Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mount Rushmore and Rushmore Caves

After the adventure at Wall Drug, (Click here to read about "Wall Drug")  we moved to Rapid City and then drove on to Mount Rushmore. The half an hour drive from Rapid City to the Rushmore memorial was beautiful with great scenery of the famous Black Hills on either side. Mount Rushmore is the site of the National Memorial with the carvings of the four famous Presidents of the United States of America – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. It is one of the largest pieces of sculpture ever created on the earth.

Gutzon Borglum Historical Center is located two miles before Mount Rushmore. It is advisable to first visit this museum before visiting the monument itself. A visit to the museum would give an insight into the multi talented sculptor's life and work. A full sized eye of Lincoln, a replica of the eye on the mountain, towers over the children looking at it. 
The idea of carving a National Memorial took shape in the year 1923 and in the mind of historian Dome Robinson who was the Superintendent of the South Dakota State Historical Society. The idea was to carve a monument of a leading personality of the province in the South Dakota's Black hills. Gutzon Borglum, already famous sculptor and painter was assigned the job of carving the monument. Borglum studied in Paris and had excelled in many fields. However, a desire to create something great that would stand for ever was latent in him. The invitation to carve a monument in the Black Hills naturally attracted him and he took it as his mission in the remaining years of his life. His thinking that the monument should be a model and reflect the achievement of the country during its 150 years of history received wide approval and carving of the four presidents received wide support. The four presidents chosen to be carved in the monument represented the foundation, consolidation, preservation and continental expansion of the United States. The birth of United States was guided by the vision and courage of George Washington. Thomas Jefferson always had dreams of a greater, more perfect nation, first in the words of the Declaration of Independence and later in the expansion of the nation through the Louisiana Purchase. Preservation of the union was paramount to Abraham Lincoln, a nation where all men were free and equal. At the turn of the Twentieth Century Theodore Roosevelt envisioned a great nation, a leader on the world stage, a nation changing from a rural republic to a world power. The ideals of these presidents laid a foundation for the United States of America as solid as the rock from which their figures were carved. Each president possessed great skills and leadership of the brand the nation needed for the times they represented.  However, there was opposition from the environmentalists who questioned as to how man can improve anything on the God made mountain. All the difficulties were overcome due to perseverance and Borglum selected the sound granite mountain at Rushmore as the rocks were free from fracture. The place chosen was facing southeast and hence receives sunlight for most of the day.

President Calvin Coolidge's holiday in 1927 in the Black Hills area came in handy for getting approval of the project and six holes were drilled symbolically to start the work on August 10, 1927 on the 5,725 feet high mountain. The work continued in stages by blasting the rocks with dynamite and carving the finer parts from hung cables. The work started in the year 1927 took 14 years and cost one million dollars at that time. Washington's head was completed in 1930, Jefferson's in 1936, Lincoln's in 1937 and Roosevelt's in 1939. Borglum was 60 years old when the work started and he spent the next 14 years of his life working on the monument, till he died in 1941. His son Lincoln Borglum, named after President Lincoln since the sculptor was very appreciative of his life and work, supervised the completion of the work. Gutzon Borglum's original idea was to carve the monument up to the waist but he died before completion of the work and the monument was completed as it is today on 31 st October 1941 under the supervision of Lincoln Borglum.

The enormity of the work involved can be understood to some extent by the size of the monuments: Each face is 60 feet high; the head of statue of liberty is only 17 feet tall. George Washington's carving is as tall as a six storey building; had the full body been carved, it would have been 465 feet tall. Eyes are 11 feet wide, length of the nose is 20 feet and the mouth is 18 feet long. 4,50,000 tonnes of rock was removed from the mountain while carving the monument and 90 per cent of it was by blasting. When considered that no addition to the rocks was possible and entire shape of the monument was to be given only by carving, the enormity and precision of the work can be gauged. A photograph of the monument (obtained from the internet) given above gives an idea about the monument.  In order to ensure the precision of the monument Borglum had made a model of the monument in plaster of Paris and one inch on the model was equal to one foot on the rock. 400 local workers were involved in making the monument – none of them had any idea of what they were working on. They started working for wages, and as the work progressed, they realized that they were creating something historic and unique and were emotionally involved with the project. Safety record was excellent considering the quantity of dynamite used and rock removed – there were no deaths and only minor injuries to some workers.

The monument can now be seen from the roadside 24 hours a day. Developed area is opened to the public according the seasons. Entry to the monument is open on most days and visitors get a good view from the "Grand View Terrace". Visitors can go along the presidential trail up to the base of the monument. The information centre provides valuable information to the visitors. Lincoln Borglum Museum below the grand view terrace provides an insight into making of the monument and sculptor's studio houses the tools and models used for construction. A 13 minute film about carving of the monument is sown throughout the day. Reasons for selection of the four presidents, what they stood for and their achievements are highlighted in the museum. The monument is illuminated during nights; Cultural programs in the evening and Light and Sound show entertain the visitors.     

Maintenance work to keep the monument in good condition is done round the year and the earnings from the gift shop located in the monument is used for making further improvements in amenities to the visitors.  The monument on Mount Rushmore stands as a permanent testimonial to the dream of Doane Robinson, dedication of Gutzon Borglum and the unparallel work of over four hundred workers and invites millions of visitors every year.  

We entered the monument by climbing the 35 steps from the entrance to the monument and viewed the 13 minute film on carving the monument, in the auditorium. We passed through a corridor in which the dates on which the states became member of the United States are carved. We had a view of the monument from the Grand View Terrace, from the base of the terrace and other different angles. Photographs were taken and visited the Gift shops to buy some souvenirs. We returned to our car and proceeded to the " Beautiful Rushmore Caves".

The "Rushmore Cave" was accidentally discovered by adventurous placer miners in 1876. The miners were digging a flume into the mountainside to carry water to the gold mines below when they found the cave opening. The cave was opened to the public in 1927, just before carving of the monument on the Mount Rushmore began. The cave is now a major tourist attraction. Visitors are taken on a cave tour by experienced tour guides to show icicle-like stalactites hanging from the cave ceilings, while spires of stalactites rise from smooth rock floor. The formations dating back to 60 million years are in many shapes and sizes and fascinate the viewer. Beauty of the formations is to be seen and experienced and cannot be put in words and the guided tour of about one hour is a wonderful experience. Temperature inside the cave remains around 58 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year. Many of the caves are said to be still unexplored due to the small openings and tunnels through which it is difficult for a man to pass.

It was a wonderful day's sight seeing covering the Badlands, Rushmore Monument and the beautiful caves.

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