Mount Rushmore Independence Day Celebration

Thursday July 3, 2003

Our big day is finally here. All three of us scheduled to have today off so we could go to Mt. Rushmore for the 4th of July fireworks show. Even though it is on the 3rd. I had wanted to get out to the park by 7 a.m., but Tam felt 10 o’clock would be early enough. We still had to wait in our car in line for an hour, but more about that later. I got up around 7 and went to the store for last minute supplies and for gas. As we were getting everything ready, Laura informed us that she would not be going with us, instead she was going to spend the day with her friends. That was fine with us and we left about 9:45, heading for the hills. We arrived in the town of Keystone, which is just a couple of miles from the memorial at the base of the mountains, at around 10:15 and were stopped by a roadblock of state troopers. From there it took another hour of stop and go crawling before we arrived at the entrance of the memorial. With military personal around everywhere toting m-16s the ATF were using dogs and mirrors to check every vehicle. They did not search the inside of the vehicle, but rest assured they would at a moments notice. What did upset me somewhat was the fact that we had to buy a parking pass. They cost $8 and ours from last year had expired. It bothered me that the people that would come later and park along the side of the highway would not have to pay, and they would not have spent the day in the boiling sun. We had not planned on paying for the parking, but what could we do? So we paid and went on in to the park.

Once inside we had no problem finding a parking spot. I do not know how many cars the garages hold, but it has to be in the thousands. We parked on the 2nd floor so the car would be in the shade and proceeded to the amphitheater to stake out our spot. Approaching the entrance we could see a diagonal device set up that contained several metal detectors. Anyone entering the park had to go through them. We were not worried as all we were carrying was a blanket, pillow, chair and my camera equipment. To my surprise I still set the detector off, it was the steel shanks in my hiking boots. We did not encounter any problems though, they just did a quick search with the wand and we moved on. It would turn out to be the first of many trips through the detectors for me. We noticed ropes had been setup to funnel everyone to the middle of the walkways. Upon further study, that was so people could camp out with folding chairs and blankets on the sides of this wide walkway. We went on to the amphitheater and found our spot about halfway down on the right side. The best seating in the center was roped off and reserved for the sponsors and their guests. After getting our blanket spread out and situating ourselves, we decided to walk back to the front and check out a bit of the live music playing. It would turn out to be our only time to walk around together. I was starting to feel antsy that someone would claim our space, so we returned. Tam’s leg was hurting her anyways. Over the course of the next 3 hours I would make 3 trips back to the car for more supplies. The original idea had been to return to the car in the late afternoon for lunch, but plans had changed. Now all we had to do was sit and wait. It was quite hot, not as bad as when I took Jessica to the fireworks show at the horse racing track in Grand Prairie, but never the less, quite hot. And the sun was just beating down on us. One time, late in the afternoon, a tremendous cloud moved in front of the sun and shaded everyone for 30 minutes or so, but that was the only time we received any relief from the sunshine.

At pre-designated times during the afternoon, different types of aircraft would do flyovers. The first were 4 F-16’s, then later 2 Blackhawk helicopters followed by another F-16 paired with a P-51 Mustang from WW II. Apollo 8 commander Frank Borman flew the Mustang. The last flyovers were a B-52 from Minot, N.D., and a B-1 from our own Ellsworth AFB. Using the 3x converter I had purchased on E-bay the week before, I tried to get some close-up pictures of the flyovers. As I have not yet developed the film, I do not know how they turned out. The B-52 and the B-1 were very impressive. Growing up, I saw many b-52’s flying but I had never seen a B-1 this close up. The sun was just going behind the mountain at this time and the temperature cooled off considerably. Only one hour to go now till he fireworks show started.

All through the afternoon and emcee played different recorded music and had events at the bottom of the amphitheater for the smaller children. Hoola-hoop contests, dances, and stories to keep them occupied. At 5 o’clock, a children’s entertainer took the stage to sing and dance with the little ones. His name is Phil Baker, and he is supposed to be somewhat of a celebrity with the children. I have to admit he was good. Later, another entertainer, Gary Mule Deer, performed, singing and playing the guitar while telling jokes. He is a comedian and native of South Dakota. We really enjoyed him. He has been on Letterman and Leno and does an act in Las Vegas. Next was the Air National Guard Band of the Central States, based in Missouri. They played a variety of patriotic songs and generally kept everyone from falling asleep after such a long and drawn out afternoon. Finally, the time we had all been waiting and suffering for, had arrived. The 22-minute fireworks show definitely was worth the wait. The display, along with the music played in time with the fireworks, brought a lot of ooh and ahh’s from the crowd. I snapped frame after frame, hoping I get at least one or two decent pictures. I feel that I got more than that, but that is what I would settle for.

Once the show was over, it was like trying to leave a crowded movie theater, only much larger. We did not even try to leave the amphitheater for 20 minutes and then it was still very slow going. Whereas it had only taken me 10 minutes to walk back to the car earlier in the day, it was now a 30-40 walk. But that was not the end of the wait either. There were signs posted in all the garages to not start your vehicle until told to. In an effort to control the mayhem that could have ensued, they were letting all the vehicles that were parked on the side of the highway go first. Then they would unload one parking level at a time. It was a good hour from the time we returned to our car until we started it and left the memorial. But we did not waste that time either. There was a live band playing in the parking lot and a kiosk selling ice cream. After such a long and hot day, the cool mountain air combined with the sweet taste of ice cream made for such a nice ending. I do not know if we will go back next year, but we will return eventually. With some hard earned knowledge, we will do things a little different. The most important is to arrive early and park you chairs on the southern side, where the tall trees provide shade all day. Other than the harsh sun, it was a perfect day to celebrate what so many of us take for granted: the very right and freedom to assemble. There are not too many places in the rest of the world where 20,000 people can come together if that is what they choose to do. What a great time to be alive and what a great place to live. We must never forget that, nor let our children forget the sacrifices made by those that came before us.

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