• Inger and Jeff Latreille

What Took Us So Long

~Saturday, June 4, 2022~

Day 720


Brace yourselves…….a loooooong post, worthy of details.


It seems today is a good day to be underground with slightly overcast skies and a chance of afternoon thunderstorms. We had booked the 1-½ hour long “Scenic Tour” at Jewel Cave for 12:30. Interestingly enough, with the hundreds of steps that we were about to climb, we were told that there are tarps laid underneath the walkways designed to catch lint and hair. With the cave having a very sensitive environment, it totally makes sense why they take every precaution that it stays that way. They collect over 13 pounds of lint, annually. Isn’t that insane?


Our group consisted of 20 explorers, with Jeff volunteering his caboosing talents. Funny enough, we ran into the couple that we met at Sick-n-Twisted Brewery the other day. What are the chances? We had one inquisitive little girl (about 8) who was eager to volunteer her knowledge of every question asked by the ranger. Not her first time in that “rodeo”, she politely told the little girl ‘maybe we should give others a chance to answer’. All I can say is, that did the trick.


With the 1906 Antiquities Act, President Roosevelt established 18 national monuments in his lifetime. In 1908, Jewel Cave became the first cave to hold the title due to its scientific and public interest. They know that it’s over 180 miles long, the third longest cave system in the world, where to this day explorers continue to push the limits. But surprisingly, they’ve only discovered 5% of it. There is a constant temperature of 48 degrees (about 5 degrees cooler than its neighboring Wind Cave which is on our tour schedule tomorrow). Jewel Cave was first discovered by prospectors Frank and Albert Michaud who heard wind rushing through a hole in rocks in Hells Canyon. Ever curious, they enlarged the hole, entering an underground world of sparkling crystals (thus the name). The most popular formation here is what’s called Dogtooth Spar (and they actually do look very much like dogs teeth).

Soon after, they tried to cash in on their discovery by offering tours to the public, though the business never really thrived. But what it did bring was national attention to protect this magnificent treasure. Subsequently, rock climbers Herb and Jan Conn spent 21 years of their life having charted another 65 miles of cave where their legacy continues, as a new generation of scientists and cave enthusiasts have continued to map out 210 miles of passages and recent discoveries of 2 lakes. It is thought that Jewel Cave and Wind Cave may even be connected with still much more research to go. Due to the measurement of airflow in the cave, scientists think there might be as much as 5,000 miles of underground pathways, both laterally and vertically. Wow!!


After the cave tour, it was nice to break up the day by returning to our campsite before packing in the next thing. With all that we’ve taken in these last few days, our brains are on serious overload. Sadie enjoyed her walk and a late lunch before we hit the road again. We decided on a picnic dinner, stopping by the local grocery store for a few items, but selection was slim. We were about to head to Hill City to a better grocery store, when low and behold we spotted a Subway. Perfect, since we had sandwiches in mind anyway. Our tour guide at Jewel Cave suggested taking the Iron Mountain Road approach, but it would have added another 30 minutes to our drive so decided not to take it. We strategized our arrival time to be later in the day….around 5:00 so we could tour a few of the facilities before the lighting celebration/ceremony which started at 9:00. With the 3-story parking structure, it was ideal for us to park on the top floor with unlimited clearance for Hank. And what a bargain….$10 parking, good for one year. And then, finally…..what we’ve waited our whole life to see….. the “Shrine of Democracy” .….Mt. Rushmore Memorial.

I will never forget turning that corner tonight, seeing it for the first time in all its glory. Jeff and I were in complete awe. It only took 58 years to get here.


First, we stopped at the Sculpture Studio to get a little background on the creator himself. The tour guide offered us never before seen photos (at least for us) and did a pretty good job of explaining how the artist/sculptor Gutzon Borglum strategized and executed one of the most significant sculptures in history. Inside are 1/12th scale plaster models

of each president which Borglum used to replicate the actual sculpture itself. The “pointer” method actually seems so simple in how it was transferred onto the mountain, but the work would take over 400 men to build over a 14-year period; no easy feat. We had no idea that Jefferson’s face was originally sculpted to the left, not the right of George Washington, only to be defaced 2 years into the project after cracks were discovered that would have significantly shortened the life of the sculpture. We also didn’t know that Borglum did not live to see the memorial’s final completion. At least his son was able to see the project through to completion only a few months later. This quote by the late American sculptor expresses the carving’s testament……


“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


Before heading to the visitor center, we decided on a picnic right next to the Sculptor’s Studio. It really was a great spot for our dinner of Subway sandwiches, almonds and a bottle of Chardonnay while 4 iconic Presidents looked down on us. But it also seemed everyone else had the same idea with this being the perfect photo op location. Hopefully my backside won’t be in hundreds of complete stranger’s photographs. 😝


The visitor center, located below the Grand View Terrace, houses many exhibits, interactive videos, and a bookstore, all open late….10:00 p.m. But we thought we’d start with the film, “Mount Rushmore, The Shrine”. We recognized the narrator’s voice right away….Tom Brokaw which tells you how dated it was. We especially loved watching the old film footage of the mountain being transformed, as Jeff and I have always appreciated the details that go into any project. Here are some amazing facts we thought were worth sharing……


1️⃣Mount Rushmore is now visited by nearly 3 million people annually.

2️⃣The “Father of Mount Rushmore”, Doane Robinson, came up with the idea for colossal carvings in the Black Hills (specifically The Needles) with likenesses of western heroes like Red Cloud, explorers Lewis and Clark, and Buffalo Bill

3️⃣Borglum, however, dreamed of something bigger than The Needles. He wanted something that would draw people from around the world, wanting to carve a mountain.

4️⃣The Presidents were chosen for their significant contribution to the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the country

5️⃣George Washington was chosen because he was our nation’s founding father.

6️⃣Thomas Jefferson was chosen to represent expansion with his signing of the Louisiana Purchase and his authoring of the Declaration of Independence.

7️⃣Theodore Roosevelt was chosen because of his representation of conservationism and the contributions and support he gave to the industrial blossoming of our nation.

8️⃣Abraham Lincoln was chosen because he led the country through Civil War and believed in preserving the nation at any cost.

9️⃣The carving of Mount Rushmore began in 1927 and finished in 1941.

🔟The actual carving was done by a team of over 400 men.

1️⃣1️⃣The Borglums did hire one artist, Korczak Ziolkowski, to work as an assistant on the mountain. But after a heated argument with Borglum’s son, he left the project. But Korczak would go on to begin another mountain carving nearby, Crazy Horse Memorial which today, is the world’s largest mountain sculpture in progress.

1️⃣2️⃣90% of the mountain was carved with dynamite, that as a result crumbled more than 450,000 tons of rock at its base, still visible today.

1️⃣3️⃣Each President’s face is 60 feet high

1️⃣4️⃣It’s estimated only 6 years included actual carving, while 8.5 years were consumed with delays due to weather and lack of funds

1️⃣5️⃣Mount Rushmore is granite, which erodes roughly 1-inch every 10,000 years.


But the most moving part of the day, and one of the greatest highlights of our trip so far was the evening celebration/lightshow in the amphitheater, directly in front of the visitor center. They start off the evening with

recorded patriotic music about 30 minutes before, to lure the visitors in front of the stage, below the sculpted mountain; a very dramatic backdrop. We could tell that rain was likely with the darkening clouds overhead, and the sprinkles were felt. But the whole thing is so moving, you really don’t care. It’s one of those things that even in a downpour, you would simply tolerate it because the ceremony is that important, that special. I’d put this right up there with seeing Gettysburg and the War Memorial in terms of the emotions they stir…..like pride and gratitude, especially when the National Anthem is being played. At closing, the host asked for any military men/women who have served, or family members who have lost a loved one in action, to come up and be recognized, where applause immediately began. Now if that doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, I don’t know what would. About 8 came forward to assist in taking down the flag. As the flag’s light dimmed, the monument lit up for its nightly 2-hour display. Wow, what a day and an emotional day at that.


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