South Dakota: All the presidents' heads

Seeking spectacular sculpture? South Dakota beckons

You might think a huge, iconic American monument such as Mount Rushmore (where those 60ft-high busts of four US presidents were blasted from a mountainside) would be near one of the country's great cities. You'd be wrong. It is in South Dakota's Black Hills. No disrespect to Rapid City, South Dakota, which is the nearest sizeable urban centre to this National Memorial, but you wouldn't mistake it for, say, New York.

The presidents with the stony stares are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. All did their bit to shape an America whose businesspeople have long been renowned for their marketing skills. So it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that, in this land of discounting and "buy-one-get-one-frees", someone is offering a better deal on presidential attractions.

Just 40 miles from Mount Rushmore is the town of Lead (pronounced "leed"). Born as a result of a gold rush in 1876, Lead is home to the Homestake Mine, which was the largest, deepest (at 8,240ft) and most productive gold mine in the Western Hemisphere before it closed in 2001.

But these days it's about value for money rather than precious metals. Entry to Mount Rushmore National Memorial is free, but car parking there costs $10 (£5.30). Just outside the town of Lead, however, you need pay only $8 (£4.20) to see the giant heads of not four, but all 42 US presidents. And parking is free.

President's Park is the brainchild of artist David Adickes, whose previous work includes a 65ft statue of Sam Houston, first president of (the then Republic of) Texas. (You'll have to go to Adickes's hometown of Huntsville, Texas to see that one.) Adickes first went to visit Mount Rushmore in the early Nineties, and it occurred to him that it was a pity that one couldn't get up close and personal with the heads of States. So he decided to do something about it.

More impatient than Gutzon Borglum – who took 14 years creating Mount Rushmore's four heads – Adickes decided against dynamite and jackhammers. Instead, he used polystyrene and plaster to create moulds in his studio in Texas. White Portland cement was then poured into the moulds (although hollow, each head weighs about 18 tons). The heads were then trucked the 1,150 miles from Houston to Lead. All 42 were completed in less than five years.

Admittedly, the busts are smaller than those at Mount Rushmore (20ft tall rather than 60ft). But does that matter when you can get within touching distance of not only the Rushmorean quartet, but 38 others including Carter, Ford, Clinton and both Bushes? President's Park's 42 heads – each with an information board – have been placed on a 20-acre ponderosa pine-clad hillside. They are arranged chronologically along a winding path. Expect your wander to be accompanied by the gobbling and clucking of wild turkeys foraging for food.

The presidential facts on the info boards are no dry history lesson. Learn, for example, that the second President, John Adams, preferred to bow rather than shake hands; and that Ulysses S Grant set a high-jump record at West Point that lasted 25 years.

There are picnic areas and a snack bar – and mountain bikes can be rented at the park's visitor centre for the seven-mile downhill trail to Deadwood. The entire town of Deadwood is on something called the National Historic Register. Once a hangout for Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok, it is now the largest historic preservation project in the US. Hickok's grave is in the Mount Moriah cemetery.

Mount Rushmore apart, President's Park is also within 55 miles of another even more monumental mountain memorial. In 1948, Korczak Ziolkowski began to blast away another mountainside to create the world's largest mountain sculpture, a rendition of Lakota hero Crazy Horse atop his horse. Korczak died in 1982, but his family continue his work. When it's finished (because of factors such as the uncertainty of the weather and financing, it's impossible to predict a completion date) the Crazy Horse carving will measure 636ft by 558ft. The head (which has been finished) is 85ft high; the horse's head will be 216ft high. All four faces on Mount Rushmore would fit into Crazy Horse's head. Crazy Horse's arm will be almost as long as a football pitch.

Shortly after the present race for the White House finishes in November, President's Park will welcome a new arrival. If the artist who will be creating the South Dakota-bound statue has any idea which challenger will be his subject, he's not telling. Adickes (now 81) is presumably patiently preparing his plaster as the presidential polls proceed at a ponderous pace.

STATE LINES: SOUTH DAKOTA

Population: 750,000

Area: nine times the size of Wales

Capital: Pierre

Date in Union: 2 November 1889

Flower: Pasque

Motto: "Under God the people rule"

Nickname: Mount Rushmore State

TRAVELLER'S GUIDE

Getting there

To Rapid City airport, from Heathrow via Denver or Chicago on United Airlines (0845 844 4777; www.unitedairlines.co.uk).



Visiting there

President's Park (001 605 584 9925; www.presidentspark.com). Open mid-April to September, 9am-6pm daily; $8 (£4.20).

Mount Rushmore National Memorial (001 605 574 2523; www.nps.gov/moru). Open 24 May to September, 8am-9pm daily and until 5pm from October to May; free but $10 (£5.30) parking.

Crazy Horse Memorial (001 605 673 4681; www.crazyhorse.org). Daily 7am to dusk; from 8am October- May; $10 (£5.30).



More information

South Dakota Tourism: 001 605 773 3301; www.travelsd.com

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