Mt. Rushmore National Memorial

Overview

Introduction

Located in the southwestern part of the state, Mount Rushmore is one of the most famous landmarks in the U.S. and the draw that started the Black Hills tourism boom. The likenesses of four U.S. presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt—have been carved into the mountain. Each 60-ft-/18-m-tall face of this impressive sculpture was designed by Gutzon Borglum. He died in 1941, shortly before the monument was completed and 14 years after the project was begun.

You're likely to spot the faces well before you arrive at the foot of the mountain: The approaching road provides some dramatic views of the presidents. You have several choices for getting a closer view. Most visitors see the faces from the observation area below the mountain, during the daytime. (In summer you can also see them at night, when a lighting ceremony dramatically reveals the faces against the black sky.) A 0.5-mi-/0.8-km-long Presidential Trail from Grandview Terrace leads to the slope immediately below the faces, where fragments of blasted stone are still heaped in large piles (part of the sculpting process involved dynamiting the mountain). Be sure to visit the museum, which details how the monument came to be. Mount Rushmore is 35 mi/56 km southwest of Rapid City.

If you have one sculpted mountain, you might as well have two: The second is Thunderhead Mountain (17 mi/27 km southwest of Mount Rushmore), site of the Crazy Horse Memorial. This ongoing work is a tribute to Native Americans in the form of Lakota Chief Crazy Horse, who led the defeat of Gen. George Custer at Little Big Horn. When finished, the Crazy Horse Memorial will be a 641-ft-/200-m-long by 563-ft-/175-m-high sculpture in the round of the Lakota hero riding a charging stallion: The animal's head alone will be 22 stories tall, and Crazy Horse's outstretched arm will be the length of a football field. The face was completed in 1998, giving visitors a good idea of what the sculpture will look like.

Still, something that large takes time. Though the sculpture was begun in 1949, some people estimate its completion to be around 2050. Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski designed the memorial at the request of Native Americans. He died in 1982. His family is carrying on the project and doing so without any public funding. Finances come largely from admission fees to the area, where you can see a scale model of the sculpture, as well as the Indian Museum of North America and the Educational Culture Center, which showcases Native American artisans. The Crazy Horse Volksmarch, a 6-mi/10-km hike up the Crazy Horse Memorial, is held the first full weekend in June—the one time visitors are allowed to walk on the sculpture. A laser-light show entertains summer visitors each evening.

Not far from the Crazy Horse Memorial is the Needles Highway (Highway 87), one of the most scenic drives in the Black Hills. It's meant to be driven slowly—the winding route runs through tunnels, over bridges and beneath mountain summits. Harney Peak, seen from the highway, is the highest point in the Black Hills at 7,242 ft/2,207 m. Oversized recreational vehicles aren't allowed to travel the main road, but there is an alternative route available. Motorists enjoy the spectacle of the Needles—eerie granite spires that tower over the landscape. Crazy Horse Memorial is 17 mi/27 km southwest of Mount Rushmore.

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