The original vision is of Old West heroes being carved into a granite mountainside. That is until sculptor Gutzon Borlum decides that four presidents representing Americas 150 years are more appropriate.
Let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and rain alone shall wear them away. -Gutzon Borglum.
Borglum was working on the Stone Mountain Project in Georgia at the time but leaves the project in 1925 to begin work on Mount Rushmore. Rushmore Mountain is selected due to its size, orientation to the morning light and fine-grained granite.
By dawns early light
When I learn the site was selected due to its morning light orientation, I decide to be there at sunrise to see what the sculptor originally saw.
I pull into the parking lot right at mornings light. The park is free to enter only requiring $10 to park. There are no attendants on duty yet and all gates are open. It is amazing I am the first and only one in the parking lot.
I walk through the main gate and there is no one here. It is an all inspiring feeling to have Mount Rushmore to myself. I stand at the end of the Avenue of Flags and set up my tripod and take a few pics still amazed at my good fortune. I can practically hear my own footsteps echoing as I proceed to the main viewing terrace.
Once here, I see a maintenance guy on a Zamboni like machine cleaning the walkway. We exchange waves and soon I’m alone again with Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln. The golden sunlight starts to give way to a brighter sun and I notice the shadow on Roosevelt’s face. It bothers me and I decide to kill some time while the sunrises to offer a better photo opportunity.
The President Trail
The Presidents Trail offers a short hike to the base of Rushmore Mountain. I’m enjoying the different close-up perspective of the carvings and I keep hearing a rustling noise in some brush nearby.
I’m trying to ascertain are the noses really 20 feet long, eyes 11 feet wide and the mouths 18 feet wide?
My pontification is suddenly interrupted when a mountain goat presents herself. This is a pleasant surprise but when her baby peeks out of the woods it is a super bonus. The kid gawks at me as if he’s trying to figure out how long my nose is.
As the sun rises and the shadow slowly drifts across Teddy’s face, a few people are congregating on the main Grandview Terrace. I see a sign for the Historic Viewing Platform. This is the original viewing platform and is tucked away from the growing crowds. I set up camp there and wait for the lighting to improve. Several people find this little-hidden viewing area and I meet people from all across the country. Young and old everyone seems to be in a great mood and high spirits.
Something about the place just does that.
After about an hour, the shadow has moved enough to get Teddy’s face lit up. I get my shot, pack up and head out.
I stop in the now open cafeteria to grab some all-American pancakes. The food is pretty good, but the view is priceless.
Like a trout swimming upstream, I leave the cafeteria and the crowds are intense. I am thankful for the time I have had here on my own.
Profile of Courage
Upon leaving I see a sign that says profile pull-out ahead. Unsure what that means exactly I pull into the mini parking lot. Not really knowing what I was looking for, I see others pointing cameras behind me. Ah ha! Now I see it. The road winds around the mountain just enough to give a whole other perspective on this fascinating sculpture.