A post-11pm bedtime created a barely pre-10am wake-up time! We just about managed to get ourselves out of the camper by lunchtime but it certainly wasn’t easy. Thankfully we only had a short drive to Mount Rushmore and were all excited at our first glimpse of this famous masterpiece.
After collecting Junior Ranger books, we walked through the Avenue of Flags, stopping to deal with yet another bloody nose from Jake. As we were standing there, concerned Ranger Darin came over to check on us. The kids asked him a lot of questions (he was a law enforcement ranger) and he gave us some history of the Memorial. I think he was a bit worried about Jake and took us to the office for gauze and an ice pack, so sweet.
We looked around the museum and exhibits before going in to watch the film, Mount Rushmore: The Shrine. It is also known as The Shrine of Democracy. It started as an idea to draw sightseers to South Dakota. Doane Robinson suggested carving giant statues, in the Black Hills, of Indian leaders and American explorers who shaped the frontier. However sculptor Gutzon Borglum made his name through celebration of all things American. To him, ‘American’ meant ‘big’ (nothing’s changed there then!).
He came to look at the available rock in the Black Hills and realized the Needles area was too fragile. The exposed granite facing southeast to receive direct sunlight for most of the day was his choice. He wanted to carve something ‘in commemoration of the foundation, preservation, and continental expansion of the United States’. Hence, the four presidents were chosen. Initially it was just the three without Roosevelt but there was space so Roosevelt was added. At the time, he was a contentious choice because he was such a recent President, it wasn’t yet clear whether or not he was truly worthy.
President Coolidge dedicated the memorial in 1927, commencing 14 years of work; only six years were spent on actual carving. Money was the main problem. Borglum lobbied state officials, representatives and senators, cabinet members, and presidents. He insisted the work was purely a national memorial. He got $836,000 of federal money toward the total cost of nearly $1 million.
Each head was formally dedicated as it was completed: Washington in 1930; Jefferson in 1936; Lincoln in 1937 and Roosevelt in 1939. The plan was to sculpt the figures to their waists but money and time ran out. Borglum died in March of 1941 and that same year, the US entered World War 2, so the Memorial stands ‘as is’ and will not be changed in any way.
Each day, Rangers climb the statue to check for cracks and monitor the ‘heads’, they periodically power wash the granite. It was mainly blasted with dynamite to get to the point where pieces of rock could be finely chiseled to create the faces. Watching the old footage of the men dangling off ropes, drilling honeycomb holes to get to the finishing point was incredible. 400 men worked on the statue during the 14 years it took to complete.
To let you know how enormous it is, the carving of George Washington’s head is as tall as a six-story building. If his body was carved from head to toe, the height of the full figure would be 465 feet! Dimensions of the head: forehead to chin – 60 feet, width of eye – 11 feet, length of nose – 20 feet (Jake said, ‘wow, that’s 4 me’s!’), width of mouth – 18 feet.
Once the kids finished their booklets and were sworn in, we took a few more pictures and made it to the truck right as the rain started falling; we sat in the truck for a while eating a late lunch (wish they had some picnic areas closer to the parking area, we saw so many families eating lunch in the car park!). Leaving the Memorial took us past the side of Mount Rushmore so we were able to get great pictures of Washington’s head in profile.
The weather suddenly started to clear so we took the LONG route back to the campground via Custer State Park. A couple of people had mentioned great views of Mount Rushmore through the rock tunnels along Iron Mountain Road, for Dave ‘Mr Photo’ Valentine, the temptation of these potential shots was too much of a lure. The kids were less than impressed but it really was worth the extra couple of hours; the frame of the tunnel was perfect.
The road took us into the Park – they had a neat metal buffalo on the sign at this entrance – and onwards, stopping at the Norbeck Overlook for distant views of Mount Rushmore, to the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center. This is named for former South Dakota Governor, Peter Norbeck, who planned and surveyed most of the roads located within the park. The State Park offers the opportunity for kids to become Junior Naturalists. We picked up booklets and wandered around the exhibits in the Center. Thankfully there was a ‘pup’ book for Nathan so his requirements were far less demanding than those for the older three.
On the way home, we spotted the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is reasonably close to the road so we were able to get some pictures. Due to a lack of time this week, this will most likely be the closest we’ll get to it. We did read up on a few facts of how and when it got started and its continuation, seems like it has a long way to go yet!
• 1939 - Korczak Ziolkowski [core-chalk jewel-cuff-ski] a noted New England sculptor, first came to the Black Hills to help Gutzon Borglum on Mount Rushmore. That year Korczak also won first prize for a sculpture at the New York World's Fair. Chief Standing Bear read news reports of Korczak's achievements and invited him to create a mountainous tribute to the North American Indians.
• May 3, 1947 - Korczak Ziolkowski returned to the sacred Black Hills to create a monument of Crazy Horse.
• June 3, 1948 - First blast on the mountain. Five survivors of the Battle of the Little Bighorn attended.
• Crazy Horse Memorial is the world's largest mountain carving in progress.
• The Memorial's mission is to honor the culture, tradition and living heritage of North American Indians.
• It is being carved in the round and when completed it will be 641 feet long and 563 feet high.
• All four 60-foot high heads on Mt. Rushmore would fit inside just Crazy Horse's head.
• 1950 - Korczak married Ruth Ross.
• Korczak and Ruth had 10 children, five girls and five boys.
• Seven of the 10 children still work on the project.
• October 20, 1982 - Korczak died at age 74, leaving Ruth and family to carry on the dream. They continue it to this day; it is worked on year-round.
States visited: 49!
visited 49 states (98%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
Miles driven so far -
LOOP 1 (Aug 2009 - Aug 2010): 29,000
LOOP 2 (May - August 2012): 10,800
Highest altitude with camper: 11,158ft (I-70, CO)