Day 242 – Badlands and Black Hills, August 15, 2011
Another great day in South Dakota! I have been pleasantly surprised. I expected mostly flatland and prairie like
Nebraska and North Dakota, but the Black Hills resemble the front range in
Colorado. We climbed through the pines
to a towering granite outcropping carved with four presidential faces…Mount
The national memorial pays tribute to Washington, Jefferson,
Lincoln, and Roosevelt. Each face is
sixty feet tall from brow to chin and the each eye is eleven feet wide. It took 400 workers 14 years to carve the
monument with dynamite and jackhammers, and it cost just under one million
dollars to complete.
The sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, envisioned carving the
presidents to their waist. But with his
death in 1941 and our nations involvement in World War II, his son who had
accompanied him on the project declared it finished.
To carve the monument workers, mostly unemployed miners,
climbed 700 stairs to the top of the mountain. Winch men used 3/8-inch steel cables to lower
the workers over the front of the 500 foot face. The workers referenced large plaster masks,
produced by the sculptor, that hung from cables on the mountain.
Over 450,000 tons of rock were removed from Mount
Rushmore. Dynamite was used to remove
90% of it, but jackhammers and facing bits were used for the rest. Air compressors at the bottom of the mountain
provided the power to operate the jackhammers.
An 1,800 foot, 3-inch pipeline followed the stairway up the mountain to
carry the air for the jackhammers.
During the winter months, a liquid gas was injected in the pipeline to
In 1936, Julian Spotts, a National Parks Service engineer
checked the system for leaks. He
discovered a blacksmith had tapped into the line to blow air on himself while
he worked. Spotts provided a fan! In addition, he noticed that Rushmore
suffered a power loss every Monday morning.
It turned out that almost every woman in Keystone washed clothes on
Monday with an electric washer. He
encouraged the Mount Rushmore Commission to invest in a gasoline-powered
auxiliary compressor….no more power problems.
In 1939, Black Hills Power and Light completed a powerline to Rushmore
which provided electricity to the project for the last two years of carving.
In addition to the presidential faces, Borglum wanted the
site to include a Hall of Records which would include a history of the United
States, busts of famous people, and a list of U.S. contributions to the world. A seventy foot tunnel was blasted out of the
mountain behind the faces. The
government ultimately did not approve funding for this portion so the Hall of Records was never completed;
however, in 1998, Borglum’s daughter was part of a team that inserted 16
porcelain panels into the floor at the entrance of the tunnel. The panels include words of the Declaration
of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. In addition, the panels contain the
biographies of the presidents and information about how and why Mount Rushmore
The visionaries that brought Mount Rushmore to fruition were
Doane Robinson, Peter Norbeck, William Williamson, and John Boland. Norbeck and Williamson were South Dakota
Senators who pushed through the legislation that secured $500,000 of federal
funds to turn Robinson’s idea into reality.
Boland, a Rapid City business leader, raised additional funds when
necessary and managed day-to-day funds of the project at times.
In addition to the presidential faces, the national memorial
includes an entry way with each state’s flag and a column with an inscription
noting the date each state was admitted to the union and its associated number,
1-50. Also, a half-mile pathway with
information signs on each president leads to closer and unique views.
I liked the Sculptor’s Studio the best where the plaster
mask and original design were on display.
If I had a complaint, it would be that my National Parks Pass didn’t
work at the National Memorial?!?
Everyone simply had to pay a private company eleven bucks to park! And really, if it weren’t for the Sculptor’s
Studio, I think I would have been content to snap a picture from countless
opportunities provided on the highway. I
have the profile shot, shots through tunnels and shots through trees.
In fact, these views were created intentionally by highway
engineers when they were charged to make the section of the road leading to
Custer State Park one of the most visually pleasing in the state. In my opinion, they succeeded. Three different, low cut, single lane tunnels
frame the president’s faces. The road twists
and turns over wooden, corkscrew bridges like a roller coaster. The highest point on the route, Norbeck
Overlook, provides magnificent views of the Black Hills, including 7,242-foot
Harney Peak, the loftiest mountain between the Rockies and the French Alps!
Descending from the overlook the roads leads into Custer
State Park which sells a seven day pass for $15 that allows travelers to pass
through the park to the Town of Custer (almost like a toll). Three different state highways run
approximately 20 miles each through the enormous park. A particular treat was to twist and wind
along Needles Highway through more narrow tunnels and past fingerlike spires
that line the steep road.
Near the summit lies idyllic Sylvan Lake which offers a
variety of activities including canoeing, swimming, fishing, and hiking. Large granite boulders are the backdrop to
the dark blue waters. Petey and I
enjoyed a lovely walk along a mostly groomed trail beneath the shade of pines.
In addition to the Needles Highway, the park includes an 18
mile wildlife loop. The road leads
through grasslands and provides the best chance to view its herd of 1,500
buffalo, one of the largest in the nation.
I was sort of “buffaloed” and “prairied out” so I skipped the 18 mile
loop yet still saw buffalo three different times; two singles and a herd. VANilla played chicken with one of the
singles. He moved to the opposite lane.
Leaving Custer State Park, we passed through prairie land,
spotted a few pronghorn and a deer, and crossed yet another bridge before
eventually arriving at Wind Cave National Park.
As the name suggests, its main attraction is Wind Cave. The cave may have been known to local Indians
for centuries, but it wasn’t discovered by white settlers until 1881 when
brothers Jesse and Tom Bingham were lured by a strange whistling sound to a
small hole. The whistling sound was
created by wind, which can reach up to 70 mph blowing from the cave. The cave either blows air out of the hole or
sucks it in depending on the outside air pressure, and thus the cave is known
as a breathing cave.
Neither the brothers nor the Indians entered the small,
natural entrance to the cave, but a sixteen year old boy by the name of Alvin
did. He had to be one skinny, six foot
kid to fit through that passage. He
spent four years exploring the cave and trying to find its end before he died
from pneaumonia. To this day, based on
the wind velocity it is believed that only 5% of the cave has been
discovered. Explorers have mapped 136
miles of passageways in 1 square mile.
The passageways go in every direction and are on top of one another.
The cave was formed by fractures, water and carbon
dioxide. Water seeped through the
fractures and created carbonic acid when it came into touch with the carbon
dioxide. The carbonic acid dissolves
limestone. What is left is several
passageways with mostly box work formations.
Box work formations are made of calcite which formed between the
fractures and is not dissolved by carbonic acid. The box work formations look like spider
webs. 95% of box work formations in the
world are found in this cave. While I
didn’t find it to be as pretty as some of the other caves I’ve visited, I
certainly appreciated its uniqueness as well as the 53 degree temperature!
After the cave tour, I found a campsite in the park and
called it a great day! It is here where
I met Don and Joan who were also on the cave tour and from Missouri. They are visiting all the National Parks and
have already visited every presidential library except two. They are headed the same direction I am, so
we may cross paths again.
Just before a storm blew through, I noticed the moon glowing
a vivid orange. It was so pretty. I snapped a few photos and then took cover as
lightning that had already started a fire earlier in the day flashed all around
and thunder pounded above. ETB