As I’ve mentioned many times, I take great pleasure in the fact that I strive to learn at least one new thing every single day. However, ironically enough, I learn daily about the vast amount of knowledge I have yet to learn. It’s exciting and challenging, yet sometimes frustrating. I value the experience and opportunity more every day.
Upon completion of my “Tennis Shoes & Blue Jeans” creativity seminar among the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota, I shared a great early dinner followed by a very unexpected but pleasant surprise. I was treated to a personally guided tour of several historic landmarks by a few very well-informed local residents.
I returned to Mount Rushmore to discover that it had changed drastically since my last visit well over a decade before. In fact, a $52-million investment has totally transformed this national treasure. Attractive new roads leading to the monument set the stage for what awaits the 2 million visitors who arrive annually. A futuristic visitor center, museum, enormous gift shop filled with a vast conglomeration of treasures, two 125-seat amphitheaters, the Grandview Terrace, the Presidential walking trail and boardwalk, the sculptor’s studio and the beautiful Ponderosa pine forests left me with memories I won’t soon forget. When the lights came on at dusk, I found myself speechless. They were so lifelike I almost expected George, Tom, Teddy and Abe to start harmonizing from their lofty perch.
I remember learning about Mt. Rushmore in school, but listening to locals share their knowledge with such deep pride and true respect certainly overshadowed book learning by far. I was fascinated to learn:
- Why Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor, chose Washington (Father of our Country), Jefferson (Declaration of Independence), Roosevelt (The New Deal) and Lincoln (abolishing slavery) as the subjects of his colossal carvings.
- That well over 400 workers assisted Borglum as he created each of the 60-ft. images.
- The entire memorial covers 1,278 acres and is 5,725 feet above sea level.
- The carving started in 1927 and ended in 1941 — 14 years!
- How the name “Rushmore” evolved. I was surprised to learn the mountain was named after a New York City attorney. Charles E. Rushmore was sent out to this area in 1884 to check legal titles on properties. On his way back to town he inquired as to the name of the mountain. He was told by a local authority that “the mountain never had a name, but from now on we’ll call it Rushmore.” I certainly never read about that in school!
- That the heads were originally created in a different order than we see them today. Jefferson was initially positioned where we now see Washington on the far left. Borglum wasn’t satisfied with the “look” so had the entire face dynamited away. He started again placing Washington in the first position.
After my congenial guides tore me away from this breathtaking experience, we traveled about 12 miles down the highway to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial, home of the world’s largest mountain sculpture in progress. I thought Rushmore was enormous and it was. I’m not certain how to describe the enormity of this monument, which came into view long before we entered the compound. Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski began the project in 1948 at the request of Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear and other Native American elders. Korczak died in 1982. His wife, Ruth, and some members of their family continue the project, working with the nonprofit Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation.
This mountain monument, named after the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) warrior Crazy Horse, appears in the form of the head and torso of the famed warrior riding a horse and pointing into the distance. The monument has been in progress for almost 60 years and is still far from completion. I found it intriguing that this project will not be completed in my lifetime! When it is finished, it will be the world’s largest sculpture!
In the foreground is a 1:34 scale model denoting the appearance of the finished product. The actual partly-carved sculpture is seen in the back ground.
The memorial’s visitor complex includes a 40,000 sq. ft. welcome center and theaters, the Indian Museum of North America, the Native America Education & Cultural Center, the sculptor’s log home studio and workshop, indoor and outdoor galleries, museum gift shop, restaurant and snack bar areas and an expansive viewing veranda.
The memorial will be the icon of a huge educational and cultural center, which will include the University and Medical Training Center for the North American Indian and the Indian Museum of North America. Visualize an entire university campus at the base of this Thunderhead Mountain monument.
Interestingly though is the fact that this massive project is very controversial within the Native American community because many feel that the whole idea of making a beautiful wild mountain into a statue of a single warrior is a pollution of the landscape. Some say it is against the very spirit of Crazy Horse.
After leaving this second awe-inspiring spectacle, we visited several other local tourist attractions, which I found very appealing. I’ll spare you those details as my point here is not to attract tourists to the Black Hills but to share my revelation that there are so many untold treasures awaiting our discovery if and when we’ll simply put forth the effort to recognize their existence.
If you ever get the opportunity to visit South Dakota, you’ll want to make certain to visit the Rapid City – Keystone – Custer area to take in the variety of picturesque tourist attractions. You’ll find them both educational and entertaining. Oh, by the way, bring plenty of cameras, film, children, grandchildren and friends. Hopefully, you’ll bump into a few local residents who will share their history, tradition and pride, which will make your visit as memorable and truly unique as mine.