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No trip to the Black Hills and Keystone is complete without making a stop at Mount Rushmore, or the Six Grandfathers as the Lakota referred to the mountain. The Mount Rushmore National Memorial sits in a beautiful wilderness area surrounded by forest. As you can see below, you can get glimpses of it before you get to the actual park. The granite faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln gaze majestically from the mountain.
Mount Rushmore was a part of a road trip we took from Joplin, Missouri. On this trip, we visited the Ingalls Homestead in De Smet, Badlands National Park, Wall Drug, and Custer State Park. We made Keystone our home base for the Black Hills part of the trip. Before we left the area, we also visited Devils Tower National Monument.
Arriving at Mount Rushmore
One thing that is great about this park is that there isn’t a fee except for a parking fee that is good for a year. The current parking fee for private vehicles is only $10, so we were happy to discover that we could come and go as much as we wanted during the trip. Our days on the road trip weren’t unlimited, but we were glad that we had some flexibility.
After we parked the car, we headed towards the entrance. I like how you can see Mount Rushmore from the parking lot.
Avenue of Flags
Once you’re inside the park, it’s difficult to resist heading right for the Avenue of Flags and seeing the carvings in the mountain. The flags represent the states and territories in the United States. Unluckily for us, it was raining on this late May morning. Actually, it’s kind of cool that it was raining. Our pictures are unique. I’ve always said that it looked like the presidents were crying, though.
Gutzon Borglum and the History of Mount Rushmore
In the early 1920s, Doane Robinson, a state historian of South Dakota, began work to create a sculpture in the Black Hills, hoping to draw tourism to the state. Initially, Robinson was interested in the Needles area, but the unsuitable rock there changed the location to Mount Rushmore, a mountain named for lawyer and businessman Charles E. Rushmore who would later donate funds towards the sculpture. Because of his initial work at Stone Mountain near Atlanta, Georgia, sculptor Gutzon Borglum became a candidate for work on Mount Rushmore. When he was released from the Stone Mountain project due to a disagreement, Borglum was free to begin work on Mount Rushmore.
Side note: My family has seen Borglum’s work at Lincoln’s Tomb in Springfield, Illinois. The bronze sculpture is in Springfield, but the original marble is in Washington, D.C.
After winning the support of U.S. Senator Peter Norbeck and getting approval from President Calvin Coolidge, the Mount Rushmore project was a go.
The process to construct the sculpture of the four presidents began in 1927, and the presidents’ faces were complete by 1941. Dynamite blasted away large pieces of stone before workers went in to drill holes and chisel away smaller pieces in a process known as “honeycombing.” Amazingly, no workers died in the creation of the sculpture.
In 1939, The Sculptor’s Studio was built on the property to showcase plaster models of the sculpture and the tools used. Gutzon Borglum died in 1941, and Lincoln Borglum, his son, took over. Though more carving had been planned, the funding was discontinued and the sculpture was considered complete.
In 1957, a Visitor Center was added to the property. Then in 1976, the walkway known as the Avenue of Flags was added. The Lincoln Borglum Museum was completed in 1998 along with renovations to the Visitor Center. This addition also included Grand View Terrace and an amphitheater. The family-friendly Presidential Trail that leads you closer to the sculpture began construction during this year, as well.
Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center
The Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center and the Sculptor’s Studio are definitely worth a visit to learn more about Mount Rushmore and the carvings of the presidents. The film is well done, and we enjoyed looking around the gift shop. There is a cafe and ice cream shop on the property, but we didn’t check those out due to the timing of our trip.
This trail gets you close to the presidents, but due to rain, partial closure, and having our daughter with us, we didn’t explore the trail. If one of those issues were different, we probably would’ve checked it out. If we head back, I’d like to give it a shot. It’s supposed to be relatively easy with the exception of stairs. It’s noted as family-friendly but not wheelchair accessible.
Evening Lighting Ceremony
Since we could come and go as we pleased, we decided to head back in the evening for the lighting ceremony. We’d spent the afternoon having lunch and shopping in Keystone. When we returned, it was getting close to sunset. Mount Rushmore took on another look at this time of day. Plus, though it was chilly, it stopped raining!
The lighting ceremony takes place in the amphitheater each evening. I have two observations here. First, if you are there in late May, it might be cold! Dress appropriately. Layers people! Also, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sound of the wind whistling through the pine trees. I’d never heard anything quite like it.
Second, though the lighting ceremony is nice and I’m glad we returned for it, you may be disappointed if you’re expecting something spectacular. Keep your expectations in check and enjoy it for what it is. There is not a light show, lasers, or anything like that.
Also note, I took this picture before I started blogging or attempting any kind of night photography. It is what it is.
Mount Rushmore is just one of those places everyone should see at least once. The area is beautiful, and as you learn about the process of creating the sculpture, you can really get an appreciation of what it took to make it happen, especially in the time period in which it was built.
Many people say it is smaller than they expected, and I would have to agree. I believe I said exactly that as I stood from the viewing area. But again, it’s an American symbol of freedom, discovery, and ingenuity. Even with its controversies, I’d say it’s an American road trip must-do!
“Mount Rushmore National Memorial (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, www.nps.gov/moru/index.htm.