Crocidiles, Snakes and Lizards….oh my!

If you love snakes, spiders, alligators, crocodiles and birds (and who doesn’t?!!), then Reptile Gardens, located just South of Rapid City, is a perfect place to spend an afternoon.

Hello!

Hello!

Good to know

Good to know

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Reptile Gardens has more species and sub-species of reptiles than any other zoo or park in the world.  They offer several informative programs every day, on snakes, birds and a popular alligator/crocodile show.  One of the more popular residents of Reptile Gardens is the giant tortoise.  There are two species, Galapagos (which is endangered) and Aldabra  (which is a threatened species).  They average 500 pounds in weight, and 4 to 5 1/2 feet depending on the species.  They are very gentle creatures, and it was fun getting to pet them.

making new friends!

making new friends!

These little ones seemed to be having some fun!

just playing around

just playing around

The Sky Dome contains a tropical jungle with birds, lizards, and small turtles roaming around.  It also has a beautiful display of tropical plants and flowers.

Reptile Gardens

Reptile Gardens

They have several different species of Amazon and Macaw birds on display, that seemed quite happy with their surroundings, and were oblivious to us humans.

Macaw's

Macaw’s

The Alligator/Crocodile show is very popular, and educational as well.  The handler discusses the difference between the two species, and will show you how to wrangle them, if you so desire!

don't try this at home!

don’t try this at home!

During the show, the handler comes out with a bucket of raw chicken legs, which they seem to enjoy and swallow whole.

yummy chicken!

yummy chicken!

At the end of the show, the handler goes around with Fluffy, their baby crocodile.  Who can resist petting her?

petting a baby crocodile

petting a baby crocodile

They do have an exhibit of a Komodo Dragon, which is the largest lizard in the world.  Males can reach up to 10 feet long.  The Dragons will eat snakes, pigs and pesky tourists, according to the sign at the display.

Komodo Dragon

Komodo Dragon

But the highlight of Reptile Gardens is their impressive display of snakes.  What is the worlds most deadliest snake?  According to Reptile Gardens, it is the Inland Taipan, as it has the most toxic venom of any snake known on the planet.  However, because of its limited range of living in remote Australia, there are no known deaths from this snake.  This snake was hiding out in the back of the display, so I was unable to get a good picture of it.

Inland Taipan

Inland Taipan

The Rough-Scaled Python, is considered to be the rarest snake in the world.  It is non-venomous.  The species were first found in 1976, but a second one was not located until 1983.  They were found in Northern Australia, and Reptile Gardens was the first place to have, and to breed them, outside of Australia.  They live in sandstone crevices and usually come out after dark to warm up on heat stored in the rocks.

Rough-scaled Python

Rough-scaled Python

The Boomslang, found in Tropical Africa south of the Sahara, is the most venomous rear-fanged snake in the world.  The snake is able to open its mouth a full 180 degrees, to display its potent fangs.

Boomslang

Boomslang

The Black Mamba, found in Central and South Africa, is the second longest venomous snake in the world, growing up to 14 feet in length.  If left untreated, 100% of Black Mamba snake bites are fatal.  Just 2 drops of their venom is lethal, and a bite will usually deposit 15 drops.  This snake just shed it’s skin, which was left in the cage on the left.  The snake is sprawled out on the right side.

Black Mamba

Black Mamba

The Australian Scrub Python, a non-venomous snake, is the largest species native to Australia.  They can get up to 28 feet, although 16 feet is the norm.  There are two snakes in the photo below, all wrapped up together.  They are the only 2 in the United States.

Australian Scrub Python

Australian Scrub Python

The Anaconda, a non-venomous snake, is the largest, heaviest and second longest snake in existence.  (the longest snake is the Reticulated Python) They can weigh up to 300 pounds, and grow 22 feet in length.  The females have been known to eat smaller males!

Anaconda

Anaconda

The very large, non-venomous Burmese Python can lay up to 100 six-inch eggs.  They are unusual in the reptile world in that they will incubate their eggs by coiling up around them, and raising their body temperature about 7 degrees.

Burmese Python

Burmese Python

This is the skeleton of a Burmese Python, which contains 328 pairs of ribs and 400 vertebrae.  It is estimated this snake weighed 150 pounds and was 19 feet in length.

Burmese Python Skeleton

Burmese Python Skeleton

The cost for Reptile Gardens is $16.50, which includes a pass allowing you to return all season.

Quote of the day:  “Do not insult the crocodile until you have crossed the river.”  – Chinese Proverb

Yabba Dabba Doo!

Custer, SD

Custer, SD

We both grew up watching The Flintstones, which originally aired from 1960 – 1966, and then many years after in reruns on Saturday mornings.   Custer, South Dakota has the Flintstones Camping and Theme Park and we were always curious about it, driving past it many times in town.  Since we could receive free admission with our VIP passes (normally $10.00 per adult), we decided to check it out.  This went into our “glad it was free” list, although we managed to have a ‘Yabba dabba doo, gay ole time’!  It took us about 30 minutes to see everything in the park, so it is pretty overpriced for what you get (in our opinion).

We started out taking the train ride around the property.

all aboard!

all aboard!

And then entered Bedrock City, which is a re-creation of the buildings from the television series, along with a few new “attractions” found only in the Black Hills, such as “Barney Peak” (a play on Harney Peak)

Barney Peak

Barney Peak

And Mount Rockmore (we still haven’t figured out who the person is on the far right, next to Dino)

Mount Rockmore

Mount Rockmore

The park has Fred and Wilma’s house.

The Flinstones house

The Flinstones house

Dan was trying to take Fred’s car for a spin.

Flintmobile!

no keys, just foot pedals

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Next door was The Rubble household of Barney and Betty.

The Rubbles

The Rubbles

Barney has quite the aerodynamic sportster.

DSC_0618Dan decided to hang out with the girls.

Betty and Wilma

Betty and Wilma

They have a downtown area, complete with movie theater, fire department, beauty parlor…

Downtown Bedrock

Downtown Bedrock

and the jail

Bedrock PD

Bedrock PD

After the buildings, there is a children’s playground area with swings, slides and stuff.  I was talking with a few mothers that wished they would put this cartoon back on the air, and take off Sponge Bob.  Their children had no idea who any of the characters are on The Flintstones.  We agreed that their kids are missing out on a classic cartoon series.

a great tv show!

a great tv show!

We did not see any of the camping section of the park, as it is well secluded from the road and the park.

Quote for the day: “Make it good Fred, I gotta tell Betty the same story.” – Barney Rubble

South Dakota Air and Space Museum

Next door to Ellsworth Air Force Base in Box Elder, SD is the excellent South Dakota Air and Space Museum (free to everyone, donations happily accepted), which contains dozens of airplanes, helicopters and missiles both indoors and outdoors.

B-1B

B-1B Lancer from the front

The exhibit includes planes that were flown out of the AFB, such as the B-52 Stratofortress, EC-135 Looking Glass, B-29 Superfortress, and the B-1B Lancer, which is currently in use at the base.  There is an optional tour available of the base ($8, free with VIP pass).  It was the first time we had been on an active military base, and we were happy to venture out with our friends Forrest and Mary for the tour.  Our tour guide stated they normally do not put a “current model” out on display, but this plane had been heavily damaged, so they scraped it for parts, and placed it prominently on display in front of the museum.

B-1B Lancer

B-1B Lancer

We were impressed by the massive size of the B-52 plane.

B-52 Stratofortress

B-52 Stratofortress

It’s predecessor, the B-29 Superfortress, was also a great looking plane.

B-29 Superfortress

B-29 Superfortress

The EC-135 Looking Glass was another plane used at the base.

EC-135 Looking Glass

EC-135 Looking Glass

The photo below has the Nike-Ajax Missile in the center, the F-101 Voodoo on the far left, the C-47 Gooney Bird and the C-131 Samaritan on the far right.

Nike-Ajax Missile

Nike-Ajax Missile

More planes on display

various planes

various planes

The photo below has the T-38 Talon on the left, and the A-7 Corsair – II on the right.

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The tour of the base was approximately one hour, with a stop at the Minuteman Missile Silo right on the base.  Currently, there are over 3,000 people living on the base.  At its peak, during the Cold War era, over 7,000 members were assigned to the base.

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The AFB used to contain the 44th Missile Wing, which was in charge of the Minuteman Missile Sites.  The base contains a silo that was used for training on all facets of the program.  The first silo was installed in 1963 near Wall, SD.  By the end of 1963, over 150 missile silos were dispersed across South Dakota.  All training for the personnel was done at the AFB.    The end of the cold war was reached in 1991, and the missiles were deactivated.  The 44th Missile Wing was disbanded in 1994.  You can read more on the history of the 44th and the Minuteman missiles here.

The missiles were brought to the sites using the maintenance vehicle below.  The back-end of the vehicle would raise up and over the missile site in the ground, and they could lower the missile down into the silo.

maintenance vehicle

maintenance vehicle

The next vehicle to arrive would contain the actual nuclear warhead and would also sit over the site.  They would put covers down over the hole, and would complete work on the installation.

2nd maintenance vehicle

2nd maintenance vehicle

The entrance into the silo required a secure, double entry system.

double entry

double entry

Since this was a training facility, the officers grew tired of having to go down the hatches every day, so stairs were built at this silo.

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We were able to look down into the silo at the missile.

maintenance opening

maintenance opening

deactivated warhead

deactivated warhead

DSC_0420DSC_0426

There are electrical components surrounding the silo.

electrical components

electrical components

 

The museum also contained a display of the launch control center, which were capsules buried underground throughout South Dakota.  Each center was in charge of 10 missile silos.

launch control center

launch control center

The museum and tour of the base was an excellent and informative lesson in our military history.  It is definitely a “must see” item if you come out to this area.  There is also a Minuteman Missile Site and Launch Control Facility operated by the National Park Service about 60 miles East of the base.  We have not yet visited that facility, but hope to do so before we leave this area in a few weeks.  You are not able to go down into the missile silo at the park service facility, as they do not have stairs like the AFB had put in their training silo.  But they do offer tours of the launch control facility on a first come-first served basis.  And they are only able to take 6 people down at a time in the control center.  So if you are interested in the missile site, it would be a good idea to tour the museum and Ellsworth Air Force Base as an alternative.

Quote for the day:  “If you can walk away from a landing, it’s a good landing. If you use the airplane the next day, it’s an outstanding landing.” – Chuck Yeager

 

 

 

 

 

Harney Peak – Hiked it. Liked it.

Harney Peak, in Custer State Park, is probably the most popular hiking trail in the area.  At an elevation of 7,242 feet, it is the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains and west of the Alps. Harney Peak was named after General William S Harney, who served with the U.S. Army from 1818 to 1863.   With our friends Forrest and Mary, we decided to tackle the 7 mile round trip hike, which has about a 1200 foot elevation increase.

Everyone was all smiles at the beginning of our trek, which started out as a relatively easy path to navigate.

just getting started

just getting started

After a moderate climb, we encountered many spectacular views of the Black Hills, with its granite rocks.

spectacular views

spectacular views

After about an hour, we got our first glimpse at the shell that remains of the fire tower on top of Harney Peak.  We all thought “we have to get all the way over there?!” (you can see our destination is at the center of the picture below)

first glimpse of fire tower

first glimpse of fire tower

We continued on, going up in elevation, and then down again, through the woods, over a small stream, and around many small boulders.  The hike started to get a bit more challenging.  One boy coming back down from the top said he scared away a rattlesnake for us…thanks!  We continued on our climb.

rattlesnake free!

rattlesnake free!

As we continued our climb, we could hear thunder in the distance, which we are finding to be typical weather here this summer in the Black Hills.  Cell service was intermittent, but Dan did keep an eye on the weather radar on his phone, so we wouldn’t get caught up in anything too serious.

threatening skies

threatening skies

The only annoying part of the trip was listening to everyone coming down proclaiming “you only have 15 more minutes”.  This went on for at least an hour!!  Finally one girl told us “you still have a long way to go!”  But the majority of people coming back down all had smiles on their faces, and said it was worth it.

For Dan and I, this was the first major hike that we have done.  Forrest is an experienced hiker, and he agreed we picked a good hike for our first time.

a happy hiker

a happy hiker

We started to get a better glimpse of the old fire tower as we continued our climb.  Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1935 – 1938, it remained in use until 1967, and was stripped out of its furnishings and plumbing.

getting closer!

getting closer!

The views, even with the storms in the distance, were getting even more spectacular, as we continued getting above the tree line of the Black Hills Forest.

Black Hills

Black Hills

We continued climbing, the temperatures were dropping due to the elevation, and the wind was picking up.  There are many twists and turns during the final ascent of the hike, and then more stairs?!

more stairs...uggh!

more stairs…uggh!

Onward we climbed, only a “few more” minutes!  Then one final climb inside the old fire tower, to a walkway with even better views.

still more to climb

still more to climb

We made it!

Mary & Forrest at the top!

Mary & Forrest at the top!

made it!!

made it!!

view from the top

view from the top

We spent awhile at the top enjoying the views, had a snack, and then began the journey back down.  We promised not to tell anyone coming up how much time they had to go.  On our way down, we heard a loud roar off into the distance, and realized there were two giant B52 planes flying overhead.  It was fun to watch these beasts fly over the hills.

Coming back down was the quickest part of the trip, of course, and we did get a bit ahead of Forrest and Mary.  While we were waiting for them at the end of the trail, we heard some laughter, and turned around to watch them run the last hundred yards or so of the trail!  Apparently they wanted us to know that even the “old folks” still had some “pep in their step” after 5 1/2 hours of hiking!

 

showing off!

showing off!

All four of us would recommend the Harney Peak hike to anyone in the area!

Quote for the day:  there is a bench at the beginning of the trail that has a perfect quote:

Life is a journey, take time to enjoy every step

Life is a journey, take time to enjoy every step

 

 

 

 

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum

During our Sturgis visit, we spent about 45 minutes touring the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum.  During the rally, admission to the museum is $10.00, free with our VIP pass.  There are 2 levels of exhibits to the museum, and covers a brief history of motorcycles and the history of the Sturgis Rally.

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum

They have several dozen motorcycles on display, including many brands that we never heard of.  In 1938, Indian Motorcycle Dealer J.C. “Pappy” Hoel and the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club held the first races in Sturgis.  This became the basis for starting the Sturgis Rally in August.  This is a 1938 Indian Chief.

1938 Indian Chief

1938 Indian Chief

Just 10 years later, the Indian Chief model:

1948 Indian Chief

1948 Indian Chief

Here are some earlier models of the Indian motorcycles:

1923 Big Chief

1923 Big Chief

Indian motorcycles were very popular racing bikes, before Harley Davidson started producing racing models.

1911 Indian

1911 Indian

In 1914 Harley Davidson started sponsoring motorcycle racing, and hired engineers with racing experience to come up with this “speedster”

1915 HD Board Track Racer

1915 HD Board Track Racer

The Flying Merkel was known as one of the fastest racing bikes in its time.

1912 Flying Merkel

1912 Flying Merkel

This chopper was built by OCC Choppers Paul Tuetel, and is supposed to mimic BIC’s Flex 4 razor (or so the sign says!)

BIC Flex 4 Chopper

BIC Flex 4 Chopper

Many motorcycles from other countries are on display as well.

 

lots of other brands

lots of other brands

In 1949, the Indian motorcycle company tried to go with a more European style, to compete with the many imported motorcycles that were gaining popularity in the US.

1949 Indian Arrow

1949 Indian Arrow

This motorcycle was designed specifically for London’s fog and rain.  It can hold up to 4 people, and keep the riders relatively dry, due to the larger windshield and lower leg fairings.

1966 Matchless w/sidecar

1966 Matchless w/sidecar

Perhaps this is why people enjoy riding motorcycles so much?

sign in museum

sign in museum

Quote for the day:  “Only a biker knows why a dog sticks his head out of a car window.” – author unknown