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

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

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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

 

 

 

 

 

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

Visiting museums in Keystone

Dan and I both enjoy visiting museums, and our VIP pass covers many of them in the area. We opted to spend some time visiting two of them on our day off, Rushmore Borglum Story and The National Presidential Wax Museum, both in Keystone.

Many billboards advertising the Rushmore Borglum Museum state “best museum we saw in the USA”, so we had high hopes for this one. The museum is dedicated to the life of Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore. Although very informative, it did not live up to its hype. The adult admission is $10.00 (free with VIP pass) which includes a hand-held audio device. You walk around the museum and punch in the code to each display, and there is a brief narrative on the items in the display case (photographs not permitted). At the end of the tour is a 20 minute movie that again goes over his life story. It took us about one hour to visit the museum.  You are not allowed to take photographs of the exhibits.

Rushmore Borglum Story

Rushmore Borglum Story

Prior to Mt Rushmore, Borglum worked on Stone Mountain, in Georgia. He started carving that mountain, but got into a dispute and blasted off the images he had completed.

Borglum was a big fan of President Lincoln, even naming his son Lincoln. He did this statue of Lincoln that is on display in front of the museum.

hanging with Abe

hanging with Abe

 

 

THE NATIONAL PRESIDENTIAL WAX MUSEUM

After our visit with the Borglum Story, we headed over to the wax museum, and were pleasantly surprised by the quality of this museum. If you have any interest in the history of our presidents, this is a good museum to check out. Adult admission is $10 (free with VIP pass), which includes a hand-held audio device. You start watching a video that details how the figures are created, then go to each exhibit which has a lengthy description of the president(s) in the display, and what was happening in the country during their term. If you listen to every story, it will take about 90 minutes to get through the museum.

Presidential Wax museum

Presidential Wax museum

 

The museum covers every president, from the first…

George Washington

George Washington

To the present…

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

Some of the presidents are grouped together in displays, such as the five presidents who were never elected to the office of President.  The five are grouped into two parts, the four who were elected to the Office of Vice-President (left to right – Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Alan Arthur, John Tyler).

The unelected presidents

The unelected presidents

And then there was Gerald Ford, the only man who not only was not elected as president, but was not elected to the office of vice president either.  Ford became the first person appointed as vice president, under the terms of the 25th Amendment, after Spirow Agnew resigned.

Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford

You all remember our 9th President, right?

William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison

He’s part of the reason for the creation of the 25th Amendment.  William Henry Harrison was the first President to die in office.  He refused to wear an overcoat during the inauguration, and died from complications relating to pneumonia, just 32 days after taking the oath.  I guess when you only make it 32 days, you get a very small display in the museum!

Of the five original drafters of the Declaration of Independence, two became Presidents: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

drafting the Declaration of Independence

drafting the Declaration of Independence 

Grover Cleveland became the first President to marry during his term in office.

Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland

William Howard Taft is the only man who was both the President (#27) and Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court (#10).

President & Supreme Court Chief Justice

President & Supreme Court Chief Justice

They had a display on President Kennedy

Kennedy & John Jr

Kennedy & John Jr

Along with a recreation of the scene on Air Force One where Lyndon B Johnson was sworn in as President, with Mrs. Kennedy, still in her blood soaked clothes, looking on. And did you know that Johnson was the only man to be elected as a Congressman, Senator, Vice-President and President?

Lyndon B Johnson

Lyndon B Johnson

We were impressed by the quality of the wax figurines, with one exception.  This display of Ronald Reagan with Mikhail Gorbachev.  Reagan is just staring up and over his head.   It seemed like he was going to be in another type of setting, and they just plunked him in this chair.

President Reagan

President Reagan

They also had a nice tribute to the first responders involved in the 9/11 tragedy.

9/11 tribute

9/11 tribute

After soaking up all this history, we worked up quite an appetite, so we headed out to the Circle B Chuckwagon and Cowboy Music Show, in Hill City. As part of our VIP pass, we received 50% off the dinner/show, which normally costs $26.00 – $30.00 depending on your choice of entrée. Although the food was good (we had the combo platter of beef, BBQ chicken and buffalo), we were glad it was half price! Unless you have children, I would not recommend getting there when the place opens at 4:00pm, as there is really nothing to do. They have a lot of activities for the kids, and there is a “shoot-out” at 5:20, with dinner starting at 5:30pm. The Cowboy Music Show starts a little after 6, and ends by 7:00pm. The musicians did put on a nice 45 minute show with some cowboy music and a few family style jokes.

The Chuckwagon show

The Chuckwagon show

Quote for the day:  “No man who ever held the office of president would congratulate a friend on obtaining it.” – John Adams