Roadside America

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Seeing Mount Rushmore for the first time was almost a spiritual experience. In spring 2014, a friend and I traveled to South Dakota and parts of Wyoming, stopping at Sturgis, Deadwood, Custer State Park, the Badlands, Devils Tower, and elsewhere. While the Badlands and Devils Tower were visually magnificent, Mount Rushmore really left an impression on me. Two-dimensional media just can’t convey its size and grandeur. Photographs don’t do it justice.

Mount Rushmore, in the South Dakota Black Hills, is known as a batholith–a formation of igneous rock formed from cooled magma. The rock is smooth, fine-grained granite, resistant to erosion. Between 1927 and 1941, Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers sculpted the 60 foot carvings. Gutzon died in March 1941, and his son Lincoln took over construction. It finished prematurely in late October 1941 due to lack of funding.

The sculptures were originally supposed to extend further down, uncovering the presidents’ chests and shoulders. I think the faces peering from the mountainside look better, and apparently the National Park Service agrees. With over two million visitors annually, they could probably get the funds to finish the sculptures if they wanted. It costs $10 to park, but that fee goes toward maintaining the parking garage.

A Visitor Center, Lincoln Borglum Museum, and Presidential Trail opened in 1998. The Visitors Center houses two theaters, the museum, and a bookstore. Today, you walk under a display of state flags on your way to the Grand View Terrace. There’s also a trail that allows you to hike along the base of the mountain.

Mount Rushmore famously appeared in the Alfred Hitchcock film North by Northwest (1959) and is a cultural icon. It’s probably the most recognizable monument in the United States outside the Statue of Liberty.

From Custer State Park, you can take Iron Mountain Road north to Mount Rushmore. This scenic drive offers beautiful views of its own, but you can actually see the sculptures in the distance from several overlooks. If you would like to donate to help maintain and preserve this monument for future generations, you can contact the park here.

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