A Falco Pilgrimage,
Day 2: Stillwater to Pierre, SD
We were planning on flying to Alexandria before continuing on to Pierre but the weather at Alexandria was reporting quite low and not forecast to improve for about four more hours so we decided to ditch it. I wanted to visit the certificate holder for the Bellanca Viking aircraft, but I didn't want it to hold us up. So we sat around a little while chatting with the very friendly staff at the FBO while we waited for the cloud to lift slightly.
Around 09:30 we'd had enough waiting so we jumped in and headed West. Since the wind was favourable down low we stayed under the cloud at around 1000' AGL for a lot of the flight. It made for a busy flight. Across Minnesota are many very high radio masts the tallest of which we estimated to be around 2000' high, well above us as we passed by. Fortunately the masts are lit and my GPS points them out along with an "Obstacle" annunciation and a mast symbol of the PFD but it isn't the kind of thing I would want to test so we kept a good lookout.
Added to the mast problem was masses of birds. It seemed about every three or four minutes we were pointing out birds. Some in very large flocks, some solo but most around our height or higher. It meant that at least one of us had to be heads-up the entire trip. We managed it by clearly indicating who was doing what. It made for a bit of a high stakes obstacle course.
Later in the flight we'd had enough and since it was getting a bit lumpy we climbed to 4500'. This gave us a slight headwind but it was a lot smoother. It didn't last long however as the cloud started climbing with us so after 10 minutes break from the obstacles we popped back down to finish the flight at around 3000'.
Pierre capitol building
All in all an interesting flight. Busy but a lot of fun and a learning experience.
Once we arrived in Pierre the line guy from Mustang Aviation, the local FBO was there to marshall us in to our park. We unloaded, parked the plane, gassed it up and put it to bed.
The receptionist at Mustang was very helpful sorting us transport, offering us dining advice and got us a couple of bottles of water. The FBO offices are obviously new and are very comfortable indeed. We feel very spoiled with this FBO system. They make everyone feel important. Boy, New Zealand aviation has a long way to go and unfortunately it's currently going backwards. It seems in the USA that the local municipalities see a value in having an airport so do a lot to support it. The airports are all very well cared for. As opposed to NZ where people buy cheap houses near airports then try to get them closed down while CAA try to legislate aviation out of existence. The USA really is the place to fly, no doubt about it.
We caught a taxi/bus thing into town.
After a catch up on email we went searching for lunch. We were shocked at how little there was of anything in Pierre especially being the state Capitol. I'm sure there must be something, but we couldn't find it. We did ask someone to point us in a direction of food, but I think she thought she was on candid camera so it was hard to get much sense out of her.
After about an hour of walking around we found a nice place to get a great sandwich and a cold drink. Then we went back to the hotel to do some washing and blog.
That night a huge electrical storm passed through which gave Darryn plenty of entertainment trying to photograph a lightning bolt. I just worried about our trusty Falco sitting outside in it.
The night at Pierre was interesting in that we got to see the other side of America. Everyone seemed to be on a low. We went into Subway for dinner since there wasn't a lot of choice. I've never seen such a collection of depression.
Day 3: Pierre to Spearfish, SD
The following morning we got up around seven and headed out to Mustang Aviation to fly to Spearfish. It's a one-hour flight and has a one-hour time change so we arrived about when we left. The terrain along the way was flat and parched with not even a lot of farming. The winds were fairly strong at our selected cruising altitude of 4500' but it was smooth contrary to the forecast.
The wind kicked up a bit of dust haze, but as we approached Spearfish the haze cleared to reveal a lovely rolling terrain covered with Pine trees.
Spearfish (Black Hills airfield actually) is in a small basin and is very pretty. It's a small airport but in keeping with most places we've already seen, the airport is extremely well kept.
Lunch at Spearfish
We taxied in to be met, as is common, by a marshaller. This time the marshaller was a young girl called Maddy.
Maddy expertly directed us to our overnight parking spot. As we shut down she greeted us with a big smile offering any assistance we might need. Fuel, tie downs, etc. I didn't even get the phone out to close the plan and a car drove up behind the aircraft. "Are you George?" ... It was Laura bringing out our rental car. Wow, what service. She even opened the trunk so we could transfer our bags directly into the car.
Maddy raced off to get the fuel truck, and I rang up to close the flight plan.
Great service at Spearsfish
As I mentioned our registration to the briefer, he said "Wow, I've spoken to you guys three times now. Once on the radio and twice on the phone." He was super friendly. He said he used to live in Spearfish so proceeded to give me a great rundown on activities in the area. He was great.
I swear America is the friendliest place on the planet by far.
Once we got the plane tied down we went into the office to sign for the car. Laura then handed us several maps and showed us the best way to see what we wanted and suggested several eating spots. More great service.
We headed off to check into our hotel and get some food.
As per Laura's recommendation we headed to the Green Bean and enjoyed a great breakfast in a lovely setting.
After breakfast we had some time to kill so we decided to head about 45min South to Ellsworth Air Force Base to the museum. It's an active Bone (B1) base. While we were looking around the lady there asked us if we had our passports. On investigation it was to allow us on to the base to tour a training ICBM missile silo. Quite an experience, and one I'll never forget.
A fairly broken sleep was all we managed that night. There was a motorcycle convention just down the road at Sturgis and the Hells Angels picked the same hotel as us. They were actually fine with a couple of exceptions at around 02:30 which left us a bit tired.
We left around 7:15 and went for coffee again at the green bean. After coffee we set off on our drive through the Black Hills in search of Crazy Horse and Mt Rushmore.
The drive through the hills was very pleasant although we both agreed, it was a lot like home. We could easily have been driving down through Kiangaroa State forest in New Zealand's North Island or even parts of Old North Road in Auckland for that matter.
We did pass a couple of lovely lakes though that would be a great stop if you had a boat in tow.
What I liked best about the drive were the little towns. They seemed like they hadn't changed a lot from the old cowboy days. You could just picture the dusty streets with horses at the hitching post outside the Tavern. Or perhaps the sheriff sitting outside the jail with a couple of six shooters strapped on.
Crazy Horse, future and now.
Our first stop was Crazy Horse. What an incredible achievement. I won't go into too much detail , I would recommend looking at www.crazyhorsememorial.org but the basic facts are these.
The monument is the tallest in the world at 563' high, starting at around 6000' elevation. It was taken on by one solitary person with no assistance.
I confess that prior to going, I wasn't fussed about going to Crazy Horse. I'm pleased I did. I found it fascinating that one person, followed by one family could think so big that they could take on such a massive project alone and in the knowledge that they would never see it completed. Even I won't see it completed.
I found it actually a bit emotional and moving. It's definitely a must see. The whole display is very well set up.
Next stop, Mt Rushmore.
This too is a very impressive monument. Not to the same scale as Crazy Horse, and it's now complete I guess, but is impressive nonetheless. It's one of those things, as a New Zealander, that you see on TV or in movies but don't really appreciate it until you are standing underneath it.
Me and the presidents
As a more complete display there is a really nice trail to follow for various vantage points and other displays. It's marked as a strenuous trail. If it was at sea level it wouldn't be such a big deal but you do notice the difference up at 6000' odd.
It was great to see both monuments, and they are both attractions that are not to be missed but if I could pick only one I think I'd go with Crazy Horse. Again, moving! I love the catch phrase too. 'Dreams and Dynamite'. That decision would understandably be different if you are a USA citizen with more ties to the patriotic angle of Mt Rushmore.
The following day was time to move on again with another early start. We always seemed to beat the alarm clock so it wasn't as bad as it sounds.
Day 4: Spearfish to Lander WY
We didn't have internet at our hotel due to an ongoing fault but I managed to get a radar weather picture over 3G on my phone. It showed a bit of weather along our track so we made haste and went to the airport to head for Lander, Wyoming lickety split.
As it worked out we had an uneventful flight down to Lander. The terrain is absolutely not what we expected. I guess flying into Christchurch regularly makes you expect terrain to jump up out from flat land, but it was nothing like that. The hills were higher than us (8500') but kind of rolled their way up. Quite a surprise. Very scenic nonetheless. The colours of the soil were quite remarkable. The US of A sure is a big continent with vast areas of not much interspersed with beauty of many kinds. The further we travelled, the more we appreciated it.
After landing at Lander we noted our cell phones didn't work. AT&T have zero coverage there, which was both a surprise and a problem. We needed to close our plan before someone came looking.
Darryn shuffled off to the 'Terminal' in search of a phone. He came back with a closed plan, the location of the fuel pump, which had eluded us, and a crew car for the night. Good work!
Lander crew car overlooking Sinks Canyon
I still don't fully understand this FBO thing. I've tried asking but never really got a full answer. I feel like we are getting too much for nothing so I try not to use them until I fully understand. However for Lander, driving away with the full use of a car without any paperwork filled in or anything, seemed too good to be true. At the very least the level of trust is unbelievable but does restore one's faith in society. We fueled, packed up and drove to town in search of a hotel. Easy work, we found a suitable room at the Best Western and checked in. Duane was going to have us walk in to town but this system seemed so much better.
Once we had settled in we drove 10 miles up the road to Sinks Canyon. What a beautiful place. We spent about an hour looking around and taking photos before we were driven out by torrential rain coming from a lightning storm that brewed overhead. In amongst the nature discovery and photo taking, Darryn heard a rattle snake so we moved on. That may have had something to do with him losing his lens hood for his camera.
The afternoon had us drinking some very fine iced coffee followed by chores in the form of washing.
We also spent some time trying to find accommodations in Jackson Hole. Being a tourist hot spot, like Alexandria, it was fairly full. After eventually finding something we went down to the Cowfish, a local restaurant recommended by Duane. While we hate to admit it, we had the best food we've had all trip at the Cowfish. And the beers from the local micro brewery were very tasty too, meaning we probably had one or two too many against my will while we chatted at the bar with some interesting people we met going to Sturgis on their motorcycle. It seems beer does have a tendency to go to your head a bit when you are at 6000'. That's my story anyway.
I could easily have spent longer at Lander but the following day we had another early start for a high altitude flight into Jackson Hole the only change being that we filed the plan from our room since our cell phones didn't work. The whole point of going to Lander was to give us both an early start and a few options in the mountainous high altitude work around Jackson Hole. Wind also is not fun in the mountains if New Zealand is anything to go by so the early start helped there too.
We gassed up the mighty Buick crew car and returned to preflight the plane. I needed to get rid of some rubbish and make a pit stop so I went into the tiny terminal. The door had a sign saying to enter the Tarmac the code was 3522. As I entered I tried the handle ... it was free so I didn't take too much notice. Oops. So obviously when I went to leave I was stuck. Hmm ... Er 6722 ... No ... Er ... Bugger. Forgot! So I frantically waved out to Darryn in the hope he would look over. Fortunately it didn't take long before he did so he came and rescued me. What a dufus! Needless to say Darryn thought it highly amusing.
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