I'll admit it. I was a total skeptic about Mount Rushmore National Monument. A giant carving of four presidents' heads stuck onto the side of a rural South Dakota mountaintop? No thanks. The whole thing struck me as pretentious, unnatural and more than a little bit corny. 

 

But from the minute my daughters found out that we would be within a day's drive of the monument on our recent trip to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, they wanted to go there. I didn't think I would ever make a trip to South Dakota for the sole purpose of visiting Mount Rushmore, so a side excursion sounded like a good compromise.  

 

It was one of the best decisions we made for this vacation.

 

Instead of flying to Salt Lake City, Utah or Jackson, Wyo., and heading directly in to Yellowstone National Park, we decided to fly to Rapid City, S.D., which put us a mere 20 minutes from Mount Rushmore and about seven hours from our final destination.

 

Now let me go on record as saying that Mount Rushmore is not at all what I thought it would be. It was not pretentious or corny at all. In fact, after learning more about the history of the monument, including the vision behind its creation and the nearly two decades of dynamite blasts and precision carving it took to build it, let's just say I was more than a little impressed. More than that, I finally understood that Mount Rushmore was not intended to be a grandiose spectacle of man vs. nature. Rather it was a tribute to democracy, and to the great leaders — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln — who helped America become such a great nation.

 

The really cool thing about our visit is that I was not the only one who was impressed. My daughters loved the site, soaking up the history in the visitor center, taking pictures of the monument from every angle, completing their Junior Ranger programs, and of course, cooling off with ice cream in the monument's cafe.

 

Mount Rushmore National Monument is certainly worth a visit. It's a sight to behold, and its very existence gave me a better perspective of the history that made America what it is today.

 

While you're in the area, you'll also want to check out Needles Highway for its breathtaking views of Mount Rushmore as it winds through granite tunnels and around pine-covered mountains; Crazy Horse Memorial (60 years in the making and it's still not finished!), Badlands National Park and Devil's Tower National Monument.

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