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National park tips: Yep, you should see Rushmore. But about the sculptor...

South Dakota's Mt. Rushmore National Memorial.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

If you’re on the road anywhere near South Dakota, Mount Rushmore National Memorial is mandatory. But sidestep the ticky-tacky tourist compound of Keystone, S.D. (nearest town to Rushmore).

Instead, stay 24 miles away in pleasant, historic Rapid City. If you’re photographing the faces, the light is better in the morning (they face southeast). Don’t overlook the startling background of sculptor Gutzon Borglum (a member of the Ku Klux Klan for many years).

Could that be why he never responded to a Lakota Sioux chief’s request to build a monument to Crazy Horse?

Most emotional moment of the day: The close-of-the-evening lighting ceremony, when veterans and active-duty military are invited onstage while a patriotic hymn swells. By the way, admission is free -- but parking costs $11 per auto or motorcycle.

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In honor of this year’s National Park Service centennial, the Travel section is posting 100 park travel ideas and tips based on trips staff travel writer Christopher Reynolds has taken, along with photo-op advice from Times photographer Mark Boster. We’ll post one per day through Dec. 31.

Follow Reynolds on Twitter: @MrCSReynolds

See travel videos by Reynolds from around the world.

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