Day 5: August 9, 2016
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a unique park within the National Park System. What makes men decide to carve the faces of four Presidents into a mountain?
Mount Rushmore was originally devised as a way to draw tourists into the Black Hills area. Doane Robinson, a South Dakota historian, wanted to depict famous people of the Black Hills area on the Needles Mountain. He was able to drum up support for the idea, but Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor for the project, rejected the Needles because of the poor quality of the granite and because of strong opposition from Native American tribes. Mount Rushmore had better exposure to the sun too, that would better show the finished sculptures. Borglum also thought the characters chosen for the monument needed to have a broader appeal, so he picked four Presidents; Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.
Mount Rushmore is unique because instead of bringing an existing national treasure into the park service portfolio, this one was created specifically for inclusion. The National Memorial was designated on March 3, 1925. The project began in 1927 and the faces were carved between 1934 and 1939. Each face was 60 feet tall. Over 400 workers were on the project, and miraculously for a project of this size and complexity, no one died. Except, I guess for Borglum, who died in 1941 from an embolism, and his son Lincoln took over after his death. The monument was originally supposed to include the torso of each President as well, but with the United States’ entry into World War II, funding for the project ended early and the monument remains unfinished. Since George Washington was the first President carved, he has some rudimentary clothes, although even those are unfinished.
We walked through the Avenue of the Flags and of course had to find our WA state flag. I wasn’t sure how they had them organized, but found out later on the internet that they are arranged alphabetically, with the A’s beginning at the entrance and the W’s at the end closer to the mountain. I thought their date of entrance into the United States would have been better, but whatever… From the flag plaza, we walked out to the viewing area and saw the monument – it really is beautiful. Each face has a lot of detail. We posed for pictures and got photos of the monument from different angles.
Then we went downstairs, where there is a very informative museum that has exhibits on the history of the monument, and the engineering and sculpting techniques that were used to create the monument. And, of course, the obligatory movie… There were videos of the construction of the monument too! There is also a very good bookstore that has quite a few relevant books; it is a better bookstore than the one by the entrance, by the way.
There is a 0.6 mile trail that gets you closer to the monument, but I was feeling a bit fizzled out at that point and so was mom, so we didn’t end up doing it. We also didn’t end up staying for the evening light show, although one day I want to make it back for both the walk and the light show. We had a long day at that point and it looked like a thunderstorm was rolling in, so we headed out for the day just as some big fat raindrops were beginning to fall. We did stop at a viewpoint just outside the memorial to get a few photos of George Washington from a different angle – in profile.
On our drive away from Rushmore, we were treated to a pretty rainbow; there is nothing like it to lift one’s spirits and enjoy something beautiful. We ended up back at the Buglin’ Bull in Custer for dinner again – this time I had the Greek salad with iced tea. It was delicious! After dinner we headed back to our little motel, and got to sit outside and soak up a bit more warmth. Then we went inside before the rain returned and were treated to a wonderful thunder and lightning storm. I lay in bed with the curtains open and watched the storm before I fell asleep.
Costs and Fees: No charge to visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial itself, but there is a $10 per car parking fee.
Distance for the Day: Custer, SD – Wind Cave National Park – Custer State Park – Crazy Horse Memorial – Mount Rushmore National Memorial – Mystic Valley Inn – Custer, SD (1 hr, 46 min, 80 miles)
Hotel for the night: Mystic Valley Inn – Custer, SD