Mt. Rushmore National Memorial

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Mt. Rushmore
Mt Rushmore

What's the dumbest thing you can do while visiting the Black Hills?  Several things come to mind, including ill-advised encounters with big, nondomestic animals.  Also ranking up there would be saying,"Let's skip Mount Rushmore.  I saw it as a kid and obviously nothing's changed."

Actually there have been big changes over the past quarter century, mainly having to do with visitor amenities and parking.  In the 1980s and before, at the peak of the visitor season, National Park staff had to hurry visitors along to make room for the next round of cars headed for the cramped parking lots.  No longer. 

Amenities?  Food is good.  Ranger talks are always worthwhile.  The National Park Service museum at the top of the amphitheater offers an outstanding interpretation of the memorial's creation, 1927 - 1941.  Best of all is the Presidential Trail, bringing visitors closer to the sculpture than anyone could have imagined a generation ago.

Some basic information before you arrive.  The four Presidents are, left to right, Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Lincoln.  The sculptor was Gutzon Borglum.  In a Presidential election you never know who you might encounter at Mount Rushmore.  Living Presidents have been drawn to these granite ones, as have Presidential candidates.  President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the mountain at the beginning of the carving project.  President Franklin Roosevelt spoke when the Jefferson head was unveiled in 1936.  The completed memorial wasn't dedicated until 50 years after the final carving work.  President George H.W. Bush came to the Black Hills to do the honors in 1991. 

Sometimes people today say, "Mount Rushmore is controversial now, unlike in the days of intense patriotism during the World War II and the Cold War years, and before people fully grasped the sacred nature of the Black Hills."  But, in fact, Mount Rushmore has always been controversial in one way or another.  Borglum believed bold art stirs things up, gets people thinking and talking.  Mount Rushmore's been doing that for 90 years now. 

A very minor controversy in 2016 has to do with newly designed South Dakota license plates that depict the mountain sculpture.  Is Washington's head angled correctly on the plates, or does he stare too far to the viewers' left?  In the Mount Rushmore parking lot, find a South Dakota car, compare the license plate to the actual mountain, and decide for yourself.

Photos by Maggie Schneider, Allison Syman

Website: Mt. Rushmore National Monument


Follow Paul Higbee:

Paul writes about the Black Hills for in-flight airline publications, academic magazines, South Dakota Magazine, public TV, newspapers and websites. He is the author of five books, all Black Hills themed. He lives in the Black Hills. He's obviously no Renaissance Man with varied interests, but if the Black Hills are your thing, he's your guy.

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