Mount Rushmore was originally known as the Six Grandfathers, or so the Lakota Sioux called the mountain. It was also known as Cougar Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, and the Keystone Cliffs. An expedition in 1885 by Charles E. Rushmore spurred the renaming of the mountain to Mount Rushmore. The idea of the mountain carving first appeared in hopes of increasing tourism in South Dakota. The idea picked up momentum, and Congress declared the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission in 1925. Four figures were to appear carved in the mountain for this project, and President Coolidge announced that it should be George Washington, our first president, accompanied by one Democrat and two Republicans. The other three were decided to be Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt, to cover the first 130 years of America’s beginning.
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How Did They Do It?
How does one go about carving faces in a mountain? Workers worked in the blistering heat and the cold, climbing hundreds of steps every day to get to the top to begin their jobs. Most of the mountain was carved by using dynamite. The original drawing was twelve times smaller than the mountain, so they used a system where one inch equaled one foot on the mountain and then was able to start their blasting and carving. The dynamite was used in different sizes to remove a little of the rock, or a big chunk of the rock, depending on what area of the figure they were trying to create. Once a thin layer was left to get to the final carving, drills were used to drill holes that were very close in proximity to each other, and then the pieces were removed by hand. Then using special tools, the surfaces were smoothed to a sidewalk like surface, to finish off the carving. Fourteen years later and almost a million dollars, and a mountain finally displayed the faces of past presidents.
Places to See
When you arrive at Mount Rushmore, for many, the first stop is the information center or the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center. There you can find information, bookstores, watch a short film or hear a talk. You can find schedules and have any questions answered that you may have. The Sculptor’s Studio is the building where Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln Borglum worked to create the carvings. You can see the scale model that shows the 1/12th scale that was used. Learn what tools were used and explore the bookstore.
Time to Eat and Sleep
If hunger strikes there is only one restaurant on site, and that is the Carver’s Café. However, in the surrounding towns and communities, there is plenty to choose. The city of Keystone is only 3 miles away, Hill City is about 14 miles, Custer is 20 miles away, and the bustling Rapid City is 24 miles from the mountain. Camping is available not in the memorial area itself, but nearby, and the surrounding towns and cities have lodging available if you don’t want to camp.
The Presidential Trail
The Presidential trail is a must-do if visiting Mount Rushmore when the weather is nice. During the winter months, it can be cold and slippery, so it is best when the path is dry. The trail is relatively easy, and all levels of hikers can do it. It is about a half of a mile long and has 422 stairs, so be prepared. You can get up close to the mountain and see the faces from some fantastic viewpoints and hidden angles. Watch for wildlife such as deer, turkey vultures, mountain goats, and chipmunks as you enjoy your hike!
Weather on Mount Rushmore
The best time to visit Mount Rushmore is Memorial Day in May through Labor Day in September. The winter months can be harsh, with lots of snowfall, closed roads, and traveling difficulty. Also, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is the first week of August every year. This is a huge event, and everything will be booked, so it is best to avoid that week unless you’re going to the rally. September will have beautiful colored trees as they change for the fall season. Keep in mind that even in May and September, severe weather can strike. Check ahead for what the weather may be. The summer months are a great time to visit Mount Rushmore. It is the most traditional time for the National Park, so there will be tourists and visitors, but you can hike the Presidential Trail, and enjoy the outdoors more so than any of the other months.
Mount Rushmore Stands Forever
The concept of trying to draw more tourists to the Black Hills South Dakota area evolved into an idea of a presidential carving on a mountain. It is safe to say the goal was accomplished, as 3 million people a year visit Mount Rushmore. For fourteen years, people labored to make a living by blasting measured amounts of dynamite and then drilling to carve what is now four of our presidents into a mountainside. Gutzon and his son Lincoln created the scale used to capture and create the mountain statue, and you can learn about it in the park. The project was supposed to have had the four presidents from head to their waists, but lack of funding prevented the carving from going further. The four leaders are shown from their heads to the neck. Mount Rushmore is a rare and unique symbol that represents the U.S. Come and visit this magnificent piece of artwork carved into a mountainside.