• Aug31

    The Granite Heads of Mt Rushmore

    August 31, 2020 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 52 °F

    Married nearly 40 years and I had no idea that Mui has always wanted to visit the Mt Rushmore National Memorial. I don’t recall him ever mentioning it before ... not even when we were considering South Dakota as our home state for our fulltiming years in the Phaeton. He told me today that he’s wanted to do so since he first saw a photograph of the granite heads in an issue of Reader’s Digest ... back in the 1960s. Today, his dream came true.

    Technically, we got our first glimpse of the memorial when we drove Iron Mountain Road and saw the heads framed by the three tunnels blasted out of the rocks to build the road. But that doesn’t count. The approximately 60-feet tall heads were mere specks on the horizon. Today, we got as close to them as possible by walking the Presidential Trail ... after viewing and photographing them from the Grand View Terrace.

    We had made a pact before leaving Colorado Springs that on this trip to South Dakota, we would stay away from indoor activities that were crowded. Outdoor places as well for that matter.

    Arriving at Mt Rushmore at 7:30a this morning not only meant that we got to enjoy the grounds without the crowds, but we also found only six other people at the immense Sculptor’s Studio. That meant that we could sit down on one of the four or five 1940s-era benches that were spaced to ensure social-distancing and listen to a great talk given by one of the rangers.

    The presentation was billed as a 15-minute talk about the tools and techniques used to carve the memorial into the granite rock. The ranger covered that ... and more. He talked about the inspiration for the memorial ... born from Doane Robinson’s desire to do something to attract tourists to the state. He talked about the commitment ... when Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor, sketched out presidential heads instead of the Wild West figures Robinson had envisioned ... before he even saw the actual site. And he talked about bringing the memorial to fruition and how, as visitors to Mt Rushmore, we were part of the realization of a dream.

    After the presentation — which was excellent ... as all national park ranger-led programs tend to be — we checked out what’s left of the tramway used to get Borglum and the carvers up the mountain. We stopped to peer in what’s left of the sculptor’s first studio. Then we walked the nature trail back to the car to collect our PB&J sandwiches. The plan was to find a corner where we could sit and eat breakfast with the presidents.

    Wow ... what a change in the 1.5 hours since our arrival at Mt Rushmore! At 7:30a, there was maybe 10 people at the memorial. Now, people were arriving in droves, clogging the entry path that is lined with the flags of all 50 states (plus one district, three territories, and two commonwealths of the USA), filling the Grand View Terrace to take selfies. To boot, gone was the bright sunshine and the blue skies that allowed the heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln to pop. The light was still bright, but the clouds had moved into dull the monument a bit.

    A construction project was blocking part of the Grand View Terrace. A perfect spot for breakfast since no one was behind that section of the wall. Nor was anyone sitting on the bleachers on that side. We had a delightful ½ hour ... eating our breakfast sandwiches, discussing the memorial, and sharing photos with family using WhatsApp.

    Seeing as how Mui had been waiting so long to see Mt Rushmore in person, on the way out we braved the gift shop ... where masks were required, I was happy to see. We found a cap for Mui, paid for our purchase, and left the premises. Giving the incoming stream of visitors a wide berth, we quick-stepped our way to the parking lot.

    Now we had a dilemma. Though admission to the memorial is free, we knew we had to pay for the parking. The gates were raised when we arrived, with a sign indicating a parking ticket was not necessary. But the pay-machine wanted us to insert the ticket before we could make payment. Pressing the “assistance button” on the machine, we explained our problem. The woman on the other end of the line told us that since we had arrived so early, we qualified for free parking. She gave us instructions on how to get out and soon we were on our way. Yay! Saved $5 (senior rate) in parking in addition to enjoying Mt Rushmore crowd-free.

    [I’ll answer the question that I know will be asked now. No, we did not return for the lighting ceremony after nightfall. We wanted to. But two things got in the way. We did not want to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with a bunch of people who, we knew, would mostly not be wearing masks. Also, we did not want to drive the narrow, curvy, unlit roads back to the campground at night. No road lights + free-ranging animals could well lead to a disaster that we were not willing to risk.]

    The rest of the day’s story will be in the next footprint.
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    Nickie Wilkinson

    Mind-boggling, isn't it?

    Two to Travel

    Especially considering the tools at hand back then.

    Nickie Wilkinson


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