Teary-eyed and coping with a hang-over, I left Scottsbluff, western Nebraska with my other co-fellows to visit one of America’s most iconic landmarks – the Mt Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone, South Dakota.
We started our 4-hour trip from Scottsbluff with the vast grasslands and grazing cattle in our window view, a scenery that by this time we’ve already gotten used to. This was until we passed by the Black Hills region of South Dakota.
This isolated mountain range rise from the Great Plains of North America. They’ve been called black because the trees make them look black from a distance. It was here that the gold rush of 1874 began, which caused many Native Americans to be displaced from their own home.
Now, the area is known as a tourist destination, with many museums, national parks, and monuments in various locations. Mt Rushmore is situated in the southern hills area. Originally called “The Six Grandfathers” to the Indian tribe Lakota Sioux, the mountain was renamed after a prominent New York lawyer Charles Rushmore in 1885.
The faces of American democracy
Seeing the monument, as we approached the winding road up the mountain, gave me goosebumps. Growing up, I read a world atlas that introduced me to foreign countries and what they have. Mt Rushmore was what was posted in the United States page so I grew up dreaming of one day seeing the monument in person.
It felt like a dream come true when we went down the bus and started going up the steps towards the mountain. I got teary-eyed as we went nearer and nearer.
I have to admit that the monument looked smaller than I initially thought it would be. The mountain is also not as high as I expected. But the moment I saw the detail of the carvings up close, I was amazed at the level of detail.
After taking hundreds of photos in the amphitheater in front of the monument, we took the short trail to see the carvings even closer. The different photo stops gave different perspectives of the 4 faces and we couldn’t help but take more photos in every stop.
At the end of the trail, you can see some of the equipment they used to carve the mountain. There’s also a plaque inaugurating the project, which lasted from 1927 to 1941.
We headed back to the tourist center where we ate a hearty lunch after finishing the trail. I couldn’t forget how flavorful the stew I ordered was – and for a reasonable price, too.
The souvenir shop beside the restaurant had many interesting trinkets and items you can bring home to remember Mt Rushmore. There are also traditional Indian vases, carvings, and gold articles available. I wanted to buy a vase but I was afraid it would break in my baggage. What I got is a table-top bust of the monument that is now in display in one of my cabinets.
Faces of democracy
“A monument’s dimensions should be determined by the importance to civilization of the events commemorated…Let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can…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 the rain alone shall wear them away,” – Gutzon Borglum, 1930
What amazed me with Mt Rushmore was how it honored America’s greatest presidents and how it serves as a constant reminder of what George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln fought for. Beyond the honor it gives the presidents, it is a way of etching their deeds and what they stood for in the American subconscious and history.
This is an especially relevant realization to reflect on given that historical revisionism is becoming more and more evident in the Philippines. How can we etch in our national subconscious the lessons history has taught us? How do we keep ourselves from forgetting the great deeds of our martyrs in the past?
Our visit to Mt Rushmore was also timely because it was a time when the democracy that these men stood for are being tested in the US.
Seeing Mt Rushmore was, indeed, a dream come true. Beyond the physical beauty, I was awed by what it stood for and envious why we couldn’t create something as grand and meaningful in my country.
We left for Mitchell, South Dakota after shopping for souvenirs. That night, we saw the 2nd US presidential debate in our hotel rooms. What a time to be alive!