Throughout the US, there are a few sights I would say every American needs to visit during their lifetime. I would also recommend these same sights to anyone visiting from another country who really wanted to experience ‘Merica. Obviously there is the Statue of Liberty, but also towards the top of that list is Mount Rushmore, where the the faces of four iconic United States presidents are carved into the rock of the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Lines to enter the Mount Rushmore National Memorial were long and it took awhile to enter the parking structure. However you only have to pay to park- admission to the memorial itself is free. And there is definitely ample parking available in the parking structure.
A short walk later and you are there!
Before heading over to the memorial monument, take a few minutes to check out the information center and the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center. Getting background info on what you are about to see makes the monument even more impressive. In the visitor center you can view exhibits and a 14-minute film describing the reasons for and methods used in carving Mount Rushmore. Pretty cool.
Then head over to the viewing amphitheater to see the most iconic view of Mount Rushmore. I always envisioned Mount Rushmore being really big, but it person it seemed rather small. Here is a photo of Mount Rushmore exactly how it is seen from the viewing platform, no zoom used:
It still was an incredible sight to see in person though, after having seen images of it throughout my entire life. My inner history buff was giddy with excitement.
After taking an absurd amount of photos from the viewing area, take a stroll on the Presidental Trail (trailhead to the left of the viewing amphitheater if looking towards the monument). Trail is 0.6 miles long, 422 stairs, open if weather permitting.
This trail takes you through some beautiful wooded areas, and provides a more up-close view of the monument.
One question I had always wondered was: why these four presidents? I found the answer on the National Park Service website, and since they did such a good job explaining, here is what they said:
George Washington, (1st president) led the colonists in the American Revolutionary War to win independence from Great Britain. He was the father of the new country and laid the foundation of American democracy. Because of his importance, Washington is the most prominent figure on the mountain. (1732-1799)
“The preservation of the sacred fire of Liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” George Washington
Thomas Jefferson, (3rd president) was the author of the Declaration of Independence, a document which inspires democracies around the world. He also purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 which doubled the size of our country, adding all or part of fifteen present-day states. (1743-1826)
“We act not for ourselves but for the whole human race. The event of our experiment is to show whether man can be trusted with self – government.” Thomas Jefferson
Theodore Roosevelt, (26th president) provided leadership when America experienced rapid economic growth as it entered the 20th Century. He was instrumental in negotiating the construction of the Panama Canal, linking the east and the west. He was known as the “trust buster” for his work to end large corporate monopolies and ensure the rights of the common working man. (1858-1919)
“The first requisite of a good citizen in this Republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his weight – that he shall not be a mere passenger.” Theodore Roosevelt
Abraham Lincoln, (16th president) held the nation together during its greatest trial, the Civil War. Lincoln believed his most sacred duty was the preservation of the union. It was his firm conviction that slavery must be abolished. (1809-1865).
“I leave you hoping that the lamp of liberty will burn in your bosoms until there shall no longer be a doubt that all men are created free and equal.” Abraham Lincoln
So there you have it. Plus some really cool quotes by some very inspiring men.
At the end of the Presidential Trail you will encounter the Sculptor’s Studio, where the lead sculptor of Mount Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum, spent most of his time working on the scale model and design of the project.
Work on Mount Rushmore began in October 1927. Work conditions were rough, varying from freezing and windy to blazing hot. Workers had to be lowered down from the top of the 500′ mountain using steel cables. The work was dangerous, as over 90% of the mountain was carved using dynamite, but during the 14 years of construction not one fatality occurred among the 400 workers.
They used dynamite until only 3-6″ of rock was left to be cleared to reach the carving surface, then those last few inches were removed by hand. The rock surface would then be sanded until it was completely smooth and ready to be carved.
In 1941 the lead sculptor Gutzon Borglum died in the middle of the project. In addition, the whole world was at war, and America was on the brink of joining. Funding and interest in the project died out as the United States had bigger things to worry about, and so Mount Rushmore was declared a completed project, even though most of the proposed design was not included.
One last place to stop before you leave Mount Rushmore is the Carver’s Cafe and the gift shop. We noticed this sign outside of the cafe:
Turns out Thomas Jefferson had some special ice cream recipe, and they serve it at the cafe. This scoop of ice cream was kinda ridiculously expensive, but who can resist buying presidential ice cream while at Mount Rushmore?
But we’re not rich…we all shared a scoop.
For more information on visiting Mount Rushmore, check out the National Park Service website.
“The purpose of the memorial is to communicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States with colossal statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.”