Area Highlight: Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is impressive, and a sight not to miss when traveling to the Badlands of South Dakota. I highly recommend making the trip to see this truly wonderful monument to our great country. The heads of the great former U. S. presidents - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln - are carved in the granite rock of the Black Hills, towering 5,500 feet above sea level.
Sculptor Gutzon Borglum, using 400 workers, carved these 60-foot heads intending to represent the first 150 years of our history. Covering more than 1,250 acres, it attracts millions each year who come to marvel at the work.
I suggest coming in the late spring or summer months for your visit, since temperatures are relatively mild. Although you may find scattered thunderstorms occasionally, May and June range in the 60s or 70s for the highs. The warmest months are July and August, with temperatures reaching into the 90s.
History of Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Beginning in 1927 to strengthen the tourist trade in the area, Gutzon Borglum was persuaded by historian Doane Robinson to come to the region to carve a memorial.
Originally choosing a cropping of granite pillars called “the Needles,” Borglum found these would not work, as they were too thin to support the sculptures. He found the perfect location where the memorial exists today, a southeast-facing mountain face where it would get the most sun. Borglum viewed the spot and said, “America will march along that skyline.”
Taking 14 years to complete, Borglum and his workers sculpted the gigantic busts of our presidents into the hard rock of the Black Hills. Each president was chosen for specific reasons, illuminating U.S. history and our independence, our expansion, opening our country to trade and promoting and creating freedom.
Workers climbed over 500 steps each day to get to the top and begin work. Borglum was 60 years old when beginning the project, and died the year it was completed, with his son wrapping up his work. The cost of the entire project was only about $1 million. More than 800 million pounds of rock were removed during the carvings, scaling the heads to men who would stand over 450 feet tall. Each of the heads stands as tall as a 6-story building.
If you wondered, as I did, whether erosion will finally eat away at this massive sculpture and prevent our children from viewing it in years to come, you don’t have to worry. The rate of erosion is so little (an inch every 10,000 years) that this wonderful National Memorial will be around for a long, long time.
When you come to South Dakota and Mount Rushmore, be sure to prepare yourself for some other interesting activities. Mount Rushmore isn’t only about viewing the famous mountain carvings.
During the spring, you will enjoy the proliferation of wildflowers that bloom along the paths within the park. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring a flower identification book, because that would allow you to identify the many blooms.
Be sure not to miss the Avenue of Flags. Here every state is represented. From the Grand View Terrace, you’ll gaze upon Mount Rushmore, marveling at this incredible work. You can get closer views if you go along the 1/2 –mile Presidential Trail.
Take a scenic drive along the Needles Highway, not far away in Custer State Park. The scenery is awe-inspiring, with granite spires, narrow tunnels and picturesque lakes.
Shopping is great here too, where you can purchase local arts and crafts and find marvelous Black Hills Gold jewelry (my favorite!).
Every night from May through September, the amphitheater has an evening lighting ceremony at 9 pm.
If you are here in July, be sure to catch the July 4th fireworks. With music and other celebrations, this will be a time to remember!
Tours or Shows to Enjoy
You’ll find a train tour offers new insight into the Black Hills region of South Dakota. I strongly recommend taking a train excursion on a vintage steamer! It’s like stepping back into the past.
When at Mount Rushmore, the Sculptor’s Studio is a great place to take a tour. You can really get the view of the artist from his original model of carving the mountain. Hear the Sculptor’s Studio Talk where you can learn about the techniques used in this incredible feat as well as stories of the workers.
Of course, there are other ranger programs for kids and adults, audio tours and even sculpture workshops for free.
Nearby, you can find some of the Old West in dinner, theater and music shows available for your enjoyment.
Where is Mount Rushmore?
Mount Rushmore is located close to Keystone, South Dakota, southwest of Rapid City and about 35 miles from the Rapid City Regional Airport. It’s easy to get there. You get off I-90 at Rapid City then take Highway 16 to Keystone. Turn onto Highway 244 to Mount Rushmore. The signs will show the way.
Reservations and Cost to Visit the Park
You are in luck here! You don’t have to make any reservations to visit Mount Rushmore. And there’s no admission fee either. There is a parking fee of $10, and that is valid for an entire year. Commercial buses pay $50 for the day. The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass or senior passes are not valid here because there is no entrance fee.
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