August 21 – We returned to Mt. Rushmore to see what it looked like in daylight. Our campground hosts had strongly recommended the “monumental breakfast” (scrambled eggs, country fried steak, sausage gravy on a biscuit, hash browns and milk) and for four dollars it was quite a feast. The visitor’s center complex was expanded in 1998 and the new facilities are very nice. There is a trail that allows visitors to walk to the base of the mountain and look up the noses of the presidents. We went on a ranger led walk of the trail and learned all kinds of neat stuff about the Memorial.
The memorial was originally proposed by Doane Robinson of the South Dakota State Historical Society as a way to get more tourists to come to South Dakota. He envisioned giant carvings of western figures like Custer, Lewis and Clark and Buffalo Bill. He contacted Gutzon Borglum a sculptor who had been working on another massive stone carving and proposed the idea. Borglum, a very patriotic man, liked the idea and was commissioned to make a model but, instead of using western figures his original model depicted three presidents (Jefferson, Washington, & Lincoln) carved from the waist up. The idea of carving presidents was even more popular than western figures and after some work funding was secured for the Memorial. The location of the sculpture was chosen by Borglum because of the size, orientation, and the hardness of the stone and on August 10, 1927 carving started. The original model (there were seven versions of the Memorial) had Washington in the center with Jefferson to the left and Lincoln on the right. Washington was the first to be carved and while carving they found that the stone on the lower part of the mountain wasn’t good enough to carve so the idea of doing the figures from the waist up was abandoned. Jefferson was the next to be carved and they discovered a fault in the stone after his face was half done. Rather than risk having the sculpture crumble in the future, Borglum had Jefferson blasted off the mountain and a new model of the sculpture was made with Jefferson to the right of Washington and Lincoln to the right of Jefferson. During the initial blasting a small fault in the stone was found and it was determined that this fault would wind up on Jefferson’s nose. Again Borglum didn’t want part of the sculpture to fall off so he changed Jefferson’s position slightly and tilted the head back so that the fault ran under the nose. Many people say that Jefferson has a “visionary” look, as if he is looking out into the future. This look is the result of the head tilt. Lincoln, Borglum’s favorite president was next to be carved and Roosevelt (who got added in along the way) was started shortly thereafter. Roosevelt is set much farther back in the mountain than the rest of the presidents because the stone where he was to be carved was weak and they had to blast deeper into the mountain to find good stone. In 1941, after 14 years of carving (90% of which was done with dynamite) funding cuts and Borglum’s sudden death (at age 73) caused work on the Memorial to stop. Borglum’s son Lincoln had been supervising much of the work and while he was capable of seeing the Memorial completed it was decided to leave it unfinished.
In addition to the Memorial, there was also a visitor’s center which showed a 20 minute film on the memorial and had exhibits on the history of Mt. Rushmore, Borglum, the workers and the tools used in carving the mountain. The studio where Borglum created his models was also open and inside was the final model that was used to create the Memorial (Borglum would destroy a model and make a new one each time the design changed). There was also a small display of some of the tools used to do the detail work on the carving. Also on display was Borglum’s model for what he called the “Hall of Records”, a large chamber behind the Memorial that was to act like a time capsule to explain the Memorial to people of the future. While blasting on the Hall started in 1938, it was never completed.
Still slightly behind schedule we hit the road and headed north towards Interstate 90 which would take us by the famed Wall Drug on our way to the Badlands. As soon as we got onto I-90 the Wall drug billboards started popping up everywhere. Finally exit 109 came and we got off to experience what they called “true Americana”. The complex covers well over one half of a standard city block and has many shops (all owned by Wall Drug) that sell T shirts, mugs, hats and anything else that can have Wall Drug printed on it. For entertainment there are a number of coin operated bands featuring singing gorillas, cowboys or chickens. One of their new attractions is a dinosaur head that roars and blows smoke every twelve minutes. There is also a courtyard where you can pose on fiberglass animals or stick your head in cut outs. The scale of the operation is unbelievable and it really did start out as a plain old drug store. The owner bought the store during a depression and ran into hard times when the residents of the small town couldn’t afford to buy prescriptions. He discovered a spring behind the store and came up with the idea of advertising free ice water to lure travelers from the main highway some 20 miles away into his store. He put up one homemade sign and the next day a few people stopped in so he put up another and then another and so on. Today there are countless signs along the highway reminding visitors to stop at Wall Drug. The business has grown a little too.
After buying some T-shirts and tacky gifts we got back on the road and headed for the Badlands National Park which was only a half hour away. As we traveled the highway we saw lots of homemade billboards saying “feed the prairie dogs, FREE”. Stacie got excited and wanted to feed them. Fortunately the prairie dog colony was at the same exit for the Badlands and on the way. A giant concrete prairie dog marked the colony which was next to a little country grocery store. Wandering around the colony (which had outgrown its fenced area) was free, but signs asked you to use only “unsalted prairie dog food” which was available at the store for 50 cents a bag. We bought a bag which was nothing more than a big handful of unsalted peanuts. Stacie then went out to the colony and started calling the cute furry critters. Strangely enough the prairie dogs weren’t afraid of people and came out of their holes for a snack. After a while they got very used to us and were eating off of Stacie’s shoes. We stayed for a while and after our supply of nuts was exhausted we continued on and entered the park. We went to the campground and picked a site. This was “prairie camping” and there weren’t any shade trees so it was a lot like camping at a commercial campground. We set up camp and then went out for a hike on one of the shorter trails near the campground. Having had a full day we called it a night.