Mt. Rushmore, S.D. 2012

In early July of 2012, I had the opportunity to visit Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument.

Black Hills area map, Public Domain Image

      Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a large-scale mountain sculpture by artist Gutzon Borglum. The figures of America’s most prominent U.S. presidents–George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt—represent 150 years of American history, (pictured below).

Looking north from Custer State Park to Mount Rushmore and the President’s sculptures in 2012. (Morning Sun)

The Memorial is located near Keystone in the Black Hills of South Dakota, roughly 48 km from Rapid City.

I’m standing from an observation point at the Mount Rushmore Memorial Park 2012

          The four “great faces” of the presidents tower 17,200 m above sea level and are scaled to men who would stand 1400 m tall.

Gutzon Borglum original model presented near his sculptors, “The Sculptor’s Studio”.

     Pictured above, The Sculptor’s Studio – a display of unique plaster models and tools related to the sculpting – was built in 1939 under the direction of Borglum.  Originally, it was planned that the figures would be carved from head to waist, but insufficient funding forced the carving to end.

“Hall of Records” vault built beside the Borglum Sculptures

     Borglum originally envisioned a grand Hall of Records where America’s greatest historical documents and artifacts could be protected and shown to tourists. He managed to start the project, but cut only 21 m into the rock before work stopped in 1939 to focus on the faces. In 1998, an effort to complete Borglum’s vision resulted in a repository being constructed inside the mouth of the cave housing 16 enamel panels that contained biographical and historical information about Mount Rushmore as well as the texts of the documents Borglum wanted to preserve there.

The Mount Rushmore Sculptures 2012

     Mount Rushmore is largely composed of granite. The memorial is carved on the northwest margin of the Black Elk Peak granite batholith in the Black Hills of South Dakota, so the geologic formations of the heart of the Black Hills region are also evident at Mount Rushmore. The batholith magma intruded into the pre-existing mica schist rocks during the Proterozoic, 1.6 billion years ago.     The Black Hills area was uplifted as an elongated geologic dome during the Laramide orogeny around 70 million years ago.  Subsequent erosion stripped the granite of the overlying sediments and the softer adjacent schist leaving a granite mountain behind.

The choice of Mount Rushmore was a controversial one. The mountain known as Six Grandfathers by the Lakota Native-Americans, was a sacred place for them. The United States requisitioned the land, allegedly reneging on the Treaty of For Laramie, 1868, and many Native Americans saw this and the subsequent carving of the mountain into a monument to the presidents as outrageous.

“Crazy Horse” memorial under construction.

     Later the same day, I visited the nearby Crazy-Horse Memorial.  The Crazy Horse Memorial is a mountain monument under construction on privately held land, just a few kilometers west of Mount Rushmore.  Pictured above, it will depict the Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, riding a horse and pointing into the distance. The memorial was created & commissioned on Thunderhead Mountain by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, to be sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski.

The Crazy Horse Memorial during construction of 2012

     The Crazy Horse Memorial is geologically very similar to Mount Rushmore: a pod of granitic migmatite surrounded by schists and slates. This and many other knobs in the Black Hills stand above their surroundings because they are more resistant than the metamorphic rocks around them.

The sculpture, which on its completion will be the largest in the world, is being carved from the mountainside with a series of controlled explosions. It is an enormous and continuing achievement, and an important resource for Native American culture and history.

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