Tag Archives: Mount Rushmore

Happy Trails, Part 42

SILVERTON, Colo. — Our retirement trail took us to what I believe is one of the most picturesque towns I’ve ever seen.

Silverton sits in a valley surrounded by peaks of the San Juan Mountains. It’s perched 9,318 feet above sea level.

They run a narrow-gauge train between Silverton and Durango. We chose to drive it ourselves along one of the most spectacular stretches of U.S highway I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

It’s U.S. 550. It tops out between Durango and Silverton at a pass that measures 10,640 feet above sea level. And, yes, the aspen are starting to turn into that spectacular yellow one sees on those Rocky Mountain postcards.

I want to mention this visit because it kind of surprised us when we arrived at this town. We hadn’t planned on making it a destination during our day on the road. It turned out to be.

It’s a small burg, to be sure. It looks rustic in the extreme. City Hall was built in 1908. It’s single street is lined with a series of gift shops, coffee houses, joints that serve craft beer, barbeque restaurants.

Interestingly, I didn’t see any, um, head shops or places that sell marijuana. They made “recreational marijuana” legal in Colorado a year ago. Actually, on our most recent visits to Colorado, I haven’t discovered a huge cannabis influence in people’s daily lives. Then again, I might not be looking in the right places to find it.

Silverton, though, has emerged as one of those post-retirement discoveries we have made on our journey across North America. The only other town I can compare to it might be Deadwood, S.D., which we saw not quite a year ago on our way home from Mount Rushmore.

I am willing to bet the farm that we’ll have many more of these discoveries in the years to come.


This carving job will take some time


CHIEF CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL, S.D. — I truly thought they’d be farther along on this carving job than they are.

My wife and I saw this place in 1973 when it was bore no resemblance to what we have seen on our second visit to this place.

Silly me.

Then I learned about what’s gone into the work done so far on the Crazy Horse Memorial, which honors all Native American nations.

Chief Crazy Horse was one of the leaders of the Native American force that defeated Gen. George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. Then he died after being stabbed in the back by an Army officer.

Then a Lakota elder had this idea. Why not carve Crazy Horse’s image out of a mountain in the Black Hills? Henry Standing Bear sought out a sculptor and he found one, Korczak Ziolkowski, a Boston native.

Ziokowlski started blasting at the mountain in 1948. Crazy Horse’s face is now complete. But what about the rest of it?

It’s a long way from being done. They’re still blasting thousands of tons of rock off the mountain.

Ziolkowski died in1982. His wife, Ruth, carried on his work, along with the couple’s 10 children. Ruth Ziolkowski died in 2014. Her children — and grandchildren– are taking the project forward.

When it’s done, the statue — the largest in the world — will depict Crazy Horse atop his horse, pointing into the distance. The image will dwarf the other mountainside sculpture not far from this place. That’s the one at Mount Rushmore.

I asked one of the memorial employees, “When will this project be done?” She said the family has no date set for final completion, but it’s going to take another 14 years just to finish the horse.


What’s left? Crazy Horse’s head dress also must be done.

When you stand at the observation deck and gaze at this monstrous project, you have to wonder: How in the name of God’s Earth do you do such a thing? I cannot even begin to fathom the genius that is required to execute such a project.

The nine surviving Ziolkowski children are getting a little long in the tooth. Some of the grandkids are now involved with the project. My wife figures it’s going to take some great-grandkids and perhaps some great-great-grandkids to get the job done.

Trust me on this point: What they have completed thus far is mind-boggling in the extreme.

When presidents cherished using their power . . .


Theodore Roosevelt was not a timid man.

The 26th president of the United States took office as the youngest man ever to ascend to the White House; he was thrust into the office in 1901 when President William McKinley was shot to death.

How did the brash man treat his office? Like he owned it.

I’m reading a book, “The American President,” by historian William E. Leuchtenburg. It examines every presidency of the 20th century — from TR to William Jefferson Clinton.

TR had written a letter to the British historian George Otto Trevelyan near the end of his time in office, according to Leuchtenburg. He wrote:

“While President, I have been president, emphatically; I have used every ounce of power there was in the office and I have not cared a rap for the criticisms of those who spoke of my ‘usurpation of power.’ . . . The efficiency of this government depends upon possessing a strong central executive and wherever I could establish a precedent for strength in the executive, I did.”

Leuchtenburg writes also that Roosevelt boasted after leaving office in 1909 about how things “were done by me without the assistance of Congress.”

Holy smokes!

Try to imagine the current president — or any recent president, for that matter — bragging about going over the heads of another “co-equal branch of government.”

The 44th president, Barack Obama, has issued some executive orders that have sent his congressional critics into apoplectic shock.

Theodore Roosevelt has, over time, gained stature as one of this country’s greatest leaders. His face is on Mount Rushmore, for crying out loud, right along with Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and the original George W. — Washington.

How did he get there?

By using the power of his office.


Didn’t wait on history to carve TR into stone

One of this year’s Christmas gifts, from my older son Peter, got me thinking about how quickly history is able at times to judge someone’s greatness.

Peter gave me a book, “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism.” It’s the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest tome chronicling the lives of great Americans.

What intrigued me is that of the two men mentioned in the title, one of them is memorialized on Mount Rushmore. Then something occurred to me.

Teddy Roosevelt became president in 1901 after President William McKinley was assassinated. Roosevelt, who was 42, was the youngest man ever to assume the presidency; John F. Kennedy in 1960 became the youngest man, at 43, ever elected to the office. TR was elected in his own right in 1904. He left office in early 1909, turning the presidency over to Taft. Roosevelt then became so let down by Taft’s presidency that he sought the office once more in 1912, running on a progressive platform under the label of the Bull Moose Party.

The result of that campaign produced President Woodrow Wilson.

What does have to do with Mount Rushmore? Well, Gutzon Borglum began carving out the faces on the South Dakota mountainside in 1927, just 15 years after Roosevelt’s last run for public office and only eight years after his death in 1919. The other three men honored on that mountain are George Washington, the father of our country; Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln, who fought successfully to preserve the Union during the Civil War. Their greatness was long established by the time Borglum’s crews began blasting away on Mount Rushmore.

TR’s legacy, it could be argued, had yet to be finalized, as he in effect was a contemporary of the sculptor.

My thoughts have turned to whether someone could undertake such an project in that context today. I do not believe we’ve had a president since Roosevelt who’s quite measured up to any of the four men whose faces are carved into the mountain. Some have argued for Franklin Roosevelt, TR’s cousin, while others have said Ronald Reagan deserves to be added to the sculpture.

I prefer to leave the mountain as it stands.

Still, it strikes me that Gutzon Borglam took a gamble when he included Theodore Roosevelt in that pantheon of great Americans.

I’ll look forward to reading one more historian’s take on how he earned his place on the side of that mountain.