Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse – American Monuments in the Heartland

The Black Hills of were made for sculpting. Jagged granite spires combined with rolling hills create a beautiful landscape of mountains dotting the land. It’s no wonder it attracted artisans at the turn of the century to create masterpieces on the side of their mountains. Two of the most iconic of the United States are located in the Black Hills, and the Memorial.

Our trip started off with an evening tour of Mount Rushmore. Arriving a couple of hours before sunset, we had the chance to explore the grounds and the museum to learn about the monument before watching the lighting ceremony.


Mount Rushmore opened in 1941 after 14 years of construction! It was sculpted by Danish-American artis Gutzon Borglum and his son. The idea was to create a sculpture that would lure tourists to the black hills of South Dakota and four pivotal American presidents would do the trick. Originally they considered western American heroes such asLewis & Clark, Sacagawea, Buffalo Bill Cody to be the faces of Mount Rushmore, but after careful consideration, they decided that great presidents would attract a broader spectrum of tourists. So they settled on the faces presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln.

The faces of Mount Rushmore

The faces of Mount Rushmore

Construction began in 1927 at the height of the Great Depression with George Washington being the first president.

Their idea worked because Mount Rushmore attracts 3 million tourists a year.

For more information on Visiting Mount Rushmore check out the Mount Rushmore National Monument 

The lighting ceremony was interesting to watch if not a little bit Kitschy. I would have loved to remember my visit when I was a baby and my parents took a cross country road trip. Back then they tell me that you simply drove up beside it. I found the bandstand and bleachers a little too touristy and I think it would have been far more beautiful to have left it in a more natural state.

Night ceremony at Mount Rushmore

Night ceremony at Mount Rushmore

It was interesting watching the video to see the history of Mount Rushmore, but I found it to be a bit dated and I think they should replace it with something that has a little more production value.

After the video, the faces are lit up and a touching ceremony occurs where the park ranger invites all active and retired military onto the stage to commemorate their sacrifice for their country. It’s a fitting venue since Mount Rushmore is probably one of the most patriotic monuments in the entire country.

Note: A good place to stay near Mount Rushmore is the K Bar S Lodge. It has a view of the monument from afar.

Enjoying the view of Mount Rushmore

Enjoying the view of Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore is definitely a monumental site to see. To think that these four 60 foot tall faces were sculpted and carved using dynamite and sandblasting more than a century ago is amazing. I cannot imagine someone taking on a feat like that today.

But wait, someone has.

Cost for entry to Mount Rushmore is free, but there is a parking fee for cars (no matter how many people) $11.00 per vehicle.

Crazy Horse Memorial
The Crazy Horse Memorial

The Crazy Horse Memorial.

Just … miles down the road is another magnificent monument that is still in the process of being created. The Crazy Horse monument is 65 years in the making. Construction began in 1947 by sculpter Korczak Ziolkowski. The Lakota people wanted a monument to show that they too had heroes and Crazy Horse was the hero of choice.  Ziolkowski promised the Lakota people that no government funding would be involved and has relied on public funding for more than half a century. His children and grandchildren have now taken over the project and you can visit the museum and monument on a tour.

the Crazy Horse Memorial from the air

The Crazy Horse Memorial from the air

Crazy Horse was one of the last hold outs of the native Americans to surrender to troops. He had no intention on living on a reserve, but negotiated a surrender to bring his ailing people in. He was then going to leave them in peace and live out his days on his own. Instead of sticking to their word, the United States military double-crossed him and stabbed him in the back. This monument is dedicated to his strength and heroism.

You can tour the museum that gives a history of the Native American culture and there is a craft area as well as a display of all the instruments used to blast the rock over the years. A bus will take you out to the site for a closer view, but if you want something more, you can book a tour to walk up to the face. A van will take you most of the way up so don’t worry, it’s not a gruelling walk.

head of the Crazy Horse Memorial

You feel really small when you stand next to the head of the Crazy Horse Memorial

When you stand beside the face of Crazy Horse, you feel the enormity of the task. This will be the largest sculpture on earth when it is complete. To give you an idea of its size, it’s …. the pyramids and higher than ….???

The arm and horse head are expected to be finished sometime in the next dozen or so years.

For more information on visiting, go to the Crazy Horse Memorial website for details.

The monuments of South Dakota are truly spectacular. I do not think that anyone would be crazy enough to take on this feat today, but to see them with your own two eyes is truly a wonder. I have seen Mount Rushmore in so many photographs and films during my childhood it was almost surreal to see it in person. It is a true work of and worth the trip to South Dakota.

Mount Rushmore from a helicopter.

Mount Rushmore from a .

If you would like to get even yet another view of these two national treasures, take a helicopter flight to view them from above. Black Hills Aerial Adventures offers one of the most reasonable helicopter tours we’ve ever seen and it gives you a birds eye view of both Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse as well as the beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota. The helicopter doesn’t get as close to the monuments as we would have hoped and it doesn’t do an even split for views. We sat on the wrong side, if you do book a helicopter tour, make sure to sit behind the pilot on the right hand side, you’ll get the best views of Mount Rushmore. However, you see more of Crazy Horse on the left. Neither one takes you very close though, we assume it has something to do with airspace security. But for the price it’s a good tour.

Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial – Helicopter Tour Video

And there you have it! I think we did everything you can do to see Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse thoroughly.

They are America’s treasure and we highly recommend checking them out. What’s your favourite National Monument?

Thanks to the South Dakota Tourism Board for our trip, for more information on Visiting South Dakota visit their website. 

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