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Photographing Our Famous National Memorial
Sep 29, 2011
Thousands of photos of Mount Rushmore National Memorial are taken each year. However, most of those photographs do not take into account that the carvings on Mount Rushmore are best photographed in the morning. The heads face southeast, so receive sunlight best from sunrise through approximately 10 am.
Sunrise can give the faces a pleasing orange or golden cast, but time of year has a large effect on shadows that form on the mountain at that time of day. Mid-summer sunrise will cast a shadow from the Lincoln head that will completely cover Roosevelt's face. In early winter the sun has moved far enough south to eliminate the shadow almost completely.
Late afternoon and evening places the heads in full shade no matter what time of year you visit.
For an angle on Rushmore that’s a bit out of the ordinary, try these spots:
- The profile of Washington's head can be isolated against the sky at a turnout on Highway 244 about 1/2 mile west of the memorial parking area.
- The Presidential Trail, which makes a loop from either side of the main viewing platform, leads to the bottom of the rock rubble pile below the faces. This gives the mountain carving a grand "monumental" feel as you look steeply up at the faces.
Two spots on the Presidential Trail are especially noteworthy:
If you took the left side branch of the trail from the viewing platform, just before you reach the rock pile you will see a short staircase leading downward to the left. It leads underneath two huge boulders leaning on each other. Through the crack between them you can frame the Washington and Lincoln heads.
A short walk past the boulder crack (or at the top of the steep staircase climb if you started from the right side of the viewing platform) is another short staircase leading upwards toward the carvings. Rounding a large rock you will come to what the park rangers call the "Hot Tub Terrace," evidently because it would be an ideal spot for a backyard spa. There is an aspen tree here that provides some nice foreground contrast to all the rough granite piled around it. The tree also creates one of the few places to shoot fall colors with the faces at the appropriate time of year.
Chad Coppess is the senior photographer at the South Dakota Department of Tourism. He lives in Pierre with his wife, Lisa. To view more of his work, visit www.dakotagraph.com.