In honor of President’s Day, today we head to the Black Hills of South Dakota where the Mount Rushmore National Memorial stands as a testament to American history and four presidents who helped shaped it. The looming granite cliff carved with likenesses of four U.S. presidents is visited by nearly three million people each year and is a worthy destination for families, American history buffs and nature lovers.
Which presidents are depicted on Mount Rushmore?
The four presidents chosen to be carved on the mountain represent the first 150 years of American history. George Washington, the first U.S. president, represents the birth of the country. Thomas Jefferson, the third president who brokered the Louisiana Purchase which doubled the size of the country, represents expansion. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president who held the country together during the Civil War, represents preservation of the nation. Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president credited with the completion of the Panama Canal and being a champion of the working man, represents development of America.
How was Mount Rushmore created?
The imposing project took 14 years to complete (1927-1941) mainly because it was slowed by financing challenges. The chief architect of Mount Rushmore was Gutzon Borglum, the same sculptor who worked on Stone Mountain in Georgia, although almost 400 workers also played a part in the memorial’s creation. 90% of the sculpted faces were carved by strategically placed dynamite. Next workers suspended in swings called Bosun chairs “honeycomb” drilled the roughed out features, hand chipped excess rock and hammered the surface smooth. Amazingly, no accidents claimed any worker’s life during the entire project. The mountain is composed of Harney Peak granite that has an erosion factor of only 1 inch every 10,000 years; annually Nation Park Service inspectors rappel the faces to caulk any cracks they find, so barring a man-made catastrophic event, the four presidents of Mount Rushmore should stand until the end of time.
Some fun facts about Mount Rushmore:
Each president’s head is 60 feet tall, nose is 20 feet long, mouth is 18 feet wide and eyes are 11 feet across.
- The scale is such that a whole man that size would be 465 feet tall.
- Jefferson was originally started to the left of Washington, but after 18 months of carving, it had to be blasted away and restarted to Washington’s right.
- Borglum started carving a large repository behind the heads to serve as a Hall of Records for Mount Rushmore’s creation, but work was discontinued due to funding restrictions and never resumed.
- The 200 mountain goats that make their home in the granite peaks are not native. Six goats, a gift from Canada, escaped in 1924 and populated the area.
Plan your visit to Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore is about 35 miles from the Rapid City, South Dakota airport. The National Park is open year round, until 5:00 p.m. October through mid May, until 10:00 p.m. during summer months, and until 9:00 p.m. mid August through September. Each night, the sculpture is illuminated for one hour approximately 30 minutes after sunset. There is no entrance fee to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, but an $11 parking fee is required for cars, motorcycles and RVs. Service dogs are allowed, but no other pets are permitted. A limited number of wheelchairs are available for loan at the information center and a surfaced Presidential Trail from the Grand View Terrace to viewing areas at the base of the mountain is handicapped accessible.
Plan to spend about two hours to see the memorial, enjoy a Ranger Walk along the Presidential Trail, hear a Sculptor’s Studio talk, visit the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota Heritage Village and see the evening film in the outdoor Amphitheater. All of these programs are free of charge, as is a self-guided audio tour with music and narration. There is no lodging or camping in the national park, but several hotels are available in the Black Hills area.