Saturday, August 31, 2013

Family Vacation to South Dakota Day Two

Day two began with a good breakfast at the Fairfield Inn.  I was briefed on a new temporary flight restriction (TFR) that was north of our intended course.  An airplane had crashed in a military operations area (MOA) and there were ongoing recovery activates.  Before long we were making the easy climb back to 9,000 feet and watching the ground below us slip from Montana, to Wyoming, and then into South Dakota. 
There is a lot of dry, yellow-brown nothing between Billings, Sheridan, and Gillette.  Occasionally we would find an interesting canyon, or a small outpost of humanity, or even a strip mine where coal is harvested. 

The dry nothing of Wyoming gave way to South Dakota’s Black Hills.  Pretty, rolling, pine tree adorned hills with grass-land valleys and speckles of cabins.  It looked tranquil and inviting.  I could see living there.  The dark green pine trees were mixed with splotches of red-brown pine trees. We later learned that these trees were being killed off by a beetle.

About 20 minutes, or 40 miles out, the controller asked if we were aware of our proximity to Ellsworth Air Force base, and instructed us to report Rapid City in sight.  Turns out, the airplane that had crashed to create the TFR was a B-1 bomber from Ellsworth Air Force base.

Staff from WestJet Rapid City secures the plane
Yet the controller still wanted me to see an airport at forty miles?  No way.  We stayed on course for another 30 miles when I picked out both Ellsworth Air Force Base and the Rapid City Airport.  A total of 2:12 after taking off, we were rolling out in Rapid City. 

State number 24 checked off the list.  Again a friendly welcoming staff greeted us, helped us unload, and then tugged our plane off and tied it down. I could get used to this, thanks WestJet Air Center!

We spent the afternoon and next couple days being tourists.  I had been to Rapid City a couple times before as a child.  The most memorable was from the days when it was still OK to ride around in the bed of a pickup truck.  We had taken a family vacation – seven of us – towing a camp trailer with Dad’s pickup truck.  Three of us on a bench seat in the cab, and four of us on sitting on what we called "bunks" under the canopy in the back.  The bunks ran front to rear, one on each side of the truck bed, opened for storage, and had a narrow isle between them. 

I recall being about seven or eight years old and sitting on the front of one of those bunks near the canopy window looking forward through the cab.  Dad had to stop abruptly, but I did not.  My momentum carried my head through the sheet glass front window of the canopy, stopping at the rear window of the cab.  Pieces of glass rained down around my head.  My older brother pulled me back to triage my wounds.  He found a small cut on one ear.  Yeah, I remember Rapid City pretty well. 

I had seen Mt Rushmore a couple times before as a child.  But this was the first time I had seen the Crazy Horse Memorial.  I think Mt Rushmore is an excellent monument to the four Presidents who were selected to be carved on the mountain.  But I also learned the artist, Gutzon Borglum, intended to build a Hall of Records in the mountain behind the faces to secure the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.  This project never came to fruition because Congress cut off his funding.

At Crazy Horse I learned two things I found fascinating.  First is that ONE guy, Korczak Ziolkowski, set out to carve a granite mountain into the world’s largest monument -- taller than the Washington Monument in DC, and so large that all of Mount Rushmore’s Presidents can fit on Crazy Horse’s head.  One guy.  Really.  Just one.  This guy could dream really big.  Makes my goal of landing a plane in all 50 states seem weak.  Granted, Mr. Ziolkowski died before seeing it finished, and it is still not finished, and there is no schedule for finishing it, but still what a dreamer!  Go big or go home!  Second is that the Crazy Horse Monument Foundation does not accept any money from the state or federal government.  It is all done with private money.  Mr. Ziolkowski had a distrust of the government, so he did not want to become beholden to them.  Yet in an odd twist, this was the same man who was wounded TWICE in World War II defending his country.  All of the progress that has been made to date has been achieved from donations, entrance fees, and concessions received by the foundation.  Again, I have to admire the guy’s integrity to hold to a belief.
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