As a child, I ALWAYS wanted to go to Mt. Rushmore. It was the icon of America; it appeared in several cartoons often with a cartoon face added to the landscape. It is located in South Dakota which was important because in all our years of vacationing, we never saw a North Dakota license plate. It was the one elusive plate; surely we would see one in neighboring South Dakota. Unfortunately, we never went while I was a child. But I am happy to say I have been there now and it was even more amazing that I expected.
I grew up in the Rocky Mountains and thought I knew the beauty of tall mountain trees, meadows of wild flowers, deer running through the picnic tables, and majestic views. The Rocky Mountains are stunning, but I was completely surprised by the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. The beauty of these hills are captured at Custer State Park, located next door to Mt. Rushmore. If you have a few hours and are a wildlife lover, this is the place for you. We only had time to drive through the main loop and saw buffalo a few feet from the car, several types of deer, elk, and antelope, and wild burros. My husband is a shutter bug and wildlife lover, so this was his favorite part of our two-day trip. Also, this area is known for its geology. For the more adventurous, there are several caves worth exploring including those found at Wind Cave National Park. Rock collectors will want to visit the various rock shops and buy a few souvenirs. For those who plan on spending more than a weekend, there is a myriad of national parks and monuments, wild west museums including historic Deadwood, water parks, a reptile zoo, storybook island, bear world, and more. Very family friendly, small Western town feel.
Mount Rushmore--The Experience
Mt. Rushmore is an intensely patriotic place. The large visitor's center explains the vision of the sculptor. This monument is meant to showcase America's unique freedom as it unfolded through the generations beginning with George Washington during the Revolution, to Thomas Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence and expanding our borders, to Abraham Lincoln who held us together and ended slavery, to Teddy Roosevelt who began the progressive era and America's power through projects like the Panama Canal. Even if you believe these are Not the 4 greatest men in American history or even the 4 greatest American presidents (remember the monument was started in the 1930s), it is still a stirring place that symbolizes the incredible blessing of American freedom and democracy.
Beyond the visitor's center is the outdoor hall of flags. With all 50 states displayed on either side, this walk evokes the size and grandeur of the United States. Rangers frequently offer educational games for children to learn more about the states and their flags.
During the day, visitors can stroll along the boardwalks that offer different viewing spots of the monument as well as a replica of Gutzon Bolgrum's sculpting studio. This walk does include plenty of stairs and is approximately a mile long loop.
Though an icon worth seeing, the actual monument is smaller than expected and the entire tour of Mount Rushmore only takes half a day (I recommend going for a few hours during the day and again at night for the ranger program and lighting of the monument). It is one of the few vacations you can do on a long weekend if you are not interested in exploring the other national parks in the area.
Now when I see Mt. Rushmore on the wall of Chuck-E-Cheese with an extra cartoon face or watch (with my kids) an episode of Phineas and Ferb where the two title characters re-carve the mountain, I smile broadly because I have been there, seen that.