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Ellsworth Air Base, Wall, the Badlands

One last weekend to explore western South Dakota and I did my best. I should mention that the 3 things I have seen here more than any other place are a) motorcycles b) horses c) deer.

Yep, these folks are totally motorcycle and horse crazy here. It is only about 3 weeks until the huge Sturgis Motorcycle Rally when the entire world of motorcycles descend on this small town, but year round you will see more here than anywhere else. This is also the home of true cowboys it seems with rodeos, trail rides, and horse camps offered everywhere. If you like horseback riding, you will find a place to ride here with your horse or a rental.

Beware signs marked for deer crossings or deer next X miles. They are not kidding. There are deer along the road all over between Wyoming and South Dakota so be careful. Don’t be surprised if a jack rabbit or a bison cross your path too.

Anyway, on to Ellsworth Air Base and the South Dakota Aviation Museum just past Rapid City.  Being ex-Air Force myself, this was a treat for me and if you have kids, I highly recommend it.  Hey, it’s free! Outside the museum are bunches of planes and their stories. I snapped all the pictures I could but don’t ask me to name them. I know my B29, B52,T38, and Cessnas but that is about it. They didn’t have an F4 like I worked on. The museum inside was interesting and the gift shop was fabulous.

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Spend the $6 for the base and missile silo tour. Bases have really changed since my day. They are so modern. They actually have 3 bedroom houses for half the current population there from Airman on up! The newer barracks for singles and the club for all ranks looked pretty good too along with gymnasium, indoor pool, classes, arts and crafts, automotive shop, BX (dept. store), groceries, daycare, etc. I still think it is a great start for a young person.

They took us down into an icbm missile silo. There used to be bunches here but most have been decommissioned and destroyed. It sure isn’t easy maintaining them. It takes 30-90 minutes to get in past all the security to go to work. Just to go on the tour they ran a security check on all us visitors so bring your driver’s license or passport.   I snapped a picture of the missile mover truck and the armored security vehicle that will chase you down if you try to break in. I have heard of a guy who bought a missile silo and turned it into a grand constant temperature home.

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Next on to Wall Drug in Wall, SD. Just outside Wall, I saw a sight RVers dread, a trailer down. Its mangled body was still twitching on its side as it lay dying. Its owners watched and cried, powerless to help it. So sad.

Wall Drug has gone from a small drugstore in the middle of nowhere to this major tourist attraction. It’s an entire block or two of specialty store sections, western images, cafe, panning for gold, arcade, animated T-Rex, water show kids patio (to cool off in the heat), bucking bronco, giant jackalope, etc. You really have to see it to believe it. The cafe was OK though I think I would eat across the street next time. For Tshirts, there is a Tshirt outlet down the block where I found a couple shirts for half price.

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This store started out as almost nothing until the Mrs. said “Let’s offer free ice water to get people off the freeway and in here”. They have been a huge success ever since and they still give out free ice water. Don’t worry about finding it right off I90 in Wall because they have miles of colorful signs that lead you right to it.

Last attraction to see was the Badlands, 7 miles from Wall. I headed out for the national park entrance following the tail of a lightening storm in the early evening. Here again, I highly recommend having a national park pass if you do much camping or have a family along. It really is worth it. I so love getting in somewhere free for a change.

I drove the entire scenic loop, about 33 miles. Along the way are numerous turnouts for pictures and picnics. I stopped a lot for pictures and to watch the lightening. It is amazing how erosion can cause all this while other areas nearby are flat grassland. They tell me dawn and dusk are the best times to see all the colors come out. I was a bit late for that but the lightening sure made for a show over the hills. At one point it was flashing behind a ridge and I felt like I was in the movie “Robinson Crusoe on Mars” when the alien ships were blasting the land and keeping their slaves in line behind a ridge. The astronaut could see the flashing for miles. The movie “Starship Troopers” was filmed there and it really looks that desolate. It is awesome to see.

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