Mount Rushmore

30 August 2016

We had intented to rise with the sun, but the prairie dogs had other ideas. They were barking, if you could call it that, well before the sun began to light the sky. When the sun finally did come up we looked around the campground and saw that since we had gone to bed at least 10 more cars were parked around the edge and at least that many more tents were pitched. The place was packed.

Most other people, like us, were getting up to see the sun rise and some to walk out up to a nearby hill to get a better view. Our bison friends were still around and about the campground. One even scratched itself on the picnic bench next to ours. Maybe thats why they like to hang around here.

Soon enough we were back on the Sage Creek dirt road, leaving the badlands and the bison behind. The car handled pretty well as we bounced down several long miles of dirt road until at last we reached the paved Rt 44. While our time wasn't long enough in this beautiful corner of the country, we were eager to see Mt Rushmore and get a shower.

When the farm land turned to forest we knew we were getting close. Mt Rushmore, after all, is located in the Black Hill National Forest. Like the badlands it is beautiful in its own way with huge pines as far as you can see broken up by mountains and peaks that look more like massive boulders rising out of the ground. The road was winding upward when the trees broke and from still a good ways away the heads of the four presidents were clearly visible.

The monument was also clearly visible from where we parked and dad was ready to turn around and head out after snapping a few pictures from there. But we walked in, passed all the state flags, to the main overlook. It was quite impressive. Before arriving I hadn't thought much about who scuplted the heads, why, and how. The answers are: 1) Gutzon Borglum, his son Lincoln, and other craftsman from the area in 1925; 2) Because someone else had thought of a similar idea and Borglum took it up and wanted to make a monument that represented four core American ideals in four presidents that exibited them; 3) By blowing up a lot of the mountain face with dynamate and the rest is pretty complicated.

We walked the Presidents Trail, the only trail, to get a look at Rushmore from all angles. There was a cave that provided an artistic shot of Washington and a bit of Lincoln through a crack, a straight on view that got you a bit closer, and the artists view (the gap between Roosevelt and Lincoln is not visible) from the sculptor's studio. From every angle it felt like the presidents gaze fell on you. Their eyes had been scupled with a cylinder of rock sticking out of their eyes to form puplis, giving the appearance that they are staring at you.

At the end of the trail was the scluptor's studio and the small museum. We took a look at both to further appreciate what we were here for. There were small scale models of the faces and the whole monument for the sculptors reference and plenty of documents and pictures to give us the whole story. The model of the whole monument included more of the presidents upper bodies including jackets and hands. That was Borglum's vision, but the rock did not make it possible. We also found out that Borglum invisioned inscribing a tablature on the monument, but once he found this was not practical he began designin a Hall of Records. Hidden behind Lincoln's head, he started to build the hall before funding ran out. The hall was suppose to house the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and other important historic documents or commemorations. What is there now is a bunch of porcelain panels that no one will ever see and an inscription of a quote by Borglum, "...let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and rain alone shall wear them away."

When we left in the early afternoon and looked back at Rushmore from the car, it was clear that the morning had been the right time to come. As the sun moved to the west, it cast a shadow on Jefferson and Roosevelt. This still did not dissuade me from wanting to see Mount Rushmore through a tunnel, presumably on a nearby road, that we had read about. Leaving the parking lot I went to the right up the road that leads behind the face of the monument. In moments we saw a profile view of Washington that was at a perfect angle, but this was still not what I was looking for. We continued down the scenic road a bit farther before determining we must be going the wrong way.

I was giving up hope that we were going to be able to find it, when we came back to the junction with 16A that led towards Custer State Park. There was a sign that warned of a narrow tunnel with a low clearance, this had to be it. The road wound upwards including many switch backs and pigtail (spiral) bridges. When we started clearing the treeline we knew this was the place. At the crest of a curve there was an open view back at Mount Rushmore before you turned into a one lane tunnel. And from the other end of the tunnel the presidents were framed perfectly (this was man-made of course). Undisputably the best view of the day and worth finding.