Best American Landmarks to Visit with Kids: Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial

America’s historic and natural landmarks may not be as ancient as those found in other parts of the world, but their more recent origins add a tangible quality that may inspire a child’s learning. Whether seeing firsthand the documents our nation was built on, or gazing in awe at the beauty found in our national parks, visits to these places are an opportunity for memorable family bonding and can bring history to life for a powerful learning experience. This series includes tips and educational resources for visiting some of the most amazing landmarks our country has to offer with your kids. Some may be in your back yard, while others require a longer trip, but all are well worth a visit.

Half a lifetime ago, when I was 16, my parents took my little brother and me and to see Mount Rushmore.

I was a typical teen cynic. “What’s the big deal with a bunch of presidents’ faces way up on a mountain?” I remember saying on the ride there.

We had flown to Rapid City, South Dakota, and were driving half an hour to the monument.

My dad turned around and glanced at me. “You’ll see,” was all he said.

Yes, I have to admit, I did see. Mount Rushmore is truly awe-inspiring, and no picture can explain it. The heads of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt emerged from the rocky mountain, impossibly huge and imposing.

The crowd was hushed, almost worshipful. Seeing these magnificent men of stone—carved for eternity, gazing across the great Dakotas—made me realize, more than any textbook, the vast importance they symbolized for the nation. My cynicism evaporated into the clear blue sky.

Digging Deeper

If you plan to visit, your kids will appreciate it more with resources such as:

Another Amazing Sculpture Nearby: The Crazy Horse Memorial

After our visit to Mount Rushmore several years ago, we traveled just 20 minutes farther to see a remarkable work-in-progress, the Crazy Horse Memorial. Construction on this mountain monument began in 1948, and is not yet completed to this day.

Even unfinished, the Crazy Horse Memorial evokes awe. It is a 500-foot-high mountain, being carved into the shape of Chief Crazy Horse of the Lakota People, riding on his horse with an arm pointing to his people’s ancestral lands. When finished, the horse’s head alone will stand 219 feet tall!

The artist who started the memorial was the Polish-American sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, who had worked on Mount Rushmore. In fact, it was Mount Rushmore that made two brothers, Henry and Luther Standing Bear, press for their own memorial. Crazy Horse was a great 19th century warrior who became a legend to his people. In fact, he defeated General George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, known as “Custer’s Last Stand.”

It took eight years to convince Ziolkowski to begin his work, which has never been funded by the government. When Ziolkowski died, his wife and children took over, and his daughter Monique—also a sculptor—is in charge of the project today.

Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial: two sculptures on a massive scale that could inspire your kids to learn two sides of American history.

Featured Image – Bill & Vicki T / CC by 2.0

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