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The Hotel Alex Johnson
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Undaunted, I drive the half-hour south-southwest into the snow-covered Black Hills National Forest. What else can you do in Rapid City? I think. I have to see The Mount. I also briefly regret not buying additional rental-car insurance.

My first clue Mike was onto something is in the parking lot. I count six cars. Rushmore gets three million visitors a year. Do the math.

Then I enter the Mount Rushmore National Memorial itself. You know the 1981 movie Wolfen? Where ancient Indian spirit-creatures terrorize a wintry New York in which you never see anyone on the streets? That is Mount Rushmore today. Eerie winds from the Black Hills call out a warning to those who trespass. My footsteps are loud as I approach the viewing area, and I am suddenly overcome with a sense of grandeur. There’s something about the iconic 60-foot sculptures carved into the granite face of the mountain that feels so American. They have no reason to exist other than to promote tourism, but they’re a powerful representation of four of our most beloved, important presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. And I’m pretty sure I see it. I mean, there are clouds, but I look very hard for a very long period of time. I’m just about certain I could make out Washington’s nose and Teddy’s sweet ’stache.

At the Mount Rushmore gift shop, I get a free picture. “Because you can’t see it today,” says the woman working behind the counter. Maybe you can’t see it today. I saw something magical, gift-shop lady. And I’ll take a snow globe, too, thank you very much.

The drive an hour north to Deadwood — which takes me through some of the most beautiful hills, forests and lakes I’ve ever seen — is filled with anticipation. Gambling! Whiskey! More gambling! I can’t wait.