What is Mount Rushmore?
Mount Rushmore is a mountain located in the west end of South Dakota, within the Black Hills National Forest. It received worldwide fame because the mountain became the site of a monument of 4 iconic presidents of U.S.A. In fact, the amount of pop culture references to Mount Rushmore is endless – including Mars Attack, Richie Rich and Superman II etc.
Tell me the history of Mount Rushmore – why the 4 president heads?
Historian Doane Robinson conceived the idea for Mount Rushmore in 1923. The idea was to create an enormous monument in South Dakota to attract tourists and activities. Gutzon Borglum (an already famous sculpture) was awarded the job and he was scouting for a spot to make his ambitious carving. Originally, the monument was to be carved on granite pillars known as the Needles, but it was deemed to be too thin to support sculpting. When Borglum set his sight on Mount Rushmore, he knew that it would be the perfect spot because 1) the rocks were steady, and 2) the face of the presidents will face east, which will enjoy maximum sunlight exposure.
The monument was chosen to carve the heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. According to the official Mount Rushmore website, the four presidents represent the key themes of USA’s history: Founding, growth, development and preservation.
The whole process took 14 years (1927-1941). Under Borglum’s guidance, it was smooth for most of the construction except for one hiccup. Jefferson was supposed to be built on the left side of Washington. However, they found that the rock was unsuitable and had to abandon the idea (they had to click “undo”). Instead, it was decided that Jefferson is to be built on the right side of Washington. Jefferson’s head was also slightly elevated because another crack was supposed to go through his nose. Borglum had to make a slight adjustment to make sure the crack goes through Jefferson’s cheek instead (which is much more stable than just the nose hanging on its own). If you pay close attention enough, you’ll notice the crack-line.
In 2005, Mount Rushmore used Alfred Karcher GmBH, a German manufacturer of pressure washing and steam cleaning machine to wash the monument and thus able to produce a very smooth surface, illuminating brightly for monument visitors.
The entire project cost almost US $1 million (not factoring inflation guys). Luckily, no one died during the carving.
How to get to Mount Rushmore?
Ah, you definitely got excited to see the monument that you want to go straight to the direction instruction! Well, the closest city (with an airport) to Mount Rushmore would be Rapid City. This airport is quite tiny so don’t be expected to have direct international flights to Rapid City. However, once you reach U.S.A, it is pretty easy to take a domestic flight to this tiny town. Mount Rushmore is located at an area called Keystone which is only a 45min drive from the city centre. Just go on highway 16 and you’ll get there.
As you drive along the highway, be aware of the sight of Mount Rushmore popping out suddenly. You’ll see the monument from afar. In fact, you’ll see Washington’s head comes out first from the bushes, and then you’ll see the rest.
What’s there to do there and around?
At the monument, you can rent audio tour machines that will explain some of the stories and history of Mount Rushmore. Alternatively, you can sign up for a guide who will take you around for some dynamic story telling. As you walk towards Mount Rushmore, you will pass through the tower of flags which shows the flags of all the U.S. states and the years that they joined the confederation. South Dakota was the 39th state to join U.S.A
Once you are at the platform of the monument, you’ll see hundreds of tourists taking pictures of the 4 famous heads; some will attempt to kiss the president, some will pat their heads and some will do a flying kick (like me!).
Below the platform is a museum that shows the history of the monument, the tools that were used to carve the heads, and a mini-theatre that shows how great this monument is.
You can walk closer to Mount Rushmore through a looped broad walk path. You’ll get a much closer look at the statue and appreciate how many leftover rocks that are piled below the statues. Apparently, they were left there because 1) they have no money to clear the rubble; 2) it was a sign to show the world how hard it was to carve the rocks.
If you are done touring Mount Rushmore, there are tons of places to do at Rapid City and around South Dakota/Wyoming. On my way to the monument, we noticed that there were many themed parks and outdoor sites. These include a dinosaur museum, reptile conservation sites, adventure parks, jewel caves etc. Not to mention, there is a rival monument called Crazy Horse that is only 15 minutes away from Mount Rushmore.
Crazy Horse? Another Monument?
Crazy Horse is a national hero to the Native Americans where he heroically decimated the 7th Cavalry led by George A. Custer in 1876. In memory of Crazy Horse, Chief Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota chief, planted the seed to create a monument for their people. He said “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes too”.
Anyhow, Korczak Ziolkowski (a self-taught renowned sculptor) eventually was awarded the job to build Crazy Horse. If this monument is finished, it would be 3 times the size of Mount Rushmore. Not surprisingly, the monument is unfinished. The project started in 1948 and it took them 50 years to build the face (completed in 1998). Korczak has since passed away in 1982, and his wife Ruth (who took over) also passed away in 2014. However, the next generation continues the dream to build Crazy Horse. The arm is still under construction and is estimated to take another 10 years. The construction of the face of the horse would be even longer (construction period 50 years). Sad to say, I don’t think I will ever see the complete monument in my life time.
You can still go on their official website and see the live webcams to monitor progress: https://crazyhorsememorial.org/live-webcams.html
The sad thing about the construction process is that they only have 30 workers employed full time. Surprisingly, more could get done during the winter time because summer has the threat of lightning strikes and the crew has to stop all operation if lightning is within a reasonable distance.
The picture could be deceiving, but the hole in the middle can actually fit two school buses. The length of the arm is a football field, and the height of the horse head would at least be 22 stories tall. Oh yes, future largest sculpture in the world.
Admission to the memorial is $30 per car. A bus shuttle can take visitors to the bottom of the site at a cost of $4/person. If you want to go up to the arm and have a much closer look at the face, it will cost you $125/person. You let me know if it’s worth it. There is a laser show at night time, which is free.
If you want to go a little farther, you should check out the beautiful Badlands National Park. You can find more information about that park in my other blog post – follow this link.
Alternatively, you can check out the Devils Tower at Wyoming – which is only a 2.5 hour drive west from Rapid City.