However, the ride up to Rushmore from Rapid City gives little clue about what is ahead. I kept waiting to see the Black Hills of South Dakota and they really aren't that visible until near the end of the drive to the top. The hills are black because the rock is a blackish granite, but I hadn't expected beautiful pine trees in the mix, envisioning instead the granite hills of Chatsworth, California, or Granite Dell near Prescott, Arizona, where there is no growth. And then, as the car rounds a corner, there it is--the national monument--bigger and more beautiful than any photograph.
I also hadn't envisioned the entrance to the monument. It is done beautifully with a long walkway between columns that celebrate every state in the union and the flag of each state, called the Avenue of Flags. The monument can be seen from that point, but it really is when you walk through that to the Grand View Terrace that the monument really has an impact.
It's a place to sit and look and wonder how this was built. It took 14 years from 1927 to 1941 to carve the monument, and 90 percent of it was done by placing dynamite precisely where the sculptor needed it to carve out the faces. The rest was done by many men with drills doing the final touches. It took 14 years and $1 million, but it is a wonderful symbol of America.
There is an extraordinary museum below the Grand View Terrace that shows the way the monument was built--first and foremost every day, the men had to climb 700 stairs before they could get into their harnesses and hang over the cliff to do their drilling.
Later, after visiting the cafeteria (where a scene from the Hitchcock thriller "North by Northwest" was filmed) and, of course, the gift shop, we reluctantly drove away and then, all of a sudden, the profile of Washington came into view and I felt as if a piece of my heart was torn away as his beautiful face moved out of view.