With July 4th coming up this Saturday, the Black Hills are brimming with excitement. Mount Rushmore has celebrated July 4th with one of the largest fireworks displays in the country for the past twelve years and this year’s event is sure to be another memorable display.
When I saw the fireworks at Mount Rushmore a few years ago, I had been busy rock climbing in the Needles near Sylvan Lake. By the time we got back on the Needles Highway to get to Mount Rushmore, traffic was already heavy. So we decided to turn around and try to come in from the east, but it was too late. People were everywhere and cars had pulled off at every turnout and on the shoulder of the road to try and secure a place with a clear view of “The Faces”.
I decided that I had better do the same before it was too late, but there was just no place to pull over. The air was getting cooler so I knew the sun had begun its descent over the hills and there wasn’t a whole lot of daylight left. I was getting anxious. Finally I spotted a very small space between two cars and was able to squeeze in. We grabbed our Weber portable grill and a little cooler with our brats and beer and headed up from the road and into the woods.
After finding a nice, comfortable spot with a good view, we set up the grill and popped a couple of beers and finally relaxed… we were all set! Even though we were a few miles away, Mount Rushmore is so grand that it was a perfect place to watch the fireworks from. And we were jazzed! All around us in the woods more and more people arrived, having been “marooned” so to speak just like us. It was no problem, there were small parties of all sorts of people – teenagers, families, and elderly folks – everyone grinning with anticipation and having a great time just being there. It was a very special experience.
After the beer and brats, the sun finally disappeared and it began to get dark. Then the show began. Now I’ve seen a lot of fireworks in my days and I’ve seen some great displays. But I have to say, despite the magnificent show, what really made it special was where we were and realizing that all around us, everywhere in the Black Hills, folks were doing the same thing as we were, simply having a great time. The simplicity of it made me think of how things must have been back in the “olden days” when the Black Hills were first being settled, at the time when Black Hills Gold was first discovered. There was a closeness amongst us all. And then the show was over. Traffic cleared up pretty quickly and we made it back to our campsite at Sylvan Lake and called it a night.
The festivities this Friday, July 3rd will include music, historic re-enactments and military aircraft fly-overs, culminating in a half hour choreographed display of spectacular fireworks including over 5,200 firework artillery shells.
“The fireworks and events of the weekend put an exclamation point on what, for many, is the classic all-American family vacation,” said Richard Benda, secretary of the Department of Tourism and State Development. “It is truly our privilege to host this event in such a beautiful and historic place as the Black Hills.”
“The sight of fireworks lighting the night sky above Mount Rushmore is an experience that stays with people for a lifetime,” said Diana Saathoff, executive director for the Mount Rushmore Memorial Society. “You can see in the faces of young and old alike the awe of the scene and the incredible sense of patriotism it inspires.”
In 2008, about 30,000 people attended the annual celebration while more than 53 million viewers watched the fireworks display on television. If you plan to attend, you can either get there early, or even better, get there late with your cooler and grill, and find a nice spot in The Hills to watch from. You won’t regret it.