So, listen. It’s COVID season and my genius idea was: let’s take a roadtrip! My boyfriend and I sat twiddling our fingers and thinking of all the places we have yet to see. We’ve been to the East coast ✔, West coast ✔, Southwest ✔, Northwest ✔, and Midwest ✔.
But where haven’t we been? MOUNT RUSHMORE.
I couldn’t believe this historic American site slipped my mind for years. I wasn’t going to let myself go another month without paying homage to one of the most patriotic and 'merican monuments in the states. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I was planning that trip. But when I arrived. I sure found out.
Hit the road, Jack
We packed our snacks, jumped in our ride and hit the road. We came from Colorado and headed north to South Dakota. We went through middle of nowhere Wyoming, buffalo farmland South Dakota and 6 hours later, spit ourselves out in the sacred Black Hills.
We checked into our fabulously discounted Rushmore Hotel and Suites (which by the way was incredibly affordable; mostly likely because they were hurting from COVID and needed some income coming in). This place was modern, updated, and had a beautiful view of the little town of Rapid City. This was one of the only places I truly felt safe the entire weekend. Here’s why.
So we made it the historic Mount Rushmore. We were expecting a whole shibang. We wanted to go right up to Washington’s big ol’ head and slap it. But, turns out, that’s illegal (rookie move for us to think it was anything but impossible, illegal and highly discouraged). So, instead, what we got was a tourist trap, full of oh-so-patriotic American families who waddled in with their fanny packs, disposable polaroid cameras and rental campers.
Needless to say, my boyfriend and I were rolling our eyes most of the time. This stop on the trip was a minor annoyance but even this wasn’t the reason why I felt incredibly unsafe as a black, liberal person. It was the nearby town, Keystone, that really gave me the chills.
Let’s go walk around the town, he says. It’ll be fun, he says. I’m always up for adventure, so I agree and we cruise down the mountain towards the town of Keystone. We show up, and there are bikes everywhere. I’m not talking little mountain bikes. I’m talking Harleys. Now, I like a good motorcycle ride myself but to me, my deep discomfort didn't come from having a million bikes around me. It came from the culture.
So we show up and find ourselves surrounded by hundreds of bikers. Bikers with beards. Bikers with pony tails. Bikers with Trump t-shirts. Bikers with female companions. You name the biker, we saw them. It was legitimately biker zone. I was cool with that, no big deal.
But from the second I walked my little black self into the town, we were immediately stared at. On every corner, there was somebody who had a look. Disapproval, disinterest, unwelcomeness were the sentiments I gathered. It seems they're not used to melanin 'round these parts.
It took me a minute, but when I really looked around, I realized bikers dudes and the occasional Mount Rushmore fanny pack tourist were the main demographic of the town that day. I saw a grand total of two black people the entire day.
Did I just see Trump glorified on a motorcycle slapping the current House speaker, Nancy Pelosi? Yep. Saw that.
After being in town for approximately 10 minutes, I decide to walk uncomfortably into a souvenir shop to evade the gaze of the disapproving biker dudes and tourists. Maybe it’s just me, but my idea of a souvenir doesn’t involve Trump’s face plastered on motorcycle slapping Nancy Pelosi and yelling “not this time, bitch!” I had to do a double take. Did I just see Trump glorified on a motorcycle slapping the current House speaker, Nancy Pelosi? Yep. Saw that.
I pulled at the sleeve of my boyfriend and urged him to leave right away. He respected my wish and we dipped.
Trumpland, US of A
I thought the major Trump vibe was just in that one shop. I would soon find out there was a whole culture of Trumpism, misogyny and conservatism all throughout Keystone. Shop after shop, we saw Trump t-shirts, flags, hats, buttons and even an entire kiosk dedicated to Trump only paraphernalia.
On top of that, I saw dozens of hats, buttons, stickers and t-shirts with misogynist catch phrases like “Take my wife. Maybe take my dog. But never take my beer.” I walked around in awe at how a community of people, particularly biker women, can ignore the obvious and blatant misogyny around them.
I wondered if there was anything that wasn’t far-right conservative in this little Trump bubble. I sort of found a silver lining when I stopped into the amazing National Presidential Wax Museum.
This popular spot is commonly known as the only wax museum in the world that has all 45 American presidents wrapped in wax and practically mummified. That was true. I walked through isles and isles of amazing historical scenes made of presidential and political wax figures. This part was genuinely one of the coolest parts of Keystone.
[Keystone] was not a liberal heaven. It wasn't even a POC safe space. It was Trumpland all the way. Packed with hidden misogyny, conservatism and an underlying flavor of unwelcomeness that I just couldn't shake.
To their credit, there was a pretty decent statue of Barack Obama. I listened to an audio recording that was connected to the tall and statuesque wax figurine of our 44th president. To be fair, it was pretty unbiased. But when I listened to the Trump audio recording, it touted tons of “accomplishments” achieved by the 45th president and mentioned absolutely nothing about the negative, fucked up or embarrassing actions he's done in his presidency thus far.
As a liberal person, I thought Trump's wax figure audio was very skewed towards glorifying the orange balloon of a man as opposed to showing a balanced perspective of what this bozo has done horribly wrong in the last 4 years. But, I digress.
After just 24 hours in the town of Keystone, I knew immediately that I would not return. It was not a liberal heaven. It wasn't even a POC safe space. It was Trumpland all the way. Packed with hidden misogyny, conservatism and an underlying flavor of unwelcomeness that I just couldn't shake.
Crazy Horse and the Black Hills
One place I did find solace was in the Black Hills. This region is very well known as a sacred Indigenous area with tons of spirituality, significance and cultural tradition. I enjoyed hiking through the mountains, dipping my toes into the Horse Thief Lake and getting lost in the lush and serene nature around me. Outside of my hotel, this was the only other place I felt safe on the entire trip.
What really made the trip fun for me was visiting the Crazy Horse Memorial. For those that don’t know who Crazy Horse was, he was an indigenous leader from the Lakota tribe that bravely fought against the encroachment of the settlers in the 19th century. In plain English, he was a badass.
So there’s no wonder some people came together and decided to carve a beautiful memorial in the mountain for him. The only problem is, the Crazy Horse Memorial is primarily funded by donations and will basically take 70+ years to complete. So far, all they've managed to complete is a few layers of his face with grandiose plans for more to come.
The Crazy Horse Memorial was definitely worth seeing and contributing to. But it felt upsetting that it’s taken 72 years to get a small portion of this monument complete while Mount Rushmore only took 14 years. I guess that’s what government funding can do for ya.
Even though I’m an avid traveller that’s seen her fair share of adversity, going to Mount Rushmore was a whole different world. In the US, there are several countries in one country. It almost felt like I went to a different country with very different people, values and a culture that deeply clashed with the liberal bubble that I was used to.
Keystone was Trumpland. Full of conservative, biker dudes who kiss the ground that Trump walks on. And for liberal, POC and democratic folks like myself, places like this are a wild experience. I found it to be totally uncomfortable, foreign yet somewhat enlightening.
For others like me, I probably won’t recommend visiting the Mount Rushmore region unless you’re looking for some major culture shock. If you do choose to visit, I recommend visiting the Crazy Horse Monument, getting some R&R in the Black Hills and kicking it in Rapid City. Otherwise, you’re good to skip it. From one black, liberal to another. Mount Rushmore was not all that.