At the top of my most wanted to see and do things were: To visit Mount Rushmore was the top closely followed by seeing where JFK was assassinated in Dallas. Both could be considered to of the beaten track for a UK visitor to America. I achieved both independently and I mean independently as my husband wasn’t interested in accompanying me on either trip.
In November 2011 I flew via Detroit into Denver, picked up a hire car and stayed downtown. I was very aware that the ‘Mile High City’ of Denver might present some physical challenges because of the altitude. I was worried that I might get headaches or feel sick but neither occurred. What I did feel was breathless when climbing stairs and I believe because of the dry air I kept getting nose bleeds.
Mount Rushmore was a must see attraction I think because of the movie ‘North by Northwest’ and the final scenes happening on the famous faces carved out of the mountain face. The drive from Denver, through Wyoming into South Dakota was the longest I had ever attempted. I remember looking at the Sat Nav at one point that showed my next manoeuvre of any sort was 199 miles away. The enormity of the States is indescribable, it really is. I drove through hills that had silhouettes of cowboys and bison on prominent peaks looking down on the highway below.
Progress on the drive was suddenly halted with snow and ice smothering the driving lanes. I slowed right down and then (remember the nose bleeds?) yes, my nose started to pour. What a dilemma, continue to drive or stop literally in the middle of nowhere. I did press on and after creeping along for what seemed a lifetime my 199 miles ended and I turned right and the road cleared up.
I was following a railway line and the scenery eventually levelled out to the National Grassland where there was nothing but wild grass as far as the eye can see. After what seemed like an age the flat lands was being broken by fir trees and slopes. The density of trees grew and grew and then the Badlands National Park came into view. Every turn in the road I expected to see the most recognised mountain in America, but no there was none of it. After nearly 5 and half hours on the road I saw a mountain with a flat ridge and recognised it as the Crazy Horse monument that is still being created into the Black Hills of South Dakota. I just didn’t have the time to visit the partial outline of the outstretched arm of Crazy Horse.
The road became narrower and then the climb began. Weirdly on the radio the song that started playing was Miley Cyrus ‘The Climb’. All of a sudden the welcome to the Mount Rushmore National Park Memorial was there.
I was actually here after all these years, but still I couldn’t see the monument. More corners, more tall trees, snow, sun, blue sky but no Presidents heads. A few miles more and a sign to the monument’s car park. So after 6 hours and 400 miles I was there…..but I still couldn’t see it. The snow was crisp and the temperature was chilly and it was really quite a snow covering over the trees. The entrance fee to the memorial is an annual fee to park your vehicle on the facility but the entrance to the monument is free. I parked in the covered car parking but there are plenty of spaces and overspill areas. This was out of season though and there was plenty of available spaces.
The first thing that greets you is the Avenue of Flags on the Grand View Terrace and the café to one side and the gift shop the other. I walked onto the terrace at the star of the parade of flags and finally I saw Mount Rushmore. It was so satisfying to be there at last.
I am not going to document a history of Mount Rushmore but here is a link to the Mount Rushmore National Park. So just a couple of interesting facts that I like about Mount Rushmore are that each head represents different key themes of American history.
George Washington – Founding
Thomas Jefferson – Growth
Theodore Roosevelt – Development
Abraham Lincoln – Preservation
Completed in 1941 the monument is now enshrined as a symbol of freedom for visitors from all over the world. I bet the 4th July fireworks display are amazing.
Each face is 60ft the same as a 6 storey building. Washington’s nose is 21ft long. Once a year professional absailers descend from the mountain top above and clean the President’s faces.
I asked a park ranger if he wouldn’t mind taking a picture of me with the mountain in the background. He was very interested in knowing why I was there. We discussed North by Northwest and he directed me to the museum of Mount Rushmore. I had a look around the museum which was really interesting and well worth the time. After about 90 minutes it was time to move on because the sun was going to start setting over the Black Hills and I needed to get to Rapid City.
I did find the experience amazing but it is very deceiving from all the images that you know about Mount Rushmore how far away the President’s faces actually are. I don’t regret a minute of my adventure but I wish I could have got closer.
If you are planning to visit consider a tour to join if not some in depth planning will be well worth the investment of your time. Remember winter the daylight hours are short and the weather could be against you. There are no gateway airports nearby so the air fare will be expensive to take a connecting service to Rapid City.
Look out for my other Bucket List wish list on my visit to Dallas and the JFK 22 Nov 63, Dealey Plaza Dallas JFK experience!