It was the bar code in Lincoln’s nose that convinced us to take the northern route through Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota on our way back from Oregon. The purpose of the trip was to visit my daughter Melissa in Eugene, pick up a car for my son Colin and drive it back to Ohio. My 12-year-old grandson Liam flew out with me to visit his grandmother Molly and to spend some time with his three cousins.
I had intended to drive the little Mercedes C36 AMG back to Akron by myself, but wiser heads prevailed, and I enlisted the help of two of my other grandsons from Eugene: 13-year-old Noah and 23-year-old Isaac. Isaac could drive, and Noah would keep Liam company in mischief.
I have driven back and forth across the country many times. Mostly I’ve taken the shorter route through Nebraska and Cheyenne, Wyo. Or I have driven the old Route 66 from St. Louis to Los Angeles, but that was in the old days. The shorter Route 80 through Cheyenne (where I lived once upon a time) is shorter than the northern route by a couple hundred miles, but once you’ve witnessed an hour of corn or an hour of alfalfa or an hour of nothing but open plains as far as the eye can see, you’ve seen it all. It’s a very boring trip. The last time through, we were hauling a race car to Sonoma in Northern California, and we drove straight through in 50 hours in a Ford 350 Diesel turbo crew cab dually. I realized what the old timers felt when they traveled by stagecoach; it was so bouncy that it was difficult to focus my eyes on the book I was reading.
We had originally planned to drive home this route until Liam said he wanted to see Mount Rushmore and mentioned that he had read in National Geographic that the government put bar codes on each of the national monuments to keep an inventory of them. The bar code for Mount Rushmore, he said, was in Abraham Lincoln’s nose. We all looked at him with incredulity, but he swore he had read this in the magazine.
We just had to stop by Mount Rushmore to check this out, and I’m glad we did. We traveled through some of the most beautiful country in Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. We saw real cowboys on real horses wearing real cowboy hats and big silver belt buckles who were in Sheridan, Wyo., to attend a cattle auction. For some reason, Route 90 turns red as soon as you cross into Wyoming. No one was able to explain that to me.
And if you’re going to speed, do so in Montana. The speed limit there is 75, but I got stopped for doing 90. The Montana State Trooper told us that up until a couple of years ago, the state had no speed limit. “Now you won’t get off this easy back east,” he said, handing me the ticket. The fine was only $40, and I asked if I could pay ahead, because at those prices I could afford to speed.
Mount Rushmore is immense; Washington’s nose is 21 feet long and Lincoln’s nostrils are 5 feet wide. It’s hard to believe that anyone could sculpt on such a grand scale and get the likeness so real. We took the tour and perused the gift shop but no one mentioned the bar code. Finally, I asked the tour guide where the best place was to view Lincoln’s nose so we could see the bar code. She looked at me as though I had asked the directions to Mars.
I related Liam’s story and she laughed out loud, and then directed us to a platform from which we would have the best view into Lincoln’s nose. Well, the nose is, I think, 20 feet long and almost 10 feet wide. Liam said he could see the bar code, but the rest of us couldn’t. Liam often tells tall tales, and this is another one, I’m afraid. We had a great time at a local cowboy bar where Liam also said he could see teeth left over from the cowboy fight the night before. Two of the most memorable sights for my grandsons seemed to be the bat stuck to the wall of a motel room we didn’t rent and the piles of horse dung all over the three states. Mount Rushmore came in third.
I had a great time, drove almost 3,000 miles in five days with detours along the way and got to know my three grandsons in a way I would not have had otherwise. I’m not sure it was the trip my daughter and daughter-in-law predicted — “The trip of a lifetime with your grandfather” — but I’m sure we’ll all remember the fun we had, the sights we saw and the people we met.
I’m looking forward for my next excuse to travel across this beautiful country. Next up: A trip to Washington, D.C., to check out the bar code in Lincoln’s Memorial.
Don Baker, Jr., Publisher