Skip links

Visiting Historic Mount Rushmore

Alex and me at Mount Rushmore

After we left Chicago, we drove north to Minneapolis, stopping in Wisconsin to get some cheese…and a speeding ticket. While we were there I visited my friend Kim, who I have known since 7th grade. It was great to catch up with her. Then we drove to Omaha, Nebraska, where we have family.

My cousins Pam and Mike were very excited that our next stop was Mount Rushmore. The locals fondly call it visiting “The Heads.” They encouraged us to drive west, across Nebraska, before heading north to Rapid City, South Dakota. Little did I know that Nebraska was so beautiful!

Cousin Mike told me that thousands of years ago, as the glaciers receded, they left hundreds of sand dunes across Nebraska, which frankly were magnificent to look at. I am so glad we followed their advice and took that route.

So, let me share with you what we learned about Mount Rushmore. First of all, if you have ever been to Disneyland or Disneyworld, you might wonder what Walt Disney’s inspiration was when he created Thunder Mountain, Frontierland and the surrounding areas in those parks. Well, I can tell you for sure, it was the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The Mount Rushmore Memorial was recently refurbished and has won many awards for its audio tour. Its sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, was friends with President Theodore Roosevelt, which is one of the reasons Roosevelt was included in Mount Rushmore, along with Presidents Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. The mountainside was blasted, drilled and fashioned into a memorial from 1927-1941. And now, more than 2 million people visit each year!

Before you get to Mount Rushmore, you must drive through the Black Hills. The trees and the flora and fauna are lush and well cared for. The sheer size and height of the forest surrounding the monument appear to dwarf “The Heads,” as you come around that final corner to enter the park. But, they are each 60 feet tall, at the top of a granite mountain that is at an elevation of over 5,700 feet!

We chose to follow the audio tour (which I highly recommend), because at each of the more than 20 stops on the tour you get to hear the history of the building of the monument, from several perspectives. (It is probably a good half-mile of hiking and climbing around the tourist grounds.) Many of the narrators on the audio tour are Native Americans who have varied opinions on how the Lakota people were treated when the land was used to erect this monument.

We were lucky that day to have spectacular weather — 85 degrees with not a cloud in the sky. As we walked through the Avenue of Flags (flags from all 50 states and 6 territories are displayed alphabetically) I was reminded of what a great country we live in. So many of us take our democracy and freedom of speech for granted.

Just 17 miles away, another monument is being erected: a monument to a great Indian chief, Crazy Horse. You can read all about Crazy Horse here. Alex and I stopped at Crazy Horse after we left Mount Rushmore and the sheer size left us almost speechless. I doubt that the blasting and carving will be completed in our lifetime.

But, certainly, our cross-country trek, including these two monuments, was well worth it. Now I can cross them off my bucket list!

Almost home,

Leave a comment