South Dakota Air and Space Museum

Last week Bill and I toured the South Dakota Air and Space Museum, part of the museum system of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. “The South Dakota Air and Space Museum serves to educate and entertain the public. Not only does it give information ¬†about the history of U.S. Air Force aviation, it promotes South Dakota aviation history.

Aircraft that have been flown throughout the eras are on display at South Dakota’s premiere free aviation museum!”

When we first arrived at the museum, Bill said “Im going to nerd out here and read everything.” ¬†The plane he is standing in front of, the F-100, is an example of one of many that his late brother, Rick, flew during his 20 plus years in the Air Force.

“The outdoor air park is filled with WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Cold War, and present day aircraft.” You are free to roam around taking pictures and touch history.

Inside the museum are all sorts of displays that allow you to get up close and see inside the cockpit of various planes.

I loved this display of the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Remembrance Table. The sign next to the table explains that:

“The small table is set for one symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner.

The table is round showing our everlasting concern for our missing service members.

The tablecloth is white symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to arms.

A single red rose reminding us of the life of each of the missing, and the loved ones and friends of these Americans who keep the faith, awaiting answers.

A red ribbon symbolizing our continued determination to account for our missing.

A slice of lemon reminding us of the bitter fate of those missing, captured and held as prisoners in a foreign land.

A pinch of salt symbolizing the tears endured by those missing and their families who seek answers.

A candle representing the light of hope which lives in our hearts to illuminate their way home.

The glass is inverted symbolizing their inability to share the evening’s toast.

“Let us remember and never forget their sacrifices. May God forever watch over them and protect them and their families.”

After we finished touring the Air and Space museum, we took a guided tour through the Missile Training Launch Facility on the Ellsworth Air Force Base.

Bill is standing in front of a training missile silo that we actually got to go down inside of and see all the internal workings.

A very COOL way to end our visit to South Dakota’s Air and Space Museum!

Stay Tuned!

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Mount Coolidge Lookout Tower

Yesterday Bill and I went to Mount Coolidge Lookout Tower. This tower serves as the Park’s fire lookout and information center.

Visitors to Custer State Park are always welcome to go as far as the outside observation deck on the second floor level.

However, if you are staff, or a volunteer at Custer State Park, you are allowed to go all the way to the top of the tower, and visit the third floor working interior quarters of the tower. What a treat that is!

The third floor observation room is the highest point in central Custer State Park (6,023 ft), and offers breathtaking 360-degree views.

It’s amazing to see up close all the tools it takes to not only spot fires from miles away, but also the maps and tools needed to pinpoint the exact location of the fire so you can communicate that information to firefighters on the ground and in the air.

The telescopes in the tower are so powerful, they make Crazy Horse,

and Mount Rushmore, look like they are just a stone throw away… We learned that on a clear day, you can see the Badlands nearly 60 miles away in the east.

It may look like a bit of a mess in the lookout tower, but I can say that the people that operate the fire tower know where everything is, and they are on top of everything all the time.

Mount Coolidge serves as the park’s dispatch center and fields a large volume of radio traffic and phone calls. Before contacting them, we are asked to make sure you have a legitimate question or concern. For example, we would call Mount Coolidge if we were notified of a lost person within the park, or if we were made aware of any dangerous situation. However, if it were a medical emergency, we would call 911 first, then call Mount Coolidge.

The first lookout tower was built on what was then known as Sheep Mountain in 1923. This tower was a log tower and the staff quarters were built at the base. In 1923 the mountain was renamed Lookout Mountain. On June 28, 1927, in a special proclamation President Calvin Coolidge changed the name yet again and called it Mount Coolidge. In 1940, the CCC built a stone tower with caretaker’s quarters to replace the log structure. The fire lookout consists of three stories. The actual fire tower is on the third floor of the stone building. The side walls consist of twelve very heavy windows. The second floor has one bedroom. Outside the second floor is an observation deck with an outside stone stairway for visitors. The first floor has a main room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. The person on duty works three 12 hour shifts, and more often than not, they stay in the tower for the three days they are working.

Bill and I were very happy we took the tour of the tower. The views from the top of the tower are truly breathtaking.

Just another fun-filled day in Custer State Park.

Tomorrow we are going to take advantage of yet another free adventure when we use the VIP card we were given as volunteers of Custer State Park to go visit and tour South Dakota Air & Space Museum. Not only will we get to visit the museum, but we also get a free bus tour of Ellsworth Air Force Base & Missile Silo. Now how cool is that!!?

Stay Tuned!

Devils Tower

Yesterday Bill and I traveled to Wyoming to visit Devils Tower, America’s first National Monument! What an amazing place. We learned so much, and came away with a powerful respect for the area, the Native American people, their culture, and their history connected to the Tower.

 

We learned that “Native Americans are active stakeholders in the use and management of Devils Tower National Monument. Over two dozen federally recognized tribes are associated with the Tower. Much focus has been given to the oral histories these tribes have about their connections to the Tower. Words such and “myth” and “legend” are frequently used to describe these stories, but the appropriate term is sacred narrative-stories which explain how the world and people came to be.

American Indian oral histories are only a part of tribal connections to the Tower site. In the simplest terms, this is viewed as a place where the physical and spiritual worlds connect. Native people visit this place not only to connect with their past, but to perpetuate their culture today and into the future. The summer solstice in mid-June is a common time for indigenous groups to practice their cultural traditions. Prayer and purification ceremonies, as well as other rites of passage, frequently occurs here.” For that reason, a voluntary closure to the area inside the Tower Trail occurs every June out of respect to American Indian cultural practices.

The most visible element of native connections to the Tower are prayer bundles.

“As you walk the trails of the park, you may notice colorful cloths attached to the trees. These are offerings left by native people which represent prayers. The colors, placement, and contents have significance for the person who made them.”. You are asked to be respectful of the artifacts and to not disturb them in any way, and do not leave other items behind, as prayer bundles are a part of the cultural landscape of this site.

I loved learning what N. Scott Momaday wrote. “at the top of the ridge I caught sight of Devil’s Tower upthrust against the gray sky as if in the birth of time the core of the earth had broken through its crust and the motion of the world was begun. There are things in nature that engender an awful quiet in the heart of man; Devil’s Tower is one of them.”

 

As Bill and I hiked the base of the Tower, we were amazed at how the colors changed depending on how the light and shadows fell upon it. On the backside of the Tower are rocks at the base of the Tower that are not visible from the front side of the Tower.

We learned that several Indian nations share similar legends on the origin of this prominent butte. The Kiowa people say: “Eight children were there at play, seven sisters and their brother. Suddenly the boy was struck dumb; he trembled and began to run upon his hands and feet. His fingers became claws, and his body was covered with fur. Directly there was a bear where the boy had been. The sisters were terrified; they ran, and the bear after them. They came to the stump of a great tree, and the tree spoke to them. It bade them climb upon it , and as they did so it began to rise into the air. The bear came to kill them, but they were just beyond its reach. It reared against the tree and scored the bark all around with its claws. The seven sisters were borne into the sky, and they became the stars of the Pleiades.”

As we continued our hike around the Tower, we had ample opportunities to take in all the beautiful views.

Every curve in the trail exposed something new and exciting to explore.

I couldn’t help but feel the presence of the spirits of the people that lived and died here.

And I admire the people who come to pay their respect to their loved ones, and leave their prayer offerings for them.

I’m so glad we made the trip to Wyoming to visit this sacred place. So much history, culture, and beauty to learn about.

Bill and I both agreed we could spend hours in this peaceful place, and just gaze upon the mighty Devils Tower.

Stay Tuned!

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