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Ellsworth's population of approximately
9,000 includes military members, family members and civilian employees.
The base's two sister cities are Box Elder (population of nearly 8,000)
and Rapid City (population of just over 67,100). There are also about
3,800 military retirees in western South Dakota.
View of a B-B Lancer bomber
The 28th Bomb Wing is one of only two B-1B Lancer strategic bomber
wings in the USAF. The other is located at Dyess AFB in Texas.
Ellsworth AFB has played a major role in the local economy since the
military first located an installation here in 1941.The
EAFB website's 2010 economic impact
statement is an interesting site to
It puts the total military, on-base family member, and civilian work
population at over 9,300 people. Check out other personnel information,
the mission of the base, physical assets (almost $9 billion in the
weapons systems = bombers!), expenditures, and the impact the base has
on the local community (estimated at over $331 million).
And don't forget to include the hundreds of military retirees like Jim who temporarily call
Ellsworth's FamCamp "home" each year!
B-1 bomber about to touch down
We like Ellsworth AFB, metro Rapid City, and the entire Black Hills
This is the second time Jim and I have camped at the Air Force base
in late spring. We hope to return again this fall. Even though the
winters are fairly mild, considering the latitude, they're too harsh for us so we'll restrict our visits to the warmer
months, thank you.
When we arrived on June 2 we weren't sure how long we'd stay. That's
been mostly determined by what the weather is doing in Dayton, WY and
the Bighorn Mountains, not Rapid City. We've certainly had a wide range
of weather conditions in the last eleven days here -- but at
least we haven't had to worry about snow and flooding.
Keep off the ice?? Sure!
Not a problem at Ellsworth AFB in early June.
The weather conditions still aren't that great in the Bighorns
but Jim has a race to run next Saturday.
So . . . tomorrow we'll drive a few hours to the Foothills CG in Dayton, WY
and cross our fingers that 1) the campground doesn't flood and 2) the
Bighorn Mountain Wild & Scenic Trail Runs proceed as close to normal as
In this three-page entry I'll talk about Ellsworth AFB-related activities and events we've
experienced the last eleven days. All the photos are from on-base.
CAMPING AT ELLSWORTH AFB
FamCamp currently has thirty large
back-in RV campsites with plans to build more on adjacent vacant
land this summer. Two
of the sites are occupied by campground hosts this summer. One of the host
couples has a 2010 Cameo 37 CKLS; Jim has talked with them a couple of
times about camper-related issues (not our model, but same brand).
The campground includes a dozen tent sites with grills and picnic
tables. That area is a nice picnic site when no one is camping there.
Only active duty service members can make reservations in this
retirees cannot. We didn't have any trouble getting a spot, however. We
called ahead from Wind Cave NP to be sure there were empty spots before
we drove up here. When we arrived there were still six sites open.
The sunset reflects against our camper the first
The maximum stay for retirees is 14 days; they can stay longer if the
campground isn't full. There are no
restrictions on the number of days folks can stay each year. The campground
is closed during the winter.
The cost is still $20/day for a full-hookup site. There is also a
weekly rate: seven days for the price of six. That brings the
cost down to $120/week or $17.14/day. We were also able to use one of
our old Air Force camping coupons for another $20 off = $100 for seven
days or $14.29/day. When we decided to stay an additional four days, the
cost was back to $20/day, however.
Jim and Cody enjoy a colorful sunset from our site.
$180 total for eleven days is still a very reasonable rate of
$16.36/day when you consider that it includes electricity, water,
sewers, good TV, phone, and MiFi signals, a large grassy site with a
cement pad (no mud when it rains), great views including B-1B bombers
coming and going every day in training, an inexpensive laundry
on site, the cheapest diesel in town across the street, access to the
BX, commissary, mess hall, auto hobby shop, and other useful services, plenty of road and bike trail miles on
base, all the conveniences of a medium-sized city close by, and the
entire Black Hills area to explore.
Oh, and then there was that big free air show we got to enjoy last
Saturday . . .
There are a couple of minor downsides.
The grass has gotten pretty high in the campground since
our arrival. The campground host wryly commented that mowing grass
is a low priority for the contract maintenance staff.
You'll see in many of the
photos how bright green and lush the grass looks all over the base.
That's because this whole region not only received an over-abundance of
snow during the winter, it has also received more than enough rain this spring.
Some places in the Missouri River drainage area got their average
annual rainfall in the month of May!
Per the Rapid City Journal, FEMA is using
Ellsworth as a staging area for flood-response efforts in MT, WY, SD, and
ND. Each of the 53-foot trailers is packed with emergency supplies that
will be shipped out to areas in need. Fortunately, there isn't any
flooding at Ellsworth or in the city.
The only problem for me with the high humidity and long grass in the campground is all the mosquitoes
that are attracted to those conditions. I'm prime
mosquito bait and they find me quickly. I'm not bothered on the bike or
when I walk -- unless I stop for a few seconds. Then they're all
over me. I can't even consider sitting outside the camper.
I really dislike wearing insect repellant. I had to
laugh when I noticed at Sam's Club last week that the display for bug
repellants was much larger than the display for sunscreen, despite all
the sunshine this area enjoys.
The ponds are another good place to find mosquitoes
The other disadvantage is that we can't get WiFi free at our site from
the campground office; the signal is too weak and we were too
lazy to move to a site closer to the campground office. We do have a strong
signal, our own personal WiFi system, so that's good.
We've enjoyed talking with some of our campground neighbors. A young
couple from Georgia stayed next to us one night on their way to
the husband's new military assignment in Alaska. Wow -- one end
of the country to the other. They're excited about the
We also met a retired fella who has a house in the Carvin's Cove area
west of Roanoke. He and his wife and dogs travel most of the time around
the country in their Class A Monaco motorhome. They are America's
Mailbox members and are legal South Dakota residents. They were
surprised to find another couple with such similar demographics!
Well, except we don't have an expensive RV like theirs. It would have
been even more cool if they had a Cameo 5th-wheel.
If you are or were ever in the armed services you may have awful
memories of the various mess halls in which you ate. That was Jim's
general experience in the Army when he served in the late '60s-1970.
Even though I never had the pleasure (!), I've seen and heard enough to
know you don't go to a mess hall for a gourmet meal.
When we got here one of the first things Jim heard from the
was how good the mess hall food is. Really?
Curious, we checked it out that day for supper. Imagine our surprise when
we saw how comfortable it was, how many mostly-healthy selections of entrees and
side dishes there were, and how little it cost -- only $8.20
for the two of us, and it was decent food.
A section of Ellsworth's bike
After that experience, we went back several more times for breakfast,
lunch, or dinner (Jim more than me). That's unusual for us; we
don't eat out much. But the food's so cheap, we welcomed the
Another time, for example,
Jim got a special-order hamburger and side of veggies for a mere $2.20.
Service was almost as fast as a place like Burger King, it was much more
gracious, it cost less, and it was more nutritious.
This is not your father's mess hall!
The most fun was getting special-order omelets for breakfast. For
less than $3 each we could get our choice of veggies and/or cheeses in an
omelet, some bacon, hash browns, even a biscuit and juice. That's not
the type of nutritious breakfast I fix for myself, so I indulged only
The dining rooms in the mess hall were quiet and uncrowded each time we
were there. It was like eating out in a cafeteria-style restaurant, only
much less expensive and quieter because there weren't a bunch of kids
Footbridge along the multi-use path in the park
area where there is a series of ponds.
There is another more elegant dining option for retirees on base
-- the Dakota Club.
We ate lunch there once, on a Monday when the cost was a mere $5 per
person for an all-you-can eat meal. The only catch is that there was
just one entree, beef tips on noodles. The cost included a salad, bread,
dessert, and drink. It's self-serve at a buffet line so you can get
servings as large as you want.
It's a good deal and it tasted good, too. We got there early so the
food was fresher; we practically had the place to ourselves.
The regular cost is $8 per person, I believe.
GETTING ON BASE
Each time we stay in a military campground we call when we're on our
way to ask which gate
to enter. Most bases and posts have more than one gate, and some either aren't
as accessible for RVs as others or a gate may be temporarily closed.
Ellsworth has three gates. Two years ago we were directed to come in through the Commercial Gate
even though the Patriot and Main gates are closer to the campground.
This time we were told to use the Patriot Gate, which is right next to the
Entering the Patriot Gate
That is very convenient when we come and go.
Patriot is open only on weekdays from 6 AM to 6 PM, however. The main
gate, which is next closest for the campground, is currently closed for
renovation. If we leave the base or return when the Patriot Gate is
closed we have to use the Commercial Gate a couple miles to the
Earth-sheltered storage for something
(ordinance?) is at a more remote location on base.
Entry to this base has always been easy for us with our military IDs.
I've watched some vehicles being searched at the Patriot Gate so it's not a slam-dunk.
(The only place our camper and truck have ever been searched was
at the White Sands Missile Base in Alamagordo, NM.)
If a visitor comes into Ellsworth AFB with a retiree or active-duty
service person they need an acceptable picture ID like a current
driver's license. I don't know the drill if a visitor wants to come in
without someone connected to the military. Public entry appeared to be
pretty routine the day of the air show but that was a special occasion
with even more security than usual once visitors were inside.
The spacious site to which we were assigned is at the end of the campground
loop closest to the Patriot Gate. That has both advantages and disadvantages
for retirees with time on their hands.
One of the advantages is being able to see everyone come in and go out
if we want to watch. Talk about a "gatekeeper" position! When
we have been campground hosts, we're deliberately positioned so we can
see who comes and goes.
Our view of the Patriot Gate
The disadvantage is that this can be distracting for someone like me who's
had a traumatic brain injury -- or maybe it's just because I'm
getting older. I have enough trouble focusing on one
thing at a time.
Sometimes it's hard for me to concentrate on what I'm doing at my
desk because I start watching vehicles -- especially campers
-- coming and going. This is one of the more unusual RV combinations
Semi pulling a 5th-wheel AND "toad"
It's a good thing that gate is closed after 6 PM and on weekends or
I'd never get anything done. ☺
Another interesting distraction is sky-watching from my desk window.
There are lots of aircraft flying by and the cloud patterns, storms, and
sunsets are fascinating.
Because this part of the base is higher than the runways and the
valley in which most of the city lies, our view stretches for many
miles to the north, west, and south. We are in a great position to see
the B-1B bombers and other aircraft come and go from the runways to the
west. We can even see the surrounding mountains (Black Hills) on the far
southwest side of Rapid City.
If you read the
entry about the Dakota Thunder Air Show you might
remember that huge C-52 transport/cargo plane that was on display. After
we toured the big bird I had some serious doubts that she would fly!
The crew told us they'd be leaving sometime on Monday, two days after
We deliberately hung around the base that day so we could see
it take off for its base in California. In the morning we walked between
the campground and flight line. When we got back to the camper we kept
our eye on it, waiting to hear the engines rev up for take off.
When we heard the engines and saw the plane moving to the runway, Jim
jumped in the truck.
He drove down as close as he could get to the
flight line and took a series of photos with our more powerful camera (the one I
use). He took the picture above and the next four:
I watched from our campsite. My
view wasn't as good as Jim's, but it was still good.
The plane looked very slow compared to the B-1 bombers we see take
off and land every day but by gosh, it CAN fly! When the behemoth is
sitting on the ground it just doesn't look
like it can defy the bonds of gravity.
Above and below: note the B-1
bombers on the ground.
The C-52 circled the base three times as it gained altitude, providing us
with as good of a show as some of the aircraft did on Saturday. I think
the circling was a ceremonial gesture.
Then it flew out of sight and sound to the southwest, heading home.
Continued on the next page: sky drama from our
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil