Travelers Bond With American Spirit

Mount Rushmore South Dakota

Rentals of recreational vehicles are up 30 percent since Sept. 11 - a sign that more Americans are looking for ways to take a family trip without the hassles of the airport, reports CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes.

The Yokels, an East coast family of four, are a good example of this trend. Kristi and Robert Yokel, along with their teenagers Kirstin and Robbie, canceled their European vacation to tour the United States.

"Our biggest goal is to bond as a family and see the country," said Kristi. "What a great country it is."

The Yokels rented a 30-foot home on wheels to make the trip.

"We're definitely going on a wing and a prayer," she said. "We're planning on going from Mount Rushmore over to Yellowstone, through the Grand Tetons.

"We're going to Park City, Utah, heading down to Las Vegas, over to the Grand Canyon (and) up to the Rocky Mountains."

Once behind the wheel, people are driving greater distances than ever. They are also visiting places that embody the American spirit. The Yokels are not the only ones headed to South Dakota's Mount Rushmore, which features the faces of former presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt carved into the mountainside.

Although it's one of the nation's most patriotic monuments, the number of people coming to Mount Rushmore had dwindled over the past few years. But visits have jumped 25 percent after Sept. 11.

"We're on a record setting pace in terms of visitation - up to maybe over the 3 million mark for the first time," said Park Ranger Rick Wallner.

Tourists to Mount Rushmore feel that seeing the monument lets them get to know their country a little better.

"We wanted to look at our country's history and find out more about it," said Skip Bridgeforth, a visitor from Memphis. "If you live in a country you should know something about it."

"Especially after Sept. 11, there's this surge of patriotism that comes over you," said Robert Neal, who drove to South Dakota from California to see the six-story-high carved heads. In fact, when we walked up today and I saw for the first time, I sort of welled up because it was such an incredible thing."

The thoughts of these guests are shared by many. The U.S. Park Service reports trips to many of the nation's monuments and historic sights are up. And in the Black Hills of South Dakota, that interest in red, white and blue is paying off in green.

"The restaurant owners are happy, the hotel owners are happy, the attractions are happy - it's just given us a boost that we've needed of a long, long time," said Michelle Lintz, of the Rapid City, SD, Convention and Visitors Bureau.

During the evening program at Mt. Rushmore, it's hard to find a seat or a dry eye as this great shrine to democracy is lit up while the "Star-Spangled Banner" plays.

"It was better than I imagined," said Kristi Yokel.

And as more Americans are finding out this summer - well worth the trip.