Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ellsworth AFB and Mt Rushmore, South Dakota

I forgot in my last posting to talk about the prairie dogs in the Devils Tower park.  As we entered the park, there they were.

A member of the squirrel family, prairie dogs have minute ears, short tails and muscular legs which suit them for living in tunnels.  Prairie dogs are highly social and live in populated areas referred to as towns.  The length of the adult varies from 11 to 13 inches and their weight ranges from 2 to 3 pounds, with males are generally heavier than the females...YEAH!!!

A short 80 miles from Sundance, Wyoming, is Rapid City, South Dakota.  As we approached Rapid City, we began to see the Black Hills. 

The term "Black Hills" is a translation of the Lakota people because of the dark appearance of the trees from a distance -- as they are covered by trees.  Native Americans have a long history in the Black Hills.  After conquering the Cheyenne Nation in 1776, the Lakota took over the territory of the Black Hills, which became central to their culture.  However, when gold was discovered there in 1874, miners swept into the area in a gold rush and the U.S. Government re-assigned the Lakota -- against their wishes -- to other reservations in western South Dakota.  

Our plans were to stay at Ellsworth AFB FamCamp.  It was the week following the 75th motorcycle rally in Sturgis -- actually the rally involved the entire State of South Dakota and Eastern Wyoming as well.  Anyway, we purposely waited until the rally was officially over before we came to the area.  FamCamp does not take reservations, but when I called the day before, they said they had several sites available, so we moved our trip to South Dakota up by a day with high hopes of securing a site. 

 Ellsworth AFB is approximately ten miles northeast of Rapid City and is home to the 28th Bomb Wing (28 BW), assigned to the Air Combat Command.  The 28 BW is one of two B-1B Lancer strategic bomb wings in the United States Air Force, the other being the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess AFB, Texas.  Ellsworth was established in 1941 as Rapid City Army Air Base.  It is named in honor of Brigadier General Richard E. Ellsworth, who was killed when his RB-36 Peacemaker crashed during a training flight. 

The mission of the 28 BW is to deliver combat power for global response.  Ellsworth's population is approximately 8000, including military members, family members and civilian employees.  We also learned there are about 3800 military retirees in Western South Dakota.

We love the sound of military aircraft, so hearing the roar of the B1 did not bother us -- to us, it is the sound of freedom.

I've told this story many times -- how when we were stationed at Cannon AFB, New Mexico, the roar of the F-111 taking off would shake the courtroom windows so much, we would have to pause proceedings in the courtroom until the airplane was in the air.  I'm proud of Alan's service and the small part I played as a military spouse and a USAF civilian employee.  

Ellsworth AFB's FamCamp had high ratings in the military FamCamp website. There are 30 sites -- all back-ins -- with concrete pads, patio and built-in picnic tables.  There's also room for tents.

And the price was right -- pay for six nights and get the seventh night free -- $125, full hookups with 50 amps, for seven days.  That's our kind of place.  We enjoyed shopping at the BX and commissary -- even though both were small. 

We were anxious to see Mt Rushmore.  On our way, we stopped at Big Thunder Gold Mine in Keystone. 

Big Thunder Gold Mine -- originally named the Gold Hill Lode -- was discovered in 1882 by two German immigrants.  They did not know each other when they came to the Keystone area, but because they spoke the same language, they became partners.  Using hand equipment to drill holes, they placed powder in the drill holes to blast the rock loose.  Because the entrance to the mine is cut in solid rock, Big Thunder is one of the safest mines in the area and was designated Keystone's bomb shelter during times of war.  

Alan is very interested in gold panning -- I tried to get him to pan for gold, but he didn't want to spend the money.  However, he did buy himself a gold panning kit.

We drove through town and stopped at Holy Terror Antiques -- seemed like a strange name.  This gentleman, a blacksmith by trade, hammers people's names into 90+-year-old railroad spikes-- no charge but donations were gladly accepted.

I also learned he is a USAF Retired Captain, having retired at Ellsworth AFB.  He hammered my name in a spike.

Alan found some interesting antiques.

We finally made our way to Mt Rushmore where I found the history very interesting.  Gutzon Borglum is the one responsible for the carvings on Mt Rushmore.  He was born in Idaho on March 25, 1867. The following will provide additional information on Mr. Borglum for those who are interested:

Like most everyone, we had heard of Mt Rushmore all our lives, but never imagined seeing it first-hand.

Mt Rushmore stands as a shrine of democracy, a monument and memorial to this country's birth, growth and ideals.  Mt Rushmore symbolizes the greatness of this nation through the greatness of its leaders.  Between 1927 and 1941, Mr. Borglum and 400 workers sculpted the 60-foot busts of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln who represent the first 150 years of American history.

RUSHMORE FACTS: (1)  Mr. Borglum began drilling into the 5,725-foot mountain in 1927 at the age of 60; (2) The creation took 14 years and cost a mere one million dollars; (3) Rushmore's granite faces tower 5,500 feet above sea level; (4) The carvings are scaled to men who would stand 465 feet tall; (5) Each head on Mt Rushmore is as tall as a six-story building; (6) More than 800 million pounds of stone were removed from Mt Rushmore while carving the presidents; (7) Each president's face is as tall as the entire Great Spinx of Egypt, measuring 60 feet from the chin to the top of the head;  (8) The president's noses are 20 feet long, each mouth 18 feet wide and the eyes are 11 feet across; and, (9) The workers had to climb 506 steps daily to get to the top of Mt Rushmore.

The avenue of flags leads from the concession building to the Grandview Terrace.  The flags of the 56 states and territories line either side of the walkway.  

Alan's birthplace and where we consider home

My birthplace and our second home

Our new legal home residency

Mr. Borglum, as sculpted by his son, Lincoln

Grandview Terrace where we observed a naturalization ceremony

We visited Mr. Borglum's studio where we observed the plaster masks of each of the presidents.  These masks were hung from cables on the mountain and were used by workers for visual comparison and measurements.

Hand-driven winches, each operated by two workers, were installed in "winch houses" at the top of the mountain.  Cables attached to the winches lowered tools, equipment and workers in chairs to various locations on the sculpture.

The sling-chair the workers sat in to work on the sculpture.

We enjoyed our visit to Mt Rushmore and especially the history involved in the construction of the four presidents on the mountain.  Watching the naturalization ceremony was a treat -- that is the correct way to become a U.S. citizen and we wish everyone would take the necessary steps to become legal citizens.

Our next posting will be on Crazy Horse, the Chapel in the Hills and Ellsworth's own air and space museum.  Then we will head East with our destination being Goshen, Indiana, for the 50th Escapees Escapade.  
God bless our friends and family and God bless our voyage.


  1. Loved seeing and reading about Gutzon's studio. Our visit to Mt. Rushmore included the scooter so we didn't go down there.

  2. My favorite sentence in the whole post "We love the sound of military aircraft, so hearing the roar of the B1 did not bother us -- to us, it is the sound of freedom." Amen to that!