Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Stone Faced



View from inside a rock crevasse.
Why do people visit the Black Hills region of South Dakota?  To see Mount Rushmore National Monument, of course!  Is that all there is to see?  Absolutely not, but more about other activities in another post.  Mount Rushmore was on Betsy’s bucket list so we slid our route eastward when we neared the South Dakota - Wyoming border and spent four days seeing the sights.  Wow, were there some sights!  And I have to say that Betsy was blown away by the faces on the mountain.

 We have all seen photographs of Mount Rushmore but there is nothing like standing at the base of a mountain and looking at four famous granite faces to make you say, “Wow!”  While most portraits are painted on canvas this one is done in stone and while the subjects faces are refined with delicate brush strokes, this one was done with jackhammers and dynamite.

The Avenue of Flags was established to celebrate the
American Bicentennial and is a reminder to people of their
common heritage, history, and ideals.


This was a monumental accomplishment in many ways.  The country was in the midst of the Great Depression, yet the determination of sculptor Gutzon Borglum and his team of 400 workers persevered through the hardships and completed the colossal tribute to four American great leaders in 14 years.  In case you forgot, the faces are of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.  Borglum selected the four men because he wanted the monument to communicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States.  Washington is the most prominent figure on the mountain – a well-deserved spot for the father of our country and who propelled us to independence.  Jefferson was not only the author of the Declaration of Independence but doubled the size of our country with the Louisiana Purchase.  Roosevelt, our 26th president, led the country into the 20th century, worked tirelessly to ensure the rights of the common man, and is credited for the Panama Canal.    Lincoln is considered by many as the nation’s greatest president and was credited with holding the nation together during the Civil War.


Carving this stone sculpture was challenging in many ways.  Not only did Borglum and other monument advocates have to secure funding but they had to pass a congressional bill granting permission to carve into South Dakota’s natural landscape.   It took three efforts before the bill passed.  The project was supposed to be completed in five years and at a reasonable cost of $500,000; instead, it took 14 years and nearly $1 million.  The government originally appropriated $250,000 and the rest was to be raised by private entities; however, private donations amounted to only $153,992 of the $989,992 total cost with the remainder eventually resting on the shoulders of the government.  

Gutzon Borglum, the son of Danish immigrants, was 58 when he began designing the monument but was already an acclaimed  sculptor.  In 1941 when final preparations were being put together for the dedication, Borglum died.
The jackhammer was one of the most
instrumental pieces of equipment.
Most of the work was done hanging from bosoms chairs.
Remarkably, no one was killed.

There is a remarkable amount of detail considering 90% of the sculpture was carved with dynamite.

Below the viewing deck is an amphitheater.  At night, there is a presentation and lighting of the monument.  The pile of rocks you see below the faces were the result of years of dynamiting and chiseling away the mountain to carve the monument. 
The visitor center explains the intricate process of carving the monument.  From developing plaster models, to transferring the models to the mountain, to placing dynamite charges in the appropriate places, and then the fine work of chiseling.
Early ideas for the monument were to carve the mountain with faces of famous western pioneers and explorers.  But Borglum felt that the monument should memorialize great Americans who symbolize the entire country's principles of liberty and freedom.
The artists studio originally built in 1939 - from where Borglum and his team planned and executed the year-round project.
One of the original plaster masks of President Lincoln on display in the artists studio.
Park Service geologists have an extensive monitoring program in place to analyze erosion and cracking.  The estimated  erosion rate is 1 inch every 10,000 years so the monument will be around for many generations to enjoy. 
Mount Rushmore has been described as American history, alive in stone.  The national monument attracts over 3 million visitors a year and has become a symbol of our nations history and strength.  It truly is a spectacular sight and an incredible accomplishment.  

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