Ken's Journal
No. 4 - Summer 2004

Mount Rushmore, Hill City, SD - 07/30 - 08/03/2004
Days 34-38 on the road. Part I.


Cheyenne WY to Hill City SD - 271 miles off the interstates. I leave Cheyenne heading north on I25 and after a couple exits, I get off on US 85 heading north. After 220 miles on this great road, I make a left on US 16 and follow to Hill City SD. I've found that most primary US highways are very good in the Midwest and West. Unlike what most of us on the east coast are used to, towns and intersections are few and far-between. Most of the primary US highways out here are nice, smooth two-lanes with a speed-limit from 65 to 70 mph. These two-lanes have periodic rest-areas and where you have steep grades and the terrain permits, you'll find truck lanes for slower vehicles.

US 85 is a great road - in the 220 miles I traveled on it, there were only five towns. So there was little traffic except for a few travelers like me. Over one stretch of about 30 miles, I never saw another vehicle! US 16 is interesting as well. Although it is a nicely maintained two-lane, it starts gaining elevation as soon as you pick it up in Wyoming and then turns into a real "snake" road once it enters the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota - very interesting in a 35' motorhome with a tow behind!

Until I hit South Dakota, the route takes me through the western edge of the north American short-grass prairie (according to a sign at a rest-stop). As you head across prairie country east to west, you first encounter the long-grass prairie, then the mixed-grass prairie and then the short-grass. Tall species of grasses grow in the east and short species in the west - all keyed to what the average rainfalls will support. Naturally, it takes more rainfall to support the tall grasses than it does the short grasses.  

This is big ranch country. From horizon to horizon, 360 degrees, it's all gently rolling hills - some under cultivation - wheat, hay, corn - but most is grazing land for livestock. Driveways back to the ranches may be miles and miles apart. Some ranches announce themselves with a sign at the end of their driveway and an arrow pointing east or west with the sign indicating "Bonner Ranch, 10 miles East" or something similar. How about that. A ten mile driveway, twelve foot snow fences, and in the winter, the stock has to be fed everyday!!

The first time I crossed Nebraska and Wyoming - on the westbound loop of this trip - I noticed a lot of snow fences. They're everywhere out here. The shortest ones are eight feet tall, some are twelve and a few even sixteen feet tall! And they are all permanent installations. One criteria I've always had for where I might choose to live was the size of the woodpiles outside the houses - the bigger the woodpiles, the less likely I'd like to live there. Now I have another criteria - and that's the size of the snow fences!

I'm staying at the Crooked Creek Resort a little south of Hill City SD and just a few miles from Mount Rushmore.

So what can I say about Mount Rushmore? It's a monument to America and in the words of the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, "the formal rendering of the philosophy of our government into granite on a mountain peak." As to the size and endurance, he said, "A monument's dimensions should be determined by the importance to civilization of the events commemorated . . . Let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what matter of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and the rain alone shall wear them away."

By way of an abstract of some of the literature I collected, here's a short history of the memorial Rushmore started as an idea to attract sightseers when in 1923, South Dakota's historian Doane Robinson suggested carving giant statues in the Black Hills. He was not the first to suggest that the stature of our country demanded super-sized art. In the mid-1800s a Missouri Senator proposed a huge Chris Columbus in the Rocky Mountains. In the 1880s, the 150-foot Statue of Liberty was unveiled and in the 1920s, a sculptor named Gutzon Borglum was carving a Confederate memorial on Stone Mountain in Georgia.

Robinson wanted his sculptures to stand at the gateway to the west where the Black Hills rise from the plains. He imagined the area called the Needles transformed into a parade of Indian Leaders and American Explorers who shaped the frontier. The backers of this idea called Gutzon Borglum. He scouted out a location far better than the fragile Needles 5,725-foot Mount Rushmore and proposed a sculpture of the four presidents that represented the first 150 years of American history. For Borglum, George Washington represented the Birth of our country, Jefferson symbolized the Expansion of our country, Lincoln embodied the Preservation of the Union and Theodore Roosevelt represented the Development of our country. His proposals were accepted, Federal funding and private donations were obtained and work began in October 1927. Work ended in October 1941 because Federal funds ran out and Borglum died. The work was never finished to Borglum's intentions, but the work is complete no additional carving will be done. After Borglum's death, his son and a few workers closed down the project with fine detail work on the faces completed and the removal of the scaffolding. The final cost was nearly a million dollars $989,992 85% paid by the Government and 15% by private citizens, local business and railroads.

Each face is approximately 60 feet from the chin to top of head. The eyes are 11 feet across and the noses are 20 feet long, except for Washington's, which is 21 feet. The mouths are 18 feet across and the full sculpture is 185 feet across. The faces are scaled to a figure 468 feet tall.


So how many ways can you take picture of this monument? Actually, quite a few if you walk around the monument a bit. The two shots above were taken from the Presidential Trail, a 1/2 mile loop trail taking you from the Amphitheater, past the Borglum Viewing Terrace, the Sculptor's Studio, by the base of the rock pile below the sculpture and then back to the Amphitheater.


The picture above to the left was taken from the Amphitheater and the one above to the right was taken looking down the Avenue of Flags. Beyond and below the Avenue of Flags is the Amphitheater where an evening lighting ceremony is held Starting at 9 pm, there is a ranger talk, a film about the four presidents, the playing of the National Anthem and finally the lighting of the sculpture. At the back of the Amphitheater is the Borglum Museum and Bookstore. To the right of the Amphitheater (as I'm facing for this shot) is the Borglum Viewing Terrace where the sculptor would sit and study the progress of the work. Further on the right is his Studio and the Compressor Building housing the compressors used to generate the compressed air powering the sculpting tools (90% of the mountain carving was done with dynamite, the remainder with air-powered chisels). Behind me is the Information Center and Bookstore and a concession operated restaurant, snack bar and large gift shop.

Is this place commercialized or what? If you want to avoid crowds, this is NOT the place to do it. This is a National Monument and there is no admission fee if you walk in. If you want to park, there is an $8 fee to park a car. For your $8 you get a sticker that's good for multiple visits over a year. So how many times would you use that in a year? Well, maybe twice because a visit and hike around the trail should take no more than a half-day and if you want to see the lighting ceremony, you have to come back at 9 pm.

So after you've done the half-day at Rushmore, what else is left to occupy you before going back for the lighting ceremony? Well, for starters, you can make it on over to the Crazy Horse Memorial just 17 miles down the road.

In the 1930s a Lakota Sioux Indian Chief had been watching the progress on the American Presidents at Mount Rushmore and longed for an equally powerful monument of an Indian hero. In 1939 he contacted Boston-born sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. Within a year, Korczak had completed a clay model and he and the Indian Chief, Standing Bear, went shopping for a mountain to carve. The literature I've found makes no mention of why the mountain was chosen or who owned it then or who owns it now. As near as I can tell, the carving is on Thunderhead Mountain in the Black Hills National Forest. Anyhow, unlike the sculptor doing Rushmore who had a substantial crew, Korczak began creating his 563 x 641 foot sculpture in June 1948, by himself. He spent the next 36 years blasting away 7.4 million tons of granite to rough out virtually the entire figure (By comparison, only 450,000 tons of rock was blasted from Rushmore). Progress was slow as it was just Korczak, and later Korczak and his sons. Korczak died in 1982, but the work continued with his wife leading the effort by his 5 sons and 5 daughters. Together, they completed the face of Crazy Horse which was dedicated in June 1998, 50 years after Korczak's first blast. It's uncertain when the carving will be finished.

Above on the left, from the parking lot, is a side shot of the progress so far. Above on the right is a shot of a model of the finished sculpture with the mountain in the background.


To the left is a closer shot of Crazy Horse. The structure on the top of his head is part of a "pantograph" type arrangement that's used to enlarge and transfer measurements taken from the model to the actual work.

Crazy horse is a nonprofit, educational and cultural project financed mostly from admission fees $9 a person or $20 a carload. A bus ride closer to the carving (where the picture at right was taken) is an additional $3 per person.

The site includes a large and well executed Indian Museum, an orientation center, gift shops, a restaurant, a Native American Cultural Center and the Sculptor's Workshop.


So after a visit to Crazy Horse and a stop back at the Motorhome for dinner, I headed back over to Rushmore for the evening festivities! On the right is a shot of the monument lit up after the ceremony.

The settings for this exposure were ISO 400, f 5.6 at 1/3 second.

For the 4th of July ceremony, a fireworks display is set off on the mountain behind the heads. Book your seat in the Amphitheater now.


Up next - Rushmore Part II, out and about.


Page 26

  Previous Page

Next Page


To The Journal Index |  To The Summer 2004 Index | To