A road trip to South Dakota is the real deal and nothing can be more honored or treasured than a visit to Mount Rushmore, an iconic symbol of American freedom and democracy. Inspired and built during the age of the automobile, Mount Rushmore was the brainchild of two men, Doane Robinson, the visionary and Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor.
Robinson had fallen in love with the beautiful grassy plains, rolling hills and epic beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota. He was also passionate about South Dakota’s history and eventually left his law practice to work as the state historian. Wanting to draw more tourists to South Dakota, Robinson came up with the idea of creating a major tourist attraction in the heart of the Black Hills that would draw people from all over the United States to come visit. What seemed like a far-fetched fantasy soon became a reality when Robinson met renown sculptor Gutzon Borglum who had studied in Europe and was a true genius.
Partnering with Borglum, work on Mount Rushmore began in 1927 and lasted 14 years until Borglum’s death. A team of over 400 workers under the watchful eye and direction of Borglum helped carve the 60-feet high faces of four of America’s most beloved presidents, our founding fathers: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
Completed in 1941, Mount Rushmore became one of the most beloved monuments in America and just as Robinson envisioned, the monument remains one of the one of the celebrated, quintessential destinations for the American family road trip. Bordered by North Dakota in the north, Iowa and Minnesota in the east, Nebraska in the south, and Montana and Wyoming in the west, South Dakota offers endless opportunities for exploring some of the greatest places in the United States.
Heading west from Minnesota, we passed through what seems like never-ending grassy plains and farmland until slowly but surely the landscape begins to change into gentle rolling hills and finally the rocky, majestic pine topped peaks of the Black Hills where Mount Rushmore lies. It is an idyllic landscape that explorers and pioneers had crossed many years ago in search of a better life.
Following this path and ending at Mount Rushmore, the testament of American exploration and expansion, feels quite nostalgic. When you finally arrive after all those long hours in the car, the sight is astounding.
After watching a short documentary on the making and history of Mount Rushmore (in the visitor’s center), you can follow the short half mile “Presidential Trail” that loops around the monument and gives you up close and personal views.
It is amazing how huge the faces are up close and how much detail was carved within each face.
As we left, I took these final photos of Mount Rushmore from the highway. It is remarkable the scale and sheer dedication it took to create this amazing monument.
Yet tragically, Mount Rushmore came at a big cost. Explorers and pioneers who came to South Dakota destroyed the lives of the native people who had occupied this land for a very long time. Tragically, many Native Americans were slaughtered and their land and way of life was destroyed. The new Americans took their most sacred lands and destroyed their culture. It is a terrible reminder of our ugly past.
Another monument not far away from Mount Rushmore is working to honor what was lost to the native people. The amazing monument of Crazy Horse, a work in progress that may not be completed until my children are grandparents.
Little did I know that our visit to Crazy Horse would blow me away even more.