Mt. Rushmore National Monument

Mount Rushmore National Monument, South Dakota

Giant heads of state

Nothing says "We loved ya, Lincoln," more than carving a 60-foot replica of his august noggin alongside the similalrly gargantuan visages of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt in this famous short chorus line of truly great presidential heads on a mountainside in the Black Hills.

Three million people a year make the pilgrimage to see the biggest and boldest example of jingoistic graffiti in the nation, carved with dynamite and power tools by Gutzon Borglum largely between 1934 and 1939 (though he started in 1927, and the project wasn't fnished—by his son—until after Gutzon's death in 1941).

The original idea was to carve the presidential torsos all the way to their waists until saner minds and lack of funding stopped the project at just the heads.

(Actually, the original original idea was to do cultural heroes like Lewis and Clark, Buffalo Bill Cody, and the Indian chief Red Cloud—and to carve them from the Pinnacles in nearby Custer State Park—but instead we ended up with four giant presidential heads on this moutainside. Those of us who are fans of the Pinnacles are eternally grateful for at least that.)

Note that, while admission to the National Monument itself is technically free, a private concessionaire runs the only parking garage, and that costs $11.

If you just want to count coup and say you have seen it, you can pull over by the side of the road for just a minute (though only for a minute; positively no parking is allowed) and snap a picture.

There are also some nice peek-a-boo views of Mt. Rushmore from afar as you are driving north in Custer State Park along the Iron Mountain Road, including some images nicely framed by the road tunnels roughly carved through the raw rock.

However, you can get much closer views—and attend the fine, free ranger programs—if you actually pay to park and enter the monument.

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in June 2012.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.