The federal holiday we call "Presidents' Day" seems like an appropriate time to talk about an expedition to Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota, where the faces of four famous United States presidents have been carved into a mountainside there. As your vehicle drives up Hwy 16A/244 that leads to Mount Rushmore, you can begin to see the famous carved faces from many miles away.
As you get closer, the grandiose size of the sculptures becomes more apparent, when you look at the top of the mountain, and realize those faces are 60-foot, man-made carvings, into solid granite.
In this photo, I am wearing a light-weight black leather jacket, that was the perfect outer garment for exploring at this elevation, during the first week of May. Ironically, I was also wearing a black leather jacket of a different design, the very first time I ever visited Mt. Rushmore, even though the month of the year was August. That is because my husband and I were there on our Harley-Davidson motorcycle, in 1990, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally ( www.sturgismotorcyclerally.com ). Even though the August temperatures were warm when one was off the bike, you had to have your leather biking apparel on, to stay warm while riding to the mountain top via motorcycle.
The popular Avenue of Flags, leads up to the viewing terrace. It features the 56 flags of American states, territories, commonwealths, and one district.
For a close-up view of the faces, one can hike the half-mile trek to the base of the mountain. The faces represent the first 150 years of United States of America history. Next to President George Washington in the front, is President Thomas Jefferson. Next to him is President Theodore Roosevelt. The last face carved is that of President Abraham Lincoln.
The group I was with chose to take one of the free group hikes to the base, that are led by a National Park Ranger (shown in the green uniform, and familiar "Smoky the Bear"-style hat, in this photo).
During the hike, you are treated to several photo opportunities, that will enable you to get different perspectives of the mountainside, into your composition. Your guide will tell you that construction of Mt. Rushmore carvings started in 1927, and ended around 1939.
The Park Ranger that led our group, prided himself on being able to walk down the trail backwards, so that he could tell us about various points of interest along the way. It was nice to see that this part of the hike was handicap accessible, with its broad, concrete sidewalk. There were plenty of benches along the way, where one could stop and rest, if desired.
One of the most "co-operative" wildlife examples we saw during our trek, was this lovely creature. The Park Ranger told us that they are tagged, so that the staff there can track their health and well-being, plus identify them if they go beyond the park boundaries.
It is very appropriate that the "first" face of the four carvings, is that of our first president, George Washington. When construction began, the original plan called for each carving to be a full bust-style design. However, due to lack of funding, only President Washington has much of a "showing" below the neck.
It is easy to see why Mt. Rushmore is sometimes called the "Shrine of Democracy". The efforts of President Abraham Lincoln played a big part in the history of that democracy, as he led the country during the tragic Civil War of 1861-1865. In contrast to the thousands of American soldiers that died during the Civil War, there was not a single fatality, among the "soldiers of construction" that carved out Mt. Rushmore.
I think it is interesting that the sculptor included a likeness of eye glasses on the carving of President Theodore Roosevelt.
After about one-half mile, the wheel chair accessible part of the hike ends, and the stairs begin. No need to do your Stairmaster Machine at the gym on the day you visit this spot, as you will get a vigorous workout going up and down these well-maintained stairs. Fortunately, there are plenty of decks, with benches, along the way to let those who want to stop and rest.
The design of the stairs was done in such a way, that they blend beautifully with the pine trees and boulders that surround them. Those who come from a "sea level" elevation to hike at the 5,725 ft elevation of Mt. Rushmore, may feel the "effects" of the stair climbing, quicker than those who are used to being at the higher elevation.
One can get the full story of how the sculpture was visualized, initiated, funded, completed, and maintained, by visiting the Lincoln Borglum Museum at Mt. Rushmore. If you are there in the evening, you can also take in the nightly program in the outdoor amphitheater. That production consists of a high-tech film, patriotic music, and a lighting ceremony.
There is limited, controlled access to the very top of the sculptures, for those who really want to "get inside" the head of a president. This photograph shows a human being, just to the left of George Washington's forehead.
I was reminded of my visit to see these famous faces, when I was trying to find a mnemonic device to help me learn one of my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verses that says "Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always." Psalm 105:4 . Although these faces represent outstanding "fathers of our country", they are all human beings, and looking to the face of ANY president for our salvation, is a mistake. It is only our heavenly father that can supply our eternal salvation. If you would like to know more about visiting Mt. Rushmore, visit www.nps.gov/moru ; likewise, you can click on www.TravelSD.com for volumes of information, on visiting a state that advertises "Great Faces. Great Places." Those great faces and great places will give you "Miles of Smiles"! Tricia