My first trip out west – 2002 – Mount Rushmore

I bought my Nikon D100 in August of 2002.  Less than a month later our trusty Suburban was comfortably carrying Melisa, her dad, and I on our first vacation out West.  The itinerary included The Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and Yellowstone.  

It was also the first of many vacation I would digitally document.  

Mount Rushmore - Nikon D100, Nikon 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6

Why post about these now?  Well, back in the days before Google, Picasa, SmugMug, and The Cloud, I would do small albums, upload them to a now-defunct site known Bubble Share, and then e-mail out links to friends and family.  

Not bad for my early digital days

Of course, along with the link they would get a dose of my brilliant writing.  Yes, before blogs, FaceBook, Google+, us old-timers, and me in particular, were good at finding other ways to annoy others.  And none of this “Haz Cheese” cat stuff; my annoyance material was all original.    

I've always liked this shot

To make a long story short, much of that material has been lost.  People change e-mail addresses, Bubble Share closed its doors when Picasa took off, and the brilliance that was me in my 40s is but a bad memory for a select few.

Sounds like a perfect opportunity for me to annoy people all over again.  It’s a testament to the power of the Internet I no longer have to e-mail people to annoy them (although a select few are still privileged so); they actually come to me!

Seriously, it’s a way for me to revisit some of my early efforts in photography, preserve them for future generations to marvel at, and maybe present stuff someone might be interested in.

The monument's lighting ceremony

The night shots were done with the camera on a tripod and a long exposure.  This was new to me, so I was reasonably pleased with the results.  We had left the park earlier, and had come back just for the lighting ceremony.

At the end of the lighting show the announcer asked if there were any veterans in the audience.  If so, they were asked to come down to help lower and fold the flag.  It’s actually a moving sight.  Most were WWII veterans, and although we urged Melisa’s dad to join in, he opted to just watch.

The lowering and folding of the flag

There are twenty photos in the SmugMug album, and as usual you get there by clicking on any of the pictures.  As pictures go, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality.  Except for my 75-300mm lens, most of the other lenses I had at the time were cheap kit lenses.  I still own the 75-300mm . . . I’ll see how it does with the D7000, but it does not have VR, and these days I’m not as rock-steady holding the camera as I was even a scant 9 years ago.

Another surprise . . . there were not many pictures.  I was new to digital, and maintained my film mentality for a while.  I remained stingy with my shutter releases for a number of months; the limitation of the 12 and 24 shots film roll had been in grained into me.  It took a while, and a few missed opportunities, to realize I could now afford to try different stuff, and keep just what I liked.

I say that, but for years I kept nearly all the shots I took, regardless of the quality.  There was always the thinking I could “fiddle” a bit to salvage something from them. To this day there is a split-second hesitation before I delete photographs I will not be using, even if virtually identical to others.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson

One thing readers might notice, and I noticed when there, is the appearance of a shiny pupil in the eyes of the sculptures.  They are actually granite stanchions coming directly out of the eye cavity.  The ends are flat, and catch the light.  The dark recess behind them combined with the bright spot in the middle makes the eyes seem very realistic.  Clever.

The close-ups also reveal the many places where repairs have been made, and in one shot one can see one of the winches used to lower people on the face of the sculpture.  I don’t know if evident from the picture, but this particular sculpture appears to have many faces.

From outside the monument area
From outside the monument area

We were there in the morning, and a thin layer of clouds diffused the light for all the shots inside the park.  When we left the clouds broke up, and that’s the reason for the difference in this photograph from the others.  I like this shot . . . there is a surprise in driving by these rock formation and have the sculpture appear in such a natural setting.  

It almost seemed as if it had been there all along.

Leaving Mount Rushmore, we headed down the road to the Crazy Horse Memorial.  It’s seventeen miles from Mount Rushmore, and it’s the biggest (and literally largest) rip-off I’ve come across in my many trips around the US and elsewhere.

Crazy Horse "never will be finished" Memorial

It charges a high entry fee, does not let you get close to the monument, and with no scheduled completion date, it’s in my opinion a way to fleece tourists in the guise of “education”.

Others may have differing opinions.  I have no doubt the original sculptor (who also worked on Mount Rushmore) was in earnest.  The thing is to this day I don’t see much work being done on it, and its main purpose seems to be to raise money.

This is from 2002

One can go search current images, and see the progress since then.  The face was dedicated in 1998, and the whole thing looks pretty much the same now as it did then.

They have a long way to go . . . 

Proposed completed memorial

I may sound harsh, but Crazy Horse’s own descendants have voiced the same concerns I have.  My suggestion is to look at the pictures on the web, visit Rushmore, and skip this project.  It may have been started in earnest, but right now its main purpose seem to be the separating of money from unsuspecting tourists.  Again, my opinion may not match that of others.