George Washington 7

A close up of George Washington, Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota

Jeff and I have visited all 50 states, searching out fun family, interesting historical sites and adventurous destinations. However, we’ve only scratched the surface in this amazing nation.

One place that is under advertised but a great destination is South Dakota.

There is no major metropolitan area in the state, and that’s not a bad thing. The state has nine indigenous reservations, more than any other state. Driving through, the landscape is generally rolling prairie with areas of wooded mountains.

It was once a shallow, warm, inland sea.

Within the boundaries of Badlands National Park, there is extensive paleontological research perpetually underway. The bones of strange species like three toed horses the size of dogs, saber-toothed cats and an ancient alligator-like creature reveal themselves to the scientists.

The Badlands themselves are a maze of gullies, canyons, cliffs and hidden valleys. Their geologic stripes often resemble the sunset, with reds and yellows giving way to tan, gray and brown.

The very first cave to be designated a national park is only 51 miles away. Teddy Roosevelt designated Wind Cave a National park in 1903.

The park itself is a lot of open space with woods and rolling, grassy hills. There are bison, elk, deer, prairie dogs and many more animals at home in the park. There’s also a campground and wilderness camping with a free permit.

The highly-decorated cave itself is closed because of elevator repair or construction. But, when the construction is finished, it will phase in Post-Covid tourism the same as other national parks.

Though the image of Mt. Rushmore has probably passed through your hands dozens of times on the S.D. quarter, do you know its history? Even the most imaginative person would have to be a little bit crazy to desire to carve the faces of American presidents, 60 feet tall, on the side of a remote mountain.

Yet that is what South Dakota State Historian Doane Robinson proposed in the early 1920s

They started by finding a willing sculptor, Gutzon Borglum. The project started out as “The Mount Harney Memorial.” Congress quickly gave permission for the gigantic project to be completed on Federal land.

South Dakota took a little longer to convince, but state officials finally consented in 1925.

Funding the project was a struggle from the beginning. Through Presidents Coolidge and Hoover, there was political wrangling, offenses given and offenses taken. A commission was formed, yet the project proceeded slowly and in a somewhat helter-skelter way.

The Great Depression descended on the nation and proponents succeeded on getting Mt. Rushmore covered by Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” When Roosevelt appointed a new oversight committee, work began to progress steadily, though the sculptor, Borglum, managed to reform the committee with people he chose and regain control of the project.

Borglum funneled money and labor into a Hall of Records, built in a valley behind Mt. Rushmore. His intent was to make it a repository for American history. But threatened with a funding cutoff if all money didn’t go to finishing the sculpture itself, building on the Hall of Records stopped.

For the last 2 years of the project, Borglum traveled, trying to gather more funding. His son, Lincoln Borglum, managed the project while his father was away.

In 1941, while the final dedication was being planned, Borglum died. Anxious Americans watched as war erupted across the globe. The Hall of Records would never be finished and the monument was dedicated in the fall.

As with most large-scale spectacles, no picture can give more than a hint of the awe-inspiring scale of Mt. Rushmore. When even talented sculptors would find it a heavy task to form the face of an absent person in clay, Borglum managed to carve four easily recognizable faces — each 10 times the height of a man — out of solid granite.

Add to that he had to make allowances for the natural grain and formation of the stone itself. There are not words for the results. Magnificent? Reverent? Astonishing?

Mt. Rushmore was meant to be a tourist attraction, and it truly is a terrific magnet to an area replete with things to do and learn and experience.

Only in America, God bless it.

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