Today’s post is 1250 words, 22 photos, a 6 minute read. Enjoy!
A few days before Christmas, between two snow storms, my Traveling Partner, The Eldest, The Son-in-Law, and Shiner, the dog, ventured to North Dakota. We were there to visit family and to celebrate my Mom’s 94th birthday that falls on Christmas Eve. To say it was snowy and cold is an understatement. It was both of those to the nth degree. But we survived. More on that in a later post.
Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, before heading back to Wisconsin, we detoured down to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Compared to our time in North Dakota, the Hills were a banana belt with daily temps in the 40s and 50s with very little snow. This allowed us to take in a few of the iconic sites located in the Black Hills.
The Black Hills
The Black Hills are surrounded on the north, east, and south by the Great Plains. This mountain range covers about 5000 square miles (13,000 km²) of territory in South Dakota and Wyoming. When approaching from any direction, the hills appear to be black due to being covered with evergreen trees. The highest point is Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak) standing over 7200 feet tall (2200 m).
Indigenous Americans have a long history in the Black Hills dating back to 11,500 BC. More recently, Native tribes inhabited the Black Hills beginning in the 1500s. In the 1860s, the land west of the Missouri River including the Black Hills was designated “The Great Sioux Reservation.” For some tribes the Black Hills were sacred and the center of their origin. This didn’t last long, gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1874. This brought prospectors, miners, speculators, and settlers to the area. Conflicts arouse between the miners and the Native tribes. In comes the U. S. Calvary to drive the Natives to a much smaller reservation, where many starved and died from diseases. The dispute over the ownership of the Black Hills between the tribes and U. S. government continues today with no resolution in sight. For some, the Wounded Knee Massacre southeast of the Black Hills is still fresh.
With it’s natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and man-made attractions the Black Hills have become a major tourist destination. An estimated 3.6 million people visited the Black Hills in 2021. They need lodging, food, fuel, and entertainment that helps sustain the economy and livelihood of the people who reside permanently in the area. There’s a lot to see and do. Click here to plan your own adventure.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Our Black Hills tour began with a hearty breakfast at the Millstone Family Restaurant (quick, great service) in Rapid City. With our stomachs full, we made the 45-minute drive from Rapid City through Keystone to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Near the entrance, we stopped at an overlook with a tribute to the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum. I took this photo with Mount Rushmore in the background.
I’ve been to Mount Rushmore a number of times. The first was in 1964 when my aunt invited my sister and I to join her and her two boys on a five-day camping trip to the Black Hills. I remember looking up in awe at the carved faces of the four presidents. Back then, the facilities were primitive by todays standards but the faces were the same then as they are now. Every time I visit Mount Rushmore, I think back to that first look, I still stand in awe.
The entry to Mount Rushmore is through a concession run parking ramp. The regular charge is $10 per car but seniors only pay $5, a bargain either way. There are no additional fees to enter this unit of the National Park Service. After ascending from the parking lot, the first building is the information station where the friendly rangers dispense information and maps of the grounds. This is also where National Parks passports can be stamped.
Next comes the gift shop, and cafe with the Presidents looking over the scene. We would come back to those after walking through the Avenue of Flags to the Grand View Terrace and taking in the Visitor Center with it’s exhibits and displays.
We were excited to see the Wisconsin Flag and name plate closest to the terrace and memorial.
Looking up at the Presidents from Grand View Terrace is unforgettable. Even though it was a cool, partly cloudy day in late December, there were several family groups with kids of all ages, visiting this National Memorial. Most were taking selfies with the Presidents in the background. We did too.
After several minutes of viewing Mount Rushmore, we descended the stairway to walk the Presidential Trail. This trail takes visitors closer to the sculpted faces of the Presidents. Only half the trail was open due to slippery conditions on the stairs. Here are a couple of close ups of two of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Jefferson and Roosevelt were obscured by the angle of the trail. This view shows the cracks and fissures in the faces. Later, we learned in the interpretive center that those are repaired with silicon caulking compound. Look at the sculpted eyes, they eerily look real and watching over the nation.
Back at the Visitor and interpretive center, we watched a nicely done film about the history and process of carving the memorial. We learned that the project was conceived by the South Dakota State Historian, Doane Robinson to promote tourism. He originally wanted figures sculpted that represented the American West. Borglum, the sculptor had other ideas. He believed the end point should have wider appeal. He recommended the heads of four Presidents representing birth (Washington), growth (Jefferson), development (Roosevelt), and preservation (Lincoln). Robinson, Borglum, and others selected Mount Rushmore, also known as, Six Grandfathers to the Lakota Sioux. It stood 5725 feet above sea level and was composed of the right granite for carving.
After approval was granted by President Calvin Coolidge and Congress, construction began in 1927. Borglum died near the end of construction in early 1941. The sculptor was completed by his son Lincoln later that year.
Here’s an interesting fact: About 90% of the sculpture was created by the use of dynamite! Experts in dynamite carefully placed charges to remove 450,000 tons of rock. The remainder was done with jackhammers by workers suspended in slings over the side of the mountain. While there were a few injuries and accidents during the construction, not one worker died.
The Four Presidents
The Visitor Center that lies directly below the Grand View Terrace. We could look up at Mount Rushmore while reading more about the four presidents sculpted on the mountain.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Mount Rushmore. The view is stirring and a proclaimed “Shrine of Democracy.” However, I think of those peoples who were displaced first by the Gold Rush and then the desire to carve the faces of four great American Presidents on a sacred site. Maybe the carving of the nearby Crazy Horse Memorial will help heal the wounds.
Then Black Elk spoke: ″I would go home to eat, but I could not make myself eat much; and my father and mother thought that I was sick yet; but I was not. I was only homesick for the place where I had been.”
That does it for this week. Join me next week for another more adventures from the Black Hills.
Until then, happy travels!