Sunday, August 30, 2009

Visiting Pierre, SD -- The South Dakota Capitol

Pierre is the Capitol of South Dakota and offers a beautiful and historic capitol building and grounds. In addition to the Capitol, there are several memorials to South Dakota veterans. The Capitol building has been fully restored to its original beauty and is one of the best restored capitol buildings in the country.We traveled on SD Hwy 14 from Wall to Pierre, SD (pronounced "Pier") and had a good run, but with quite a bit of road construction. This sign, located on the banks of the Missouri River, tended to put things into perspective -- we traveled the 150 miles in about 3 hours -- it took 15 DAYS for the famous Ox Train to get to Deadwood from the steamboat stop right here in Pierre. WOW!

Located right next to the Ox Train sign is this memorial for John C. Waldron, whose name also appears on the bridge over the Missouri. Cmdr. Waldron was from Ft. Pierre, located just over the river from Pierre and was a Naval Aviator in WWII. He was the leader of the famed Torpedo 8 Squadron which fought at the Battle of Midway in WWII. This squadron flew old aircraft (all that was available in the early days of WWII) and was virtually wiped out in an attack on the Japanese fleet (only one pilot survived from the entire squadron). Their sacrifice forced the Japanese fighter craft down to sea level and cleared the way for US dive bombers which destroyed the Japanese aircraft carriers and allowed for the huge US victory.

Fittingly, we then visited the excellent WWII memorial on the Capitol grounds. This is very well worth a visit.

This fountain is at the top of the WWII memorial and is truly a "flaming fountain" as it actually burns! The water is from a well and apparently also contains methane which burns. You can really feel the heat and it is spectacular at night!
Here is the Capitol grounds. The WWII memorial is on the island at the left of the picture. This is a beautiful area for walking and exploring.

This is the magnificent Fighting Stallions Memorial bronze sculpture carved by Korczak Ziolkowski (also the carver of the Crazy Horse Mountain). This memorial is in tribute to eight South Dakotans, inlcuding Govenor George S. Mickelson, who died in an aircraft crash on April 19, 1993.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Visiting the Badlands National Park

While we were at Wall, SD, we had the opportunity to tour through the Badlands area. This is an amazing area that is hard to believe unless you really see it.

Wind and rain has shaped this area for thousands of years resulting in remarkable rock formations that are very colorful and made up of all kinds of shapes. Amazingly, 100 years ago, folks tried to settle this area -- without succes.

Cody and Orinda were really impressed by this sign. I supose that if there are possible rattlesnakes out in the trail area, we will STAY up here and not go on the trail!

The Badlands is a surprisingly large area and encompasses many miles. In fact, the City of Wall takes it's name from the "wall" of the Badlands that had been very difficult to breach by the early settlers.

The the eastern entrance to the Park is the Minuteman Missile site. During the Cold War, there were a large number of underground missile silos throughout this entire area. Today, one such silo is being developed into a fascinating National Monument where you will be able to actually tour a site. Currently, there is a temporary visitor center with several exhibits.

Throughout the area, there are a number of prairie dog towns. These small rodents are a blast to watch as they run between the burrows and "bark" (sounds like a squeak) at each other. Each town covered a couple acres and must have had a few hundred "dogs" in residence.

Speaking of dogs -- Cody was VERY interested in the prairie dogs! I think he was convinced he could zip out there and retrieve a couple of them. We decided that for the benefit of everyone concerned, Cody should stay in the car. The Badlands are a great stop in Western South Dakota!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Heading through Montana to South Dakota

We decided to hightail it from Montana to South Dakota to assist our daughter in a move (oh joy!). Fortunately, we still found many interesting sites to take a look at.

First, while fueling up near I-90 in Montana, this old Winnebago truck camper pulled in -- on a trailer! Winnebago made these (and travel trailers) many years ago, but this is the first one I have ever seen. Today, Winnie only makes motorhomes. This makes for an interesting trailer for sure!

When getting fuel, we noticed the Wheat Montana Bakery home store location. Wow - what a store for those who love baked goods and supplies. Naturally, we tried a small sample with some great coffee, which fortified us for our drive to South Dakota.

We spent a couple days in Deadwood, which is always a fun stop. This true old west town now features gambling and other entertainment, but retains its 1880's flavor. We took the trolley from Whistler's Gulch RV Park downtown which makes for easy transportation with no parking problems.

Here is a picture of Deadwood's mainstreet. Notice the brick pavers in the street and the period buildings. The entire town is listed on the National Historic Registry.

Of course, the big claim to fame for Deadwood is that James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok was murdered while playing cards -- right here! Wild Bill's grave is in the Deadwood Cemetery (next to Calamity Jane) and it really adds interest to this wild west town.

Finally, we stopped at Wall Drug Store where Orinda had to try out the famous Jackalope. They sure grow them big in Wall!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lewis and Clark Center at Great Falls

The Lewis and Clark Expedition had good reason for remembering the Great Falls area -- namely, an 18 mile portage. We had read of this, but really did not understand how big a process this was. Fortunately, the Interpretive Center, located very close to the Giant Springs area, offers a wonderful way to explore this.

Here is a picture of one of the five falls before dams were built and tamed them. This one happens to be Great Falls, which is close to 100' high. Naturally, the terrain around these falls is quite rugged and I would hate to hike around them, much less carry everything we owned!

Orinda really enjoyed the many exhibits and descriptions of how Lewis and Clark traveled up river and of the Native Americans that they interacted with. By the time they arrived at this part of the Missouri, they were using large dugout canoes for travel.

A keelboats had been the main method of travel to this point, but obviously could not navigate the falls. So, the keepboat was sent back to St. Louis and the dugout canoes took over.

These canoes were BIG! This is a full scale re-creation of one of the dugouts and how they were moved around the falls. The Expedition first had to build large, wooden wheels and then move these heavy canoes cross country -- with no roads! This made me tired just looking at it.

Here, Orinda gives an idea of the large size of these canoes. This Center is very well worth a visit and is about the best Lewis and Clark center we have visited.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Great Falls, MT and the Great Falls of the Missouri

We explored the Missouri River area which runs through Great Falls, MT and were very surprised at the Great Falls that are actually on the river. While the falls are now the site of large dams, they are still very impressive. This is Rainbow Falls is about 45' tall and is some 1,100 feet wide and is just south of Great Falls.

This is the actual Great Falls of the river and is almost 100' high. These are the falls that caused such a problem for Lewis and Clark since they had to portage some 18 miles to get around the series of 5 falls that dropped over 400'.
There is a large hydro-electric plant here as shown by Orinda and Cody! There is a wonderful park on an island between the hydro canal and the main river, which is a great place to watch the falls.

A great surprise is the Giant Spring State Park which is just below the Rainbow Falls. This beautiful state park features the spring and this fish hatchery with these huge trout! Apparently, they do let a few of these beauties go to make some fisherman's day!

The spring empties into the Roe River, which is only 201'long and is said to be the shortest river in the world. We recalled the D River in Lincoln City, OR which was 401' -- there was a bit of disagreement over which was the shortest!

Here is the Giant Spring putting forth over 150 Million gallons per day! This crystal clear water is a constant 54 degrees.

Cody and Orinda really loved the spring! This platform let us walk right over the spring and watch the water pour out. Giant Spring is well worth the stop.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Visiting The Malmstrom AFB Museum - Great Falls

Naturally, if there is an aviation museum, Rick is going to find it and fortunately, there was a great one in Great Falls, MT. Located at Malmstrom AFB, the Museum has some very unique and interesting aircraft and exhibits. There is no cost to see the museum, just drop by the Base Visitor Center for check in and then you will be allowed to walk the very short distance to the museum. The first aircraft you see is this F101 Voodoo that was based here.

The aircraft displays are in excellent shape as this B-25 shows. This aircraft actually flew in the Pacific theater during World War II. Also, note the staff car from the same period to the right. Malmstrom AFB has had an important past and was opened during WWII to help ferry aircraft to Alaska for delivery to the Soviet Union for use against the Germans.

After the war, the base was used to house tanker aircraft such as this KC 97G which is huge! This was used during the Strategic Air Command period of the late 50's and 60's.

The focus of the base changed to Missile Defense as the Minuteman missile was deployed (and remains deployed to this day). In the museum building, early versions of the control system are displayed including this incredible IBM Core Memory unit from the 50's. This unit is about 6' high and uses vacuum tubes to store 4k (yes -- k!) of memory!

Hoe about this -- the first "hard disk" unit! Actually, this IBM Magnetic Drum unit can store a whopping 150K of data -- that is 150,000 bits! Geez, my watch stores far more than this. Remarkably, this equipment ran the entire defense system at the time. I imagine my notebook computer will look as primitive in 50 years as well!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Hungry Horse Dam and Fort Benton, MT

Near Glacier Park is the Hungry Horse Dam -- which is a remarkable structure. This 564 foot high concrete dam was completed in 1953 which was one of the highest in the world at that time.

There is a very nice visitor center at the dam, but we arrived after it was closed (hours are 9 - 3 -- we got there at 4). Still, you can see the entire dam and even drive over it which is an interesting experience.

This was a fun diversion and an interesting place to see.

On to Fort Benton! We really liked Fort Benton -- the most westward point for steamships on the Missouri River. This was an amazing spot in the l860-1880 timeframe as steamships moved from St. Louis to Fort Benton. It is about 3,100 miles by river to Ft. Benton and took 55 to 60 days, if things went well. This is amazing considering we were about 3,700 feet in elevation and the Missouri River is climbing the whole way.

Ft. Benton has a wonderful river walk area that must be close to a mile long. Along the way, there are statues and kiosks that inform you of the area's exciting history. This one describes the open range era and the time of the cowboy in the late 1800's. Must have been an interesting time.

Cody was especially excited to learn of the story of Forever Faithful Shep -- the sheepdog. Here is Shep's story:

"Old Shep
, its "forever faithful" sheep dog. In the summer of 1936, a sheep herder fell ill and headed to Ft. Benton for treatment. His dog, Shep, came along. When the herder died a few days later, his body was crated up and sent back east to relatives. Shep followed the box to the Ft. Benton train depot, and watched nervously as his master was put on board and taken away. No one remembers the name of the herder. But everyone remembers Shep. Because for the next five and a half years, Shep maintained a vigil at the station, greeting the four trains that arrived each day, waiting for his master to return. Two and a half years into the watch, Old Shep was featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not, and became a Depression-era sensation. Fan mail poured in. School children sent Christmas gifts. Rail travelers took long detours off the mainline, just to stop in Ft. Benton and see this devoted dog meet their train." (From

This great sculpture is devoted to Shep's memory.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

We visited Glacier Park in northern Montana and had a great time. The scenery is amazing -- in fact, as one person I talked said, "It is so spectacular, it seems like it should be fake!" -- but it is not.

Here is Lake MacDonald which you pass if you enter the park from the western side. A very deep lake, it is several miles long.

Orinda and Cody are duly impressed by the lake shore. The lake is crystal clear and beautiful.

We passed the Lake and continued on the famous Going to the Sun Road. This road, completed in 1932, seems to hang in space off the side of the mountains.

You can see from this typical shot that there is no guardrail between you and the great beyond. Sometimes, there is a low, rock wall, but it looks REAL low when driving. Glad we were in the HHR which is small and easy to maneuver.

Of course, if it is summer, there is construction! There were several spots where the road was one lane (using a flagger to control traffic). You can see how close the lanes are to the edge of the mountain and the solid rock wall. Needless to say, large vehicles (over 21' long) are prohibited.

There was one wonderful view after another . If you look closely, you can see the road cutting across the mountain face (the white line to the right side). This is a drive to remember!

On the eastern side of the park is Lake St. Mary which is fed by glacial runoff. Another large lake, this one offers wonderful views as the mountains drop right to the edge of the lake.

Cody was thrilled with the ride and the lake, as you can see. He is a real trouper and loves to come in the car. As a result, he gets to go with us quite a bit, which works out great.