Mount Rushmore


I started this post right after we got back from South Dakota in September, but wasn’t inspired to complete it until I saw a StoryCorps piece on NPR about one of the stone carvers who helped craft the monument.

growing up, my family was big on road trips and on visiting Sites of Historical Importance (see also: Boston’s Freedom Trail) and Mount Rushmore and western South Dakota were on that list. I must have been … between second and third grads, or so. what I remember most from that trip is washing dishes at our campsite in what seemed an unexpectedly dense coniferous forest. it reminded me a lot of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or northern Wisconsin. also, that the Crazy Horse monument underwhelmed because they’d only completed his forehead and profile of his nose. (also, “Rount Mushmore.”)

one upside to visiting places while young, and returning later, is that appreciation can be twofold. my recollections of Mount Rushmore are vague but rosy and, now that I can place its construction into historical context, I’m rather more impressed.

the massive carving, suggested by Doane Robinson in the early 1920s, sought to entice tourists to the Black Hills. both environmentalists and Native American tribes objected to various proposed locations, but eventually supporters and opponents settled on this mountain (the tallest in the region, renamed for a New York lawyer  from the original Lakota name, Six Grandfathers). (for purposes of this post, I’ll forego discussing the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 and ongoing tensions between the U.S. government and the Lakota people for whom the Black Hills are sacred.) Robinson convinced sculptor Gutzon Borglum (who had lately worked on the face of Robert E. Lee at Stone Mountain, Georgia) to come to the Black Hills to ensure the completion of the project. Borglum died before the completion of the monument, but his son, Lincoln, carried on in his stead.

political and financial wrangling ensued: Congress authorized a commission to oversee the project; President Coolidge insisted that, in addition to President Washington, the monument include two Republicans and one Democrat — Borglum based his final selections on the role the Presidents had on preserving “the Republic” as well as expanding territory for said Republic.

between the start of construction in October 1927 and its completion in October 1941, some 400 people worked on constructing the monument. nearly 90% of the carving was done by dynamite; blasters could place charges specifically enough to blast rock off to within 3 inches of the final surface. once it got close enough, carvers switched to jackhammers, drilling a series of holes into the surface in a honeycomb patter to allow for more precise carving. this kicked up an incredible, fine dust. while they were provided with masks to prevent inhalation and subsequent damage to their lungs, the masks were stuffy and, in the direct sun hanging off the rock-face, many workers opted to go without. despite the dangerous working conditions, no one died during the course of the project, something rare for a monument of this size.

while the carvings at Mount Rushmore today don’t match the scope of what Borglum had in mind initially — head-to-waist high sculptures of the presidents, plus monuments to the Louisiana Purchase, Constitution & Declaration of Independence, as well as other territories, what stands today is pretty damn impressive.

Štramberk

as promised, more on the lovely Wallachian town that caused me to spend an entire day hiking.

Štramberk is situated in a notch in the foothills of the Beskydy mountains in the Moravian-Silesian Region. the two most famous sights are the castle, perched atop Bílá Hora, and Šipka Cave. the castle tower can be readily seen from the surrounding mountains — as I learned throughout my hike. the northern path from the town square takes you under an arch with the inscription ‘Cuius regio – eius religio – 1111’ (‘Whose realm, his religion’). I can’t find any conclusive explanation (at least in English) as to whether the Romans visited or occupied the site that early, but it seems possible. the town was formally established in 1359, though the first recorded settlement dates from 1211. 


the castle itself was constructed sometime in the 12th or 13th century, either by the Benešovic family or by Přemyslide princes (one of the oldest and most revered dynasties in Czech royal history). at some point, it fell into the keeping of the Knights Templar, but upon the abolition of the order reverted to the hands of the king and spent considerable time passing between owners. eventually, the Benešovic took possession, but by the mid-16th century the castle began to deteriorate. the city, who now owns the site, spruced up the structure that remains, including the recognizable cylindrical tower known as the Trúba. the tower is 40 m tall and 10 m in diameter and was covered at the turn of the 19th century and turned into a lookout tower under the guidance of a famous Prague architect.


the other famous site is a cave where, in 1880, the mandible of a Neanderthal child was found. archaeological excavation in the cave occurred between 1879-1893 and evidence suggests the cave was inhabited by Neanderthals and cave bears alternately. apparently, this was the first discovery of Neanderthal remains in a cultural context.


another interesting piece of history I discovered while researching for this post concerns “Štramberk ears”. I saw people eating these odd, cylindrical treats (check here for a picture), even carrying away bags of them. turns out, these treats stem from a Christian victory over Tartar invaders in 1241. townspeople managed to flood the Tartar camp and allegedly, when checking the wreckage for spoils, found bags of severed ears, which the Tartars had removed from their victims to bring back to Genghis Khan to prove their kills. the inscription on the arch seems to allude to this victory as well — whomever rules the region gets to choose the practiced religion. ever since the defeat of the Tartars, people in Štramberk bake these ear-shaped biscuits to commemorate the event. today, only eight people are licensed to bake them, which explains why I saw Czechs carrying bags of “Štramberk ears” away with them.

(more information can be found here)
Posted by Picasa

Galipán

once you reach the top of El Ávila, activity options are somewhat limited. apart from the somewhat kitchy, boardwalk-arcade-like attractions in the teleférico station, options include walking up to the Hotel Humboldt (named for Alexander von Humboldt, a naturalist who explored and described Venezuelan fauna at the turn of the 19th century) and hiking or taking a “shuttle” down the northern face of the mountain to the village of Galipán.

after walking up to the Hotel Humboldt, which was mostly obscured by the cloud that sat atop the mountain through the duration of my visit, I decided to take advantage of the vehicular transportation down to Galipán (as I did not yet have my fabulous Keen hiking boots…).

the road down to Galipán is a rugged dirt track, rutted by rainwater streaming down the mountain and the trucks that drive you down the often steep incline are retrofitted flatbeds — two benches along each side, some with covering, some with more secure protection from the elements, all readily providing you with a sense of a true off-road adventure. eight other people and I squished into one of these vehicles for the 15 minute descent down the coastal side of the mountain, passing those more intrepid than us who’d elected to hike down the path to Galipán.

the town of Galipán has been around more than 200 years, when settlers from the Canary Islands established the town on the slope facing the ocean. it’s largely touristy now, with shops full of tourist trinkets and treats, like honey harvested from local bees or preserved limes. the reason I decided to visit Galipán, in fact, was because of some such limes. one of the people staying in the same apartment as I during the first part of my trip was an American who’d spent a lot of time in Caracas over several years, as a tourist and as a student. before we headed out to a dance club one night, she made wonderful rum & cokes for us, the magic ingredient to which was candied limes and nectar from Galipán. the drink was fantastic and, in addition to giving me an affinity to rum, I knew I wanted some of those special limes for myself. thus, up and over El Ávila to find some. I even still have a few left, and I suspect that I’ll never want to put them into a drink and use the last of them!

El Ávila

one thing that amazed me about Caracas was how close it is to the coast. from the top of El Ávila you can see the incredible blue-green waters of the Caribbean. (no wonder, since the peak rises in the midst of the “Cordillera de la Costa”.) the airport sits right on the water and coming in for the landing was rather unsettling. I’d never made an approach that brought me so close to the surface of the water before and in the last few moments it seemed as though the wheels were inches from dragging through the water. but we landed without incident, I disembarked in my second not-yet-visited country in as many weeks, and found my ride over the mountains and into the city. 

(more on the harrowing adventure that is vehicular travel in Caracas later.)

one afternoon when my eyes had begun to cross from browsing microfilm in the Biblioteca Nacional, I set off to scale El Ávila. looking back at my pictures, I began to wonder why the mountainside remains undeveloped — after living in San Diego I know there are few places building developers won’t go if given the opportunity, especially with prime mountain or coastal land. turns out that El Ávila became part of a national park in 1958 and is now a well-used recreational area. there’s a teleférico that goes from the base of the hill up to the mountaintop and offers spectacular views of the whole city (as seen above), the first incarnation of which was inaugurated in 1952. the original not only ran from the city to the mountaintop, but also down the other side to the coast and along the length of the peak to the (now-derelict) Hotel Humboldt. the teleférico ran until the late 1970s when it was abandoned. riding up we saw the wreckage of the original structures, rusted and abandoned beside the newer line.

despite successfully getting the teleférico up and running again, the private corporation responsible for it lost their concession to the state in 2008. according to a government statement, the company ran up a debt of some 19 billion bolivares which prompted the state to take over the tourist operations. since taking over, the state has promised to expand the teleférico service once again to include some of the old routes. whether anything comes of the state’s grand plans remains to be seen, but somehow I imagine that the rusted skeletons of the original system will rest where they lie.

historic Julian

another reason I so enjoyed driving up to Julian is the sense of history the town possesses. even though California became a state immediately after Wisconsin (and was followed by Minnesota), and San Diego was incorporated the year the state was established, it always seemed to have a more limited sense of history. (I anticipate that at some point I’ll get into San Diego history, but today is for Julian.)

the unincorporated town is a California Historical Landmark, and the surrounding area is the Julian Historical district. it was established following the Civil War by soldiers who headed west to California. gold was discovered in the area by a former slave in 1869 and a minor gold rush began. the lode didn’t yield much, but during the period another settler brought some apple trees up into the mountains and discovered that the plants flourished. now Julian is well known for it’s apple pie. mmm, apple pie.

the town was home to some of the first settlers in San Diego County and, according to information from the 1880 census, the majority of blacks in the county lived in and around Julian. the first business to be owned and operated by blacks in the county was in Julian — the Robinson Hotel, owned by Albert and Margaret Tull Robinson. it’s now the Julian Gold Rush Hotel (pictured above). it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

the sky goes on for days

yesterday I had a sudden and strong desire to be driving through the mountains on the way to/from Julian. whenever I needed to get away from San Diego for a while, I’d take to the hills. drive a loop that would take me up through Poway, and the fire-scorched land around Ramona, Santa Ysable and Wynola. sometimes I’d double back through Ramona, but more often I’d take the twisty turny mountainy road down through Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. the land to the east and south of Julian is devoted to parklands — Cuyamaca, Cleveland National Forest, and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park/Wilderness. on days like the one when I took this picture, the sky is an amazing gradient of blues, from the whispy white-blue near the horizon to an incredible azure above your head. it’s also a drive that requires your attention — switchbacks, narrow roads, blind curves. one of my favorite places on that drive is a short stretch through real (Californian) forest (with actual trees and low scrub brush, much more reminiscent of forests I am used to), where there are two curves that turn back on themselves and you drop your speed down to near nothing. take them a little on the speedy side and it’s a thrill.


Cuyamaca State Park association

Conor Pass

returning from my adventure to Tralee, I opted to take the more scenic drive through the Conor Pass on my return to Dingle town. the road is quite remarkable, scratched out of the rockface with more determination than any of the other roads I traveled. uneven, repatched periodically where it appeared to have washed away at some point, tarmac wedged in defiance of strong odds, boulders protruding into the roadway at inconvenient points. the road goes over Mt. Brandon, the eighth highest peak in Ireland. the clouds hung low over the land north of the pass, but the view towards Dingle was wonderful. I’ll post a picture of the latter later.

Doo Lough Valley

though gorgeous, the Doo Lough Valley is known for one of the more devastating tragedies I heard about the Famine.
 in March 1849, destitute tenants of Louisburgh were told to walk to the lodge at Delphi (where they were told they would meet an inspector who would determine whether they could continue receiving assistance). some six hundred people set out on the twelve-mile walk along a beautiful but desolate valley. when they arrived at Delphi Lodge, they were turned away. (the inspector was supposed to show up in Louisburgh, but went on to Delphi Lodge for some reason instead.) the people were already devestatingly weak from malnutrition and years of living under the oppression of the Famine. numbers are disputed (at least between the places i checked), but on the walk back from Delphi Lodge to Louisburgh as many as 200 people died. there’s a stone cross commemorating the tragedy just over the road from where i am standing in this picture. every year there is a Memorial Walk, and in 1988 (just prior to the abolition of apartheid) Desmond Tutu participated.
that’s the thing about Connemara; because it was so dependant on the potato, the area was particularly affected by the Famine. it seems that around every corner there is some reminder of tragedy on some scale. but in spite of that, life has moved on; can’t dwell on tragedy and loss forever, even if it has dramatically shaped the present and fundamentally altered the course that events might take.
(Joseph O’Connor has an interesting historical fiction novel that personalizes the effects of the Famine, in which the characters hail from Connemara (the nearest town is Clifden, and the Big City is Galway): Star of the Sea.)