It’s difficult to believe that we have been living in South Dakota for a month now. We have been in the thick of our rangering adventure, allowing little time to reflect on the experience enough to be able to put it in words to share with those of you who have been patiently waiting for an update. Now that we are becoming more used to our shifting schedule and routine, I have finally been able to sit down and write about our experience.
We began our ranger training on May 15 and have been in a Black-Hills-Harney-Granite-Gutzon-Borglum-Interpretive-Programing-Rushmore-National-Memorial-NPS-Centennial whirlwind ever since. For two weeks we were trained in the practices and expectations of a National Park Ranger. Derrick and I are two of three new interpretive rangers, that began their first season at Mount Rushmore, along with five interpretive interns, several bookstore workers, some members of our maintenance crew, administration, and our centennial coordinator. Each day we would take a break during our training, walk outside, and see the reason we are all here. No matter how many times I see it, I am still astounded by Mount Rushmore.
One of the main duties of an interpretive ranger is to present interpretive programs for the 3 million visitors that make the journey to Mount Rushmore every year. From training, Derrick and I went straight in to creating and developing our presentations. The four required programs include; a Studio Talk, explaining the carving process; a Ranger’s Choice on virtually any topic that directly relates to Mount Rushmore or the Black Hills; an interactive learning activity for our Youth Exploration Area/Lakota, Dakota, Nakota Heritage Village; and an Evening Program for our nightly lighting ceremony. It was like we were back in school again, students in the school of the National Park System, majoring in Mount Rushmore.
We immersed ourselves in the life of Gutzon Borglum, the man who carved mountains, the creation of Mount Rushmore, the local history of the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota Sioux, the flora, fauna, geology, and topography of the Black Hills, and the lives four men emerging from the granite.
It behooved us become more familiar with the Black Hills and surrounding area, since visitors to Rushmore are often seeking directions, knowledge of the area, and suggestions for what to do and see on their visit.
We frequented Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, and the Norbeck Scenic Highway. We walked the streets of Deadwood, ate at a historic train station turned restaurant in Lead, drove through Spearfish Canyon, watched thunderstorms roll along the horizon at Badlands National Park, camped in the Black Hills National Forest hiked the Cathedral Spires, climbed Little Devil’s Tower, and spent a weekend camping in North Dakota at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
The more familiar we become with the Black Hills, the more we enjoy it. It is a gorgeous area of mountain peaks, gigantic granite spires and boulders, ponderosa pines, rolling hills, winding creeks, and fantastic igneous rock formations. It is a geological anomaly, literally an island in the plains. Once you descend from the Black Hills, it is prairies and plains for hours in every direction. The Black Hills are home to many animals including American bison, mountain goats, yellow-bellied marmots, prairie dogs, squirrels, chipmunks, coyotes, deer, prong horn, elk, mountain sheep, snakes, and a wide variety of birds of prey, owls, song birds, ground birds, and water fowl. Because of the location, the Black Hills is frequented by many Eastern and Western species of birds. Surprisingly, in comparison to Wisconsin, the mosquitos here are almost non-existent. The poison ivy however, is lush and abundant. Luckily, we had become vigilant at scanning for and identifying it and have so far emerged from our hikes unscathed.
Our own experiences in the Black Hills have come in as handy as our Rushmore research with helping our visitors. Many people come here looking for guidance in regards to the time they choose to spend here. As it once was for us, Mount Rushmore is often just one stop on a long trip for many visitors. In the summer, 5,000 people filter through the memorial each day. The average visitor spends a few hours here before moving on to their next destination. Many visitors we have spoken with are in somewhere in a National Parks road trip. This year is the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, which seems to have prompted even more people to visit the parks this summer. It is wonderful to hear the stories of families and groups of friends who are in the thick of a journey with the sole purpose of experiencing the National Parks together.
We live at Mount Rushmore. Not just because we work there and have the privilege to look at one of the most iconic and well-known pieces of art all day at work. No, I mean we actually live within the boundaries of Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Our housing is part of a small community of Rushmore workers including rangers, interpretive interns, maintenance, I.T. specialists, and law enforcement. We have a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and living space in our little apartment. In our back yard there is a large outcropping of Harney Granite we can climb that, from a certain angle, allows a view of Mount Rushmore.
Even when we are not working, it seems that Rushmore is everywhere. When Doane Robinson, the state historian of South Dakota who first contacted Gutzon Borglum concerning the carving of a mountain here, came up with his idea to bring more people and more money to the area, I don’t know if he could have fathomed how the image and name of Rushmore would saturate the Black Hills area. Every town has a street, hotel, restaurant, auto shop, gift shop, bookstore, and park, called Rushmore. The image of Rushmore is pasted on everything from billboards to license plates.
Though at times it seems like the four faces in the mountain are watching our every move, I do not tire of looking at the real deal. The sculpture is magnificent. It stands as a testament to human ingenuity, perseverance, and inspiration. It represents many things to many people: patriotism, freedom, stubbornness, idealism, beauty, art, conflict, controversy, misappropriation, grand feats of engineering, desecration of the land, awe, shock, and disbelief. But that is the great thing about art; it means something different to everyone.
We, as Mount Rushmore Interpretive Park Rangers are charged with the duty of protecting this internationally recognized work of art and assisting our visitors in having a positive experience here. This responsibility manifests in answering questions, giving directions, telling the history, explaining our facility, and furnishing visitors with wheelchairs, Band-Aids, pamphlets and maps. We present our interpretive programming in the hope of providing visitors with useful information and an entry point to translate the memorial in a way that is meaningful to them. Everyday we hear wonderful stories from our visitors about why they are here, what they love about Rushmore, and why they continue to return. For every individual that is frustrated with their experience and voices complaint, there are 100 more who are thoroughly enjoying this stop on their vacation.
As I have many times before our rangering adventure started, I encourage you all to get out and see your National Parks. They are a place where you can take a moment and appreciate the variety of stunning natural places, moving memorials and monuments, and intriguing historical sites NPS protects. There are six types of parks within the national park system:
National Parks: Contain various resources protected by large areas of land and water
- National Preserves are like Nat. Parks but allow limited use of natural resources (fishing/hunting/mining)
- National Reserve is similar but is managed by local authorities
National Monuments: Smaller than Nat. Parks and have less diversity, usually protect only one national resource
National Memorials: Commemorative of a historical subject or person
National Military Cemeteries/Battlefields (sites &parks): Associated with American military actions within the country
National Recreation Areas: Area set aside for recreation and includes National Lakeshores/seashores/Rivers/ Wild & Scenic Riverways/Scenic Trails
National Historic Sites: Preserve places and commemorates persons/events/activities important to the nation’s history (National Historic Parks are the same but larger)
Find the one that is closest to you and check it out. Plan a trip to visit more than one. Add one of these places to the itinerary of your summer vacation. Enjoy what belongs to each and every one of us. FIND YOUR PARK. Or come learn about ours. You know where to find us…
P.S. In my next post I will catch you up from where we left off on the post previous to this one, the journey to Mount Rushmore. I wanted to jump straight in to rangering for this one though, since I know many of you have been waiting to hear from us. Thank you for your patience and support and I hope to make time for more regular posting in the weeks to come.
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