It seems that every American, at some point in his/her life, visits Mount Rushmore. Maybe it is patriotism, maybe it is a desire to visit tourist destinations, a goal to see every national park site, etc. And it seems that every American loves the place. Indeed, it is impressive. Four giant, well-sculpted faces on the side of a mountain. Four American Presidents by which all others are compared. The row of flags as you walk toward the monument enhances the patriotic experience. There is a sense of pride here, a sense of unyielding respect.
When I visited the site in 2009, a friend had asked me what my feelings were of the monument. She had asked this with something specifically in mind -- is the beauty of something that is crafted by man worth the modification to the natural environment? In other words, why permanently change the landscape to sculpt images of four people respected by a country?
I can imagine a lot of people would scoff at such a question, but it is a fair one. Think about it. Despite the stunning artistic achievement here, what purpose does it really serve? Not much, really. And it sure did change the landscape -- certainly at some cost to area wildlife.
I marvel at man-made achievements all the time -- spectacular bridges, towering lighthouses, tall buildings, old churches, gargantuan dams. Nearly all come at a cost to the environment in some way.
History reveals that civilizations modified their world in dramatic ways. One only needs to think of the ancient Egyptians and their towering pyramids for an example. These places are tourist lightning rods presently. There's a reason there are natural and man-made wonders of the world. People like blockbusters of the terrestrial world. The Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Great Wall of China, the Statue of Liberty, the Leaning Tower of Pisa...
I'm not sure if Mount Rushmore should be in a list with the man-made wonders listed above (maybe the Leaning Tower), but it is an astonishing achievement. I'm not sure I'd recommend destroying more mountainsides for similar monuments of idolization.
Then again, the tourists flock here, and parents buy kids books on Presidents and history. Sounds like a purpose I can get behind.