When the far reaches of the human imagination combine with determination and plenty of hard work, greatness often results. One fabulous example of the powers of possibility coming together just right is Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
As a means to draw sightseers to the wonders of the Black Hills, state historian Doane Robinson in 1923 conceived of the idea of carving statues into the mountains that served as a gateway to the West. Tall, thin granite spires called the Needles were the raw material from which Robinson proposed creating Indian leaders and American explorers. However, once Gutzon Borglum, the master sculptor responsible for the Confederate memorial of Stone Mountain in Georgia, was involved with the Black Hills project, the monument that we today know as Mount Rushmore truly began to take shape.
Instead of the Needles, Borglum selected the 5,725-foot Mount Rushmore, which features a southeast-facing wall of granite that allows for direct sunlight much of the day. Borglum lobbied Congress for funds, eventually receiving $836,000 of federal money out of the nearly$1 million cost, creating jobs and fostered good will.
In 1930, the Washington head was formally dedicated. George’s head is six-stories tall; his eyes are 11 feet wide and his nose is 20 feet long. Except during the winter months, the Sculptor’s Studio is open to the public and displays models and tools that Borglum used to create his granite masterpiece. Travelers can take part in programs offered in the Studio every summer day. The visitor center features exhibits that help explain the daunting task of creating the memorial, as well as a 13-minute film entitled “Mount Rushmore – The Shrine.”
Although visitors can view the memorial 24 hours a day, year-round, the visages of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln are most photogenic in morning light (a large telephoto lens and a tripod will prove worthwhile). Those needing closer views can walk the half-mile Presidential Trail that offers viewing sites below the faces. Various campgrounds are within short drives of the memorial.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial, (605) 574-2523, www.nps.gov/moru.