Wednesday May 16, 2018
The weather in the Black Hills is fickle; it can be sunny one minute and hailing the next. The latter is what greeted us Monday afternoon on our return to the campground from Custer State Park. Luckily, the hailstorm passed quickly, with no noticeable drop in temperatures.
The unpredictable weather took a turn for the better yesterday, and we returned to Mount Rushmore for a better view of the monument. The longer you stare at it, the more details you’ll notice about this incredible carving.
Interestingly enough, Gutzon Borglum longed to build a secret room within the mountain, which was intended to hold some of America’s treasured documents. The space was to be drilled into the north wall of a small canyon behind the faces. Construction of the hall began in July 1938. Over the course of the next year, Borglum and his men blasted a 70-foot tunnel into the mountain. Work on the Great Hall ceased when Congress decreed that work should be confined to the faces on the mountain.
The original plans for the carving called for the sculpture to depict the four presidents from head to waist, but the project was cut short when the allocated funds ran out. If you look closely at Washington’s likeness, you can see the lapels of his jacket.
Although Borglum’s vision for the Hall of Records had to be abandoned, the idea remained. Borglum died on March 6, 1941, and work on the memorial came to a close seven months later. On August 9, 1988, Borglum’s dream was recognized when a repository of records was placed in the floor of the rough-cut hall entrance. This storehouse consists of a teakwood box inside a titanium vault, covered by a granite capstone. Etched on the capstone is the following quote by Gutzon Borglum:
“Let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of 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 rain alone shall wear them away.”
The repository contains sixteen porcelain enamel panels, inscribed with the story of Mount Rushmore’s history. The vault is not accessible to visitors, but rather is left as a record for people eons from now who may wonder how and why Mount Rushmore was carved.
After leaving Mount Rushmore for the second time, we returned to the campground and set out on our bikes to ride on the George S. Mickelson Trail. Part of the trail parallels the campground that has been our home for the past six days. You may recall from one of my previous post that Mickelson was the South Dakota governor who died in a plane crash in 1993.
The 109-mile Mickelson Trail is the first rails-to-trails trail built in South Dakota. It follows the historic Deadwood to Edgemont Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (the CB&Q, or simply, “the Burlington”) line that was abandoned in 1983. The trail was built thanks to the determination of a great many advocates, among them the late Governor George S. Mickelson, who played a vital role in the trail’s early success. In 1991, he dedicated the first six miles of the trail, which was originally called the Black Hills Burlington Northern Heritage Trail. Following Mickelson’s tragic death, the trail was biffittingly renamed in his honor.
Harry and I have only ridden our bikes once in the past eighteen months, but that did not dissuade us from strapping on our helmets and hitting the trail. The trail is primarily gravel and crushed limestone, fairly easy to navigate with our cruiser bikes. We passed over eight or nine bridges, traveled along creeks, peddled past cow pastures and biked past private homes. We rode about four miles before we decided we should turn back. Most of the trail has a four percent or less grade, which is great if you’re riding downhill, not so great if you’re going uphill, which is what we had to do to return to the campground. But we took it slow and easy, the same way we like to travel, and made it back home in one piece.
Several of our destinations in South Dakota will intersect with the Mickelson Trail. We hope to ride a short section of the trail at each one. I cannot explain why I am so drawn to this trail. Maybe it is because trains have fascinated me since I was a little girl. If you listen closely enough as you bike across the historic railbed, you can almost hear the clatter of wheels on the tracks.