I asked a few of the employees about the movie, the response was polite and unenthusiastic.  As with the helicopter pilot, none had actually seen the film.

The restaurant scene in the movie was filmed at the actual Mount Rushmore restaurant, but it had long since been moved to a different location and remodeled.    In the film, the restaurant scene also contains a famous movie mistake.  Clearly, the young boy in the background screen right knew Eva Marie Saint’s cue to shoot Cary Grant as he prepares himself for the noise.

Here is the restaurant as it looks today (or at least in 2009):

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Once I accepted the fact that there were no die-hard Hitchcock fans or actual filming locations to be found, I shifted my focus to the monument itself, and what I discovered was awesome – in the true sense of the word.  I took the walking tour and got close to the faces.

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For me, the most impressive thing was how the presidents’ eyes were designed so that, depending on the movement of the sun and shadows, they seem to possess a life and a “sparkle.”  I also thought the way the sculptors created the effect of  Roosevelt’s glasses was ingenious.


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I learned about how Mount Rushmore came into being and met Nick Clifford, the last surviving member of the team of sculptors responsible for the monument’s creation.   I told him a joke right before this photo was taken, which is the reason for his delighted expression.

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That evening, I attended a performance at the amphitheater where I discovered why the faces of Mount Rushmore are never photographed at night.  They look creepy! 

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All in all, I enjoyed my Mount Rushmore visit, even if it wasn’t the movie fan haven I had hoped it was.   But as it happens, the trip wasn’t a total loss from that standpoint.  On my second night in the Keystone hotel, I received a sudden instant message from a former student named Jonathon whom I had nicknamed “Sparky” years earlier.  Sparky told me that he had gotten summer internship at the Walt Disney Studios and, knowing what a fan I am of Disney History, he could get me into the Disney Archives if I “happened to be in LA that summer.”

Now, initially I had had absolutely no intention of going to California that summer, and I’ve never been known for being the spontaneous type.  Yet, I responded to Sparky in all caps.  “I’LL BE RIGHT THERE!!!!!”   The following morning, I got in my car and drove from South Dakota to Burbank California.

On my drive to California, I stopped at Bedrock City Campground to ask Wilma and Betty for directions.  While there, I saw majestic “Mount Rockmore.”

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Rushmore 8

Next entry… my reunion with “Sparky” at The Walt Disney Studios.

One Comment
  1. Miriam permalink

    So weird to read, years later, travel stories I heard so long ago.

    Great stuff, as usual! Can’t wait for the Guy Williams part of the next installment!

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