I recently saw a very amusing video starring that adorable little gecko with the big brown eyes. You can see it here:
He’s walking through what seems to be an industrial tunnel, probably concrete. It’s dank. Depressing. Water seeps through the ceiling. Spoiler alert: there’s a twist at the end of the ad that I’m about to reveal. As the little guy trudges through puddles he emerges from darkness into light, searching for bars on his cell phone. And when the little lizard reaches the end of the tunnel, he’s peering out of the pupil of George Washington on Mt. Rushmore. The visual jump, from a dismal tunnel to the vastness of South Dakota’s Black Hills, is elevating… Pun intended. The immense vista fills me with joy and wonder.
That’s the way I react to wide open spaces.
And joy and wonder were certainly part of the intention of Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor who designed the massive sculpture. It’s an amazing story. He and 400 workers labored for for 14 years to create the colossal, 60 foot high carvings representing George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. He had a lofty idea: to represent the first 150 years of American history. And he did it. Quite a legacy.
The entry is very different that it was when I first visited on a family trip many years ago. Then it was one asphalt parking lot in the ponderosa forest, with very few facilities. Probably one of those charming national park out houses. I was only eight years old and barely remember. Now the impressive and elegant Avenue of Flags leads you to a viewing platform where you can marvel and gawk at Borglum’s accomplishment.
Don’t miss visits to both of his studios. You’ll find them down a steep, forested trail which leads you closer to the mountain. The upper studio was where he began the project. The second one, slightly farther down the hill, was built when he found that he was being constantly interrupted in his original studio. It features an excellent explanation of the process. Coordinating what he drew and designed on the ground with what the workers created, carving solid granite while dangling hundreds of feet in the air. Not at all for the faint of heart.
There’s a nagging, touristy, commercialism to the site, but once I got past that I was full of wonder and respect for this immense achievement. It is glorious.