Mount Rushmore. Mountain in United States, North America

Mount Rushmore

Mountain in United States, North America

Mount Rushmore Photo © Mark Kaletka

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Mount Rushmore

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Mount Rushmore National Monument - Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore National Monument - Mount Rushmore. Photo by Jim Bowen
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a United States National Memorial located near the small town of Keystone, South Dakota in the Black Hills. It is a colossal monument, covering 1,278 acres and rising 1,745 meter above sea level, featuring the images of four iconic American presidents that have been carved into the granite face of the mountain. Although South Dakota historian, Doane Robinson, has been credited with the idea of carving likenesses of famous people into the Black Hills to attract tourism to the state, it was Danish-American sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, who chose to sculpt the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln to give the memorial a more national focus.

Once federal funding had been secured, the construction began in 1927. Gutzon Borglum, who was leading the project, decided to use Mount Rushmore as a location for the monument. The mountain had once been known by the Lakota (Wikipedia Article) Sioux as “Six Grandfathers” until it was renamed after prominent lawyer, Charles E. Rushmore, in 1884. More than 400 workers labored through hot summers and cold winters nearly 152 meter up the face of the mountain. Each day, they climbed the 700 stairs to the top and punched-in on the time clock. Work was exciting but dangerous as it required that 90% of the monument be carved using dynamite.

Mount Rushmore
	with Crowds - Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore with Crowds. Photo by Jessica Lamirand

Mount Rushmore in the
	Snow - Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore in the Snow - Mount Rushmore. Photo by South Dakota
Workers cut and set charges of dynamite to specific sizes to remove precise amounts of rock. Dynamite was used until only three to six inches of rock remained that needed removing to get to the final carving surface. At this point, the drillers and assistant carvers would drill holes into the granite very close together – a technique called honeycombing. The closely drilled holes worked to weaken the granite so the rest could be removed by hand. After the honeycombing, workers smoothed the surface of the faces with a bumper tool. In this final step, the bumper tool would even the granite, creating a surface as smooth as a sidewalk. These workers were lowered over the edge of the mountain in bosun chairs held by thick steel cables. Some admitted to being uneasy with heights, but during the Great Depression (Wikipedia Article) any job was a good job. Miraculously, considering the risks associated with a project of such enormity, not one of them died.

Borglum’s initial vision was that the presidents be depicted from head to waist. He also intended to carve a “Hall of Records” into the canyon behind the faces. Here, he envisioned a majestic room that held important documents like the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, with the entry for the hall and the sculptures of the presidents only partially completed, Borglum suddenly died in July, 1941. His son, Lincoln, tried to finish the work but funding ran out as the United States entered World War II. The memorial was declared complete on October 31, 1941. In 1998, Gutzon Borglum’s “Hall of Records”was partially completed when a titanium vault was placed on the floor of the unfinished entry. In the vault, there are sixteen enamel plates inscribed with the story of Mount Rushmore, Borglum’s reasons for choosing the four presidents he did, and a short history of the US. The Hall is not accessible to visitors but is meant to be left as a record for people to find thousands of years from now. Today, the Memorial attracts more than two million people annually.

Mount Rushmore National
	Memorial - Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Photo by faungg's photo

What to See

Mount Rushmore - 1 -
	Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore - 1 - Mount Rushmore. Photo by Michael Turk
Visitors wanting to see Borglum’s original vision for the memorial can view a model of it at the Sculptor’s Studio nearby.

How to Get There

By Plane

The closest commercial airport to Mount Rushmore is Rapid City Regional Airport. South Dakota State Route 16 links Rapid City (Wikipedia Article) with Mount Rushmore.

By Automobile

Travelers on I-90 should exit at Rapid City and follow Highway 16 southwest to Keystone and then Highway 244 to Mount Rushmore. Travelers coming from the south should follow Highway 385 north to Highway 244, which is the road leading to the memorial.

Planning Tips

Entrance to the memorial is free; however, there is a fee to park. Parking is $ 11 USD for private vehicles (cars, motorcycles, and RVs).

There are several lodging opportunities nearby in the small town of Keystone. Rapid City has many more hotels and motels if you don’t mind a slightly longer drive.

Nearby Landmarks

Sylvan Lake
  • Sylvan Lake, known as the “crown jewel” of Custer State Park, is located five miles southwest of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
  • Harney Peak, the highest natural point in South Dakota at 2,207 meter, is accessible by a trail near Sylvan Lake.
  • Horse Thief Lake is two miles northwest of Mount Rushmore.
  • The Needles, located in the Black Hills, are a region of eroded, natural granite pillars that are very popular with rock climbers and tourists.
  • Crazy Horse Memorial is a mountain monument depicting Crazy Horse (Wikipedia Article), a Native American warrior. It is located seventeen miles from Mount Rushmore. It has been in progress since 1948 and, if completed, could become the world’s largest sculpture.

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Author: Convergence. Last updated: Jan 23, 2015


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