Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a United States National Memorial in the west of South Dakota. Featuring the monumental faces of four former Presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln – blasted and carved from the white rock of a mountain, Mount Rushmore is a national icon.
The four, 60-foot granite faces of Mount Rushmore National Memorial draw more than three million visitors each year, and that's just for each head!
The first blast on the mountain occurred in 1927. Under the direction of sculptor Gutzon Borglum, 400 workers labored through hot summers and cold winters to create the sculpture, nearly 500 feet up the side of the mountain. More than 90 percent of the mountain was carved using dynamite. The fine details of the faces were achieved with a jackhammer. Operators hung from the top of the mountain in bosun chairs held by steel cables. Despite the dangerous work, during the 14 years of construction, not a single person died. The memorial was officially declared complete on October 31, 1941.
However, Gutzon Borglum’s vision was not totally completed – original plans included head-to-waist depictions of the presidents. When Borglum died suddenly in July 1941, his son, Lincoln, tried to continue his father’s work, but funding ran out as America entered World War II. Visitors wanting to see a model of Borglum’s original dream can view it at the Sculptor’s Studio located at the Memorial.
Another part of Borglum’s grand vision was for a Hall of Records to be carved into the canyon behind the faces. Borglum envisioned a majestic room that held important documents like the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Borglum started blasting the hall, but never finished it.
On August 9, 1998, Borglum’s Hall of Records was somewhat completed when a repository was placed in the floor of the hall entry. Inside a titanium vault are sixteen porcelain enamel panels inscribed with the story of Mount Rushmore, the reasons for selecting the four presidents and a short history of the United States. The Hall of Records is not accessible to visitors, but is left as a record for people thousands of years from now.
Before the name Rushmore was ever used in the area, the Black Hills were sacred land for the Lakota Native American people, who have never recognized the US seizure of their land, condemn what they consider the defacing of a sacred mountain, and refused to take monetary compensation when the US Supreme Court ruled in their favor but declined to restore any of the stolen land to them.
The mountain now widely known as Mount Rushmore was renamed to honor Charles E. Rushmore, a New York City attorney who was sent out to this area in 1884 to check legal titles on properties. The giant outcropping of rock was a favorite place that many presidents visited with their families.
The four granite faces that give the mountain its greatest claim to fame were carved over a 14-year period (October 4, 1927 - October 31, 1941) by over 400 workers under the supervision of Gutzon Borglum, an American sculptor. Each face is about 60 feet high; if the bodies were to be included, each figure would be about 460 feet high.
Mount Rushmore is a project of colossal proportion, colossal ambition and colossal achievement. It involved the efforts of nearly 400 men and women. The duties involved varied greatly from the call boy to drillers to the blacksmith to the housekeepers. The workers had to endure conditions that varied from blazing hot to bitter cold and windy. Each day they climbed 700 stairs to the top of the mountain to punch-in on the time clock. Then 3/8 inch thick steel cables lowered them over the front of the 500 foot face of the mountain in a "bosun chair". Some of the workers admitted being uneasy with heights, but during the Depression, any job was a good job.
The work was exciting, but dangerous, 90% of the mountain was carved using dynamite. The powdermen would cut and set charges of dynamite of specific sizes to remove precise amounts of rock. Before the dynamite charges could be set off, the workers would have to be cleared from the mountain. Workers in the winch house on top of the mountain would hand crank the winches to raise and lower the drillers. During the 14 years of construction not one fatality occurred.
Dynamite was used until only three to six inches of rock was left to remove to get to the final carving surface. At this point, the drillers and assistant carvers would drill holes into the granite very close together. This was called honeycombing. The closely drilled holes would weaken the granite so it could be removed often by hand. After the honeycombing, the workers smoothed the surface of the faces with a hand facer or bumper tool. In this final step, the bumper tool would even up the granite, creating a surface as smooth as a sidewalk.
From 1927 to 1941 the 400 workers at Mount Rushmore physically sculpted, through the rock and soil, a landmark that people from across the nation and around the world would travel to see for generations to come.
Travelers on I-90 should exit at Rapid City and follow Highway 16 southwest to Keystone and then Highway 244 to Mount Rushmore. Travelers coming from the south should follow Highway 385 north to Highway 244, which is the road leading to the National Memorial.
Entrance to the Memorial is free; however, there is a fee to park. This fee isn't covered by the National Park Pass, Golden Age or Golden Access Passport cards because the parking facilities are privately owned. The structure was built to accommodate visitation, and because federal or donated funds weren't available, it was contracted out, and the non-profit organization became Presidential Parking Inc. Parking is $11 for private vehicles (cars, motorcycles, and RVs).
The small space between the parking lot and the terrace is fully accessible.
Mount Rushmore depicts the faces of four former U.S. Presidents (from left to right):
- George Washington, first president
- Thomas Jefferson, third president
- Theodore Roosevelt, twenty-sixth president
- Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth president
The park is set up straightforwardly as a sort of amphitheater to the display. Follow the trail along the Avenue of Flags (one flag for each state in the nation), head over to the Grad View Terrace, take a seat, view, ponder, reflect, and then be on your merry way!
If you'd rather linger, though (and you drove all this way), you can stop by the Visitor Center and Museum to watch a film on the carving, or follow the (easy) Presidential Trail for a closer view of the faces.
During the summer the park service offers several interpretive programs, all of which are free. Schedules are posted in the visitor center.
- Ranger Walk. (30 minutes). Led by a ranger to the base of the mountain carving, highlighting the natural and cultural history of Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills. Programs are offered frequently each day throughout the summer months.
- Sculptor's Studio Talk. (15 minutes). Offered during the summer, this talk offers information about the tools and techniques used in the carving of the mountain sculpture.
- Evening Program. (45 minutes Weather Permitting). Rangers lead evening programs in the park's outdoor amphitheater focusing on the presidents, patriotism and the nation's history. Beginning with a ranger talk, this program continues with the film Freedom: America's Lasting Legacy and culminates in the lighting of the memorial.
- Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota Heritage Village. (10-30 minutes). Located along the first section of the Presidential Trail, this area highlights the customs and traditions of local American Indian communities.
There are no trails in the park aside from the short walk to the viewpoint. Rock climbing is permitted in the park, although not in the closure area surrounding the sculptures. Overnight use, camping, and open fires are not allowed within Memorial boundaries.
The gift shop is enormous. The wide variety of Mount Rushmore t-shirts and sheer availability of sizing is astonishing.
Eat and Drink
- Carver's Cafe, ☎ . The one food court, which serves unmemorable pizza, panini, and coffee in a large room with a fantastic view.
No lodging is available at the memorial. Keystone is nearby, with several lodging opportunities. There are many more hotels and motels in Rapid City, if you'd prefer to avoid the kitschy, tacky atmosphere of Keystone and don't mind a slightly longer drive.
There are no campgrounds at the memorial. Several campgrounds are in nearby Black Hills National Forest and Custer State Park, as well as in communities in the Black Hills. A nearby KOA is within 5 miles of the monument.
Backcountry camping is not permitted at the memorial.
- Work on the Crazy Horse Memorial (admission $10 per adult or $25 per carload, "whichever is better for you") has been underway for more than sixty years - first by one man, Korczak Ziolkowski, an assistant to Borglum on Rushmore - and now by his several sons and daughters. It dwarfs Rushmore in size, and is intended to be the world's largest sculpture, but only the head, face, and basic outline of the outstretched arm have been completed. The project relies exclusively on private donations and admission to the visitors center, which features a theater and a massive collection of Indian art and history. Visitors cannot walk up to the mountain itself, but tour vans drive to a vantage point nearby. The Crazy Horse Memorial is on US Highway 16/385, just 17 miles southwest of Mount Rushmore. From SR 244, it's easier seen northbound (coming from Custer) than southbound.