Mount Rushmore National Monument

After our visit to the Badlands, we continued westward in South Dakota for 5 nights of camping in the Black Hills. Thanks to suggestions from friends, family and folks we’ve met along our journey, we had lots of places to see during our brief stay. But since you have to start somewhere, we opted for the iconic American memorial – Mount Rushmore.

We had read that early morning was the best time to take photos at Mount Rushmore, so since Edie wanted the best shots possible, we set an alarm, got up early, and started our tour of the Black Hills with an a.m. trip to the memorial.

The Memorial

Mount Rushmore is enormous. As you walk along the Avenue of Flags (exactly what it sounds like – 56 flags representing the 50 states, one district, three territories, and two commonwealths of the United States of America, all lining a walkway), the four faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln tower above you. You can’t help but be amazed at not only the enormity, but also the incredible amount of work and manpower it took to make this happen.

Mount Rushmore was designed by Gutzon Borglum, cost close to $1 million, and was constructed between 1927 and 1941. Borglum chose the Presidents depicted on the memorial for very specific reasons. Washington was chosen to represent the birth of our country, Jefferson was chosen to represent its expansion, Theodore Roosevelt was chosen to represent its developments, and Lincoln was chosen to represent its preservation.

Obviously this is the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more history and information about Mount Rushmore, but we’re not going to rewrite what others have done so much more thoroughly. If you’re interested in more info on Mount Rushmore and its sculptor, check out the National Parks Service website on point and the Wikipedia article.

[Just in case you’re as curious about the distinction between National Park sites as we were, we’ll give you a brief primer, thanks to A National Park is created by an Act of Congress and contains a variety of resources and encompasses large land or water areas to help provide adequate protection of the resources. A National Monument is intended to preserve at least one nationally significant resource, is usually smaller than a national park and lacks its diversity of attractions. The President has authority, under the Antiquities Act of 1906, to proclaim national monuments on lands already under Federal jurisdiction. A National Memorial is most often used for areas that are primarily commemorative, but they need not be sites or structures historically associated with their subjects. Oh, and there are also National battlefields, grasslands, seashores, etc., but we’re betting you can figure out those! If you want the full run-down though, check out the article – it’s thorough!]

More Than Just Faces Carved In Rock

Because Mount Rushmore is such an icon for Americans, people would go visit the memorial if the four faces in granite were all there was to see. But they aren’t. The National Park Service has provided a wealth of activities and information about the sculpture, Borglum, and the four Presidents. We took advantage of only a few.

Located beneath the Grand View Terrace, the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center has multiple exhibits telling about the history of and the materials used to sculpt Mount Rushmore. There is an interactive exhibit with interviews of workers would had to suspend above the ground using jackhammers to finish the faces. There is a film, Mount Rushmore: The Shrine, telling the history of the carving, using plenty of historic film footage.

The Sculptor’s Studio is located a short distance away from the Terrace as well and also houses exhibits. This historic building was actually Borglum’s second on-site studio and has on display his original model for Mount Rushmore. There is also the half mile President’s Trail that loops from the Grand View Terrace to the base of the mountain and back again, providing additional information on the four Presidents at displays along the route.

The Evening Lighting Ceremony

Seeing Mount Rushmore in the early morning was beautiful (and definitely the best time for photos!), but thanks to a suggestion from one of Edie’s former co-workers (thanks, Barbara M!), we went back a second time to watch the night lighting of the memorial.

The Evening Lighting Ceremony is much more than simply flipping a switch to shed some light on the faces after dark. It is held in the Amphitheater located below the Grand View Terrace, with the Presidents towering above you in the background. One of the park rangers kicks off the ceremony with a short talk, shedding some information on the memorial that you may not find elsewhere or providing his or her own insight about the Presidents depicted above. Next, a short film, Freedom: America’s Lasting Legacy, tells you a bit more about the Presidents and Mount Rushmore. And finally, the faces are lit up against a background of patriotic music.

Although the ceremony didn’t start until 9 p.m., we went a little bit early to see if we could get any sunset shots and to check out more of what the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center had to offer. Our sunset shots turned out pretty well, but since we neglected to bring in our tripod, the actual night lighting shots weren’t so hot. We only got one that was somewhat passable. Darn!

If you make it to the Evening Lighting Ceremony, be warned that this is the time when Mount Rushmore’s Lost & Found gets filled. People leave everything from jackets and blankets to cell phones and cameras. Be sure you have all you came with before heading out! If you forget, though, the nice folks at Mount Rushmore Will mail you your lost item via USPS for free!

Getting There

Mount Rushmore is located near the eastern edge of South Dakota’s Black Hills. You really can’t miss it because there are signs leading you in from 30 or 40 miles away. From Rapid City, head south on US-16 until you come to US-16A. From there, the signs will summon you.

There is no entrance fee for the memorial, BUT there is an $11 annual parking fee for non-commercial vehicles. For those of you with the Annual Access Pass from the National Park Service, be warned that it won’t take care of that parking fee for free or even at a discount. Why you ask? Well, the parking facility was constructed without any federal funding – so your tax dollars were not at work here. But hey, the $11 does get you an annual pass, so take advantage. Go multiple times to take full advantage of all Mount Rushmore has to offer.

A Photo Gallery, Of Course!

Our post wouldn’t be complete without a photo gallery of our visits to Mount Rushmore. Don’t worry – it includes shots of the monument from practically every angle and in almost every light possible!