4 other spelunking tours

The Black Hills area offers six different cave sites for your spelunking pleasure. We were fortunate to have enough time to visit all six. If you have limited time, we would recommend Wind Cave and Jewel Cave, both operated by the National Park Service. We have previously blogged on those caves. Now we will catch up on the other four.

Wonderland Cave

Of the four privately owned caves, we enjoyed Wonderland Cave the most. The cave is located near Nemo.

we found Nemo!!

we found Nemo!!

The cave was discovered in 1929 when two brothers were searching for their lost dog. They could hear the dog barking, and followed the sound into a hole and discovered the cave. The cave is on land owned by the U.S. Forest Service, and in the 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps worked on exploring and mapping the cave, along with constructing the steps and paths in the cave. It is surrounded by beautiful scenery.

Wonderland Cave

Wonderland Cave

The cave has only had two owners, which run the cave tours through a special use permit from the USFS. As such, the cave is fairly well-preserved. This cave is a “wet” cave, and has the only living Helictites formation in the area.

 

Helectite

Helictites

We have never seen this type of formation before. Helictites are found in limestone caves and are believed to have a capillary system. The formation starts out as a stalactite, but over time the growth may twist and turn, defying gravity. The one we saw was growing out and up. Our tour guide stated the dark spot was “the spine”.

stalactites, stalagmites and colums

stalactites, stalagmites and columns

The cave also has examples of Boxwork, dog tooth spar crystals, flowstone, and many stalagmites and stalactites, along with the columns that occur when they reach each other. We also saw an example of frost work, which can be seen in some of the other park service caves, but not on the basic tours. They do not have a light on it, to keep it preserved, but our tour guide did point it out with a flashlight. We did this tour at the end of August, as we were more “ho-hum” after seeing the other privately owned caves. This cave is certainly worth a visit (cost $14.50, and yes Madge, it was free with VIP pass). Our tour was about 90 minutes, but we are not sure if this is a typical length of time. There was a newspaper reporter with us, and the manager was giving the tour, so we felt we lucked into getting a more detailed tour. And it was just the four of us, which made for an even better experience.

 

Black Hills Caverns

The brochure for the Black Hills Caverns, discovered in 1882 by gold miners, and established as a tourist attraction in 1939, advertises itself as having the most complete formations of any cave in the Black Hills. However, we did not see any frost crystals or helictites on our tour (but they do have samples on display in their gift shop area).

 

here they are!

here they are!

Black Hills Caverns ($12.50 for adults, free with VIP pass) has very large rooms, a lot of flowstone, narrow passages and lots of stairs to go up and down. The tour lasts 60 minutes.

large rooms

large rooms

narrow passages on stairs

narrow passages on stairs

Flowstone "river"

Flowstone “river”

 

Rushmore Cave

 Rushmore Cave was discovered in 1876 when the Black Hills Mining Company was working nearby, and built a flume for their water on the hillside, for their mining operations. The flume leaked, but the water did not run down the hill, but disappeared into it. The miners went in search of the water, and discovered the entrance to the cave. It opened to the public in 1927, and was named Rushmore Cave during the time Mount Rushmore was under construction. In the 1950’s, under new ownership, tours were given 24 hours a day. The wear and tear from all the public visits is evident in this cave, as it has so many broken stalactites.

broken stalactites

broken stalactites

The cave has a lot of stairs to go up and down, amongst the smooth limestone walls.

smooth limestone walls

smooth limestone walls

The cave has now been turned into a bigger amusement type attraction, with the addition of the Soaring Eagle Zipline Ride and the Gunslinger 7-D interactive theater. The zipline is more of a chairlift that goes down the hill and back up again. The ride lasts 90 seconds.

Zip line chair

Zip line chair

 

The gunslinger attraction is more like something you would find at Disneyworld, as you sit in a chair with 3D glasses and shoot at the animation on the screen. We had fun doing this, but mainly it was because we were the only 2 people in the theater at the time (we did this in Mid-May, before the tourists arrived). The cost for all three activities (cave tour, zipline and Gunslinger Theater is $28.00, free with VIP pass). The cave tour itself is $12.00. The cave tour is the best of the three attractions.

Sitting Bull Crystal Caverns

Sitting Bull Crystal Caverns was the most disappointing of all the caves we have visited, as well as the most physically challenging of the cave tours. We would not recommend this tour. The cave was discovered in 1929 by a couple exploring the above ground cave on their property. It is believed that Sitting Bull camped in the above ground cave. Nearby is the entrance to the below ground cave. It is a very challenging, very steep descent to get down into the cave. And it is even more challenging to climb back up these same steep stairs when exiting the cave after a short 45 minute tour.

very steep stairs

very steep stairs

They do have a nice display of dog-spar crystals.

dog-spar crystals

dog-spar crystals

 

During the great flood of 1972 in Rapid City, this cave was flooded and the owners have not cleaned out the debris that remains. So there isn’t too much to see on this tour. Cost for adults is $12.00 (free with VIP pass). Our advice: save your money!

 

We enjoy visiting caves, and are looking forward to visiting Mammoth Cave in Kentucky this fall. So stay tuned for our review on that!

 

Quote for the day: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.” – Joseph Campbell

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

DSC_0603

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.

DSC_0523 (1)

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.

DSC_0393 (1)

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.

DSC_0413 (1)

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

 

 

 

 

 

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