If you’re making plans now for a summer vacation, you might want to consider a trip that includes a stop at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. It’s a spectacular monument!
Gutzon Borglum was the sculptor who carved Mount Rushmore. He wanted to honor our nation and chose four presidents who “contributed to the essence of democracy.” George Washington represents the birth of America; Thomas Jefferson, growth (Louisiana Purchase); Theodore Roosevelt, development (Panama Canal, trust busting); and Abraham Lincoln, preservation of the country during the Civil War years.
Borglum started work on Mount Rushmore in August 1927. Unfortunately, he died in 1941, just before the work was completed, and his son, Lincoln, finished the monument seven months later.
Washington is the most prominent sculpture in the group. You can also view his profile if you drive behind the monument. The perspective is unique and interesting.
It’s worth staying overnight in the area to see the Evening Lighting Ceremony. The program includes a presentation by a park ranger, a video about Mount Rushmore, and the dramatic lighting of the monument. The ceremony concludes with the introduction of veterans in attendance who are then asked to help retire the flag for the day. It’s all very patriotic and moving.
Even if you went there as a child with your parents, go back to Mount Rushmore and see it again as an adult. You won’t be disappointed!
If you’re headed to Mount Rushmore from the east, on I-90, be sure to stop at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. It’s been a tourist attraction since 1892 and today has about 500,000 visitors a year.
The exterior walls of the Corn Palace are decorated with murals made from corn and grasses. A local artist designs the murals with a different theme each year, and in late-August and into September, (as the crops are ready for harvest) a team of about 20 workers changes them out. This year the theme was music legends.
It was amazing to see. Growing up on a farm in Illinois, the most creative thing we did with corn was tie up a shock for decoration in the fall, or craft an animal from the stalks. But here on the sides of the Corn Palace was Willie Nelson and Elvis, fashioned entirely out of ears of corn. It’s called crop art.
Inside, the Corn Palace is an impressive facility and well-maintained. They have a gymnasium for the Mitchell High School Kernels and Dakota Wesleyan University Tigers basketball teams (the murals on the gym walls are also made of corn), a gift shop, children’s activity area, and concert and banquet rooms.
Wall Drug Store
Continuing your travels on I-90, Wall Drug Store is another fun stop. It’s about an hour from Mount Rushmore.
You’ll see signs along the highway advertising the business miles before you actually get there. The drug store has been going since 1931. It started out as just a small pharmacy, but now it’s grown to a full city-block tourist mall.
What put Wall Drug Store on the map was the offer of free ice water. When the drug store opened in the Depression years, business was slow, so the owner’s wife suggested offering free ice water to the travelers heading West. In the days before air conditioning, it was a big hit. Today you can still get free ice water, but as you would guess, it’s not the main attraction anymore.
Walking through the many rooms, you’ll notice it’s a high-low place – handsome Stetson hats and expensive cowboy boots in one area, and China-made souvenirs in another. Western props, like Annie Oakley, are stationed in hallways between shops. Amongst it all there is still an actual drug store!
I found Minnetonka moccasins in the shoe department. I used to wear them as a kid and bought a pair for memories’ sake – the same Thunderbird style of years ago. I love wearing them again.
You’ll enjoy a visit to the state of South Dakota, from the Mitchell Corn Palace to Wall Drug Store, Mount Rushmore, and all the open country in-between.