Wall Drug, The Badlands National Park, and the Minuteman Missile Historic Site
Day 19 – Travel as I Have Envisioned It Could Be
Visiting the Badlands of South Dakota was never on our “radar.” Chatting with neighboring campers at the KOA in Custer, they mentioned going through the Badlands on their way to Custer. We asked about it, and they explained that it was right on our way, and only a little detour off our primary route.
But first things first. Have you ever driven I-95 through the Carolinas and seen the progressive signs for “South of the Border”? Well Wall Drug signs aren’t quite as big, but just as regular on I-90 through South Dakota. I vaguely recalled a television travel program about Wall Drug and suggested we had to at least stop there.
There was no chance of missing it with their signage. Wall Drug has become a must-see stop on I-90.
Wall Drug became well known advertising free ice water to hot and weary travelers. They still provide free ice water and coffee is still a nickel a cup. It has grown into a major tourist stop with dozens of shops of all kinds, an excellent source of souvenirs, several eateries, and their very own Tyrannosaurus rex. If the streets weren’t paved, it would be like walking around an old west town. We shopped and had lunch there (and had both the water and the coffee). I had to visit the Tyrannosaurus compound!
Just east of Wall is an entrance to the Badlands National Park. The magic Senior Pass worked again. Almost as soon as we left the entrance gate, we were greeted by a small herd of Big Horn Sheep ewes and juveniles. It was also clear that we were entering a different world. Unlike most of the other major parks we visited, I had not researched the Badlands—actually, I had no idea where they were. Now we were in the midst of something akin to a moonscape.
The Badlands were described by conservation writer Freeman Tilden as “peaks and valleys of delicately banded colors—colors that shift in the sunshine.” I can imagine that to truly appreciate the colors, it is necessary to be there at sunrise and sunset. But it was still impressive a midday.
There are broad areas of ridges and gullies, surround by higher peaks—all areas with the sparsest—if any—vegetation. Then there a broad, flat valleys of prairie land, out of which grow additional badlands mountains.
The national park is an area of varied habitats that support prairie dogs, bison, coyotes, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, black-tailed and mule deer. There is even a population of black-footed ferrets which were once thought to be extinct.
Driving through the area, the textures, colors and shape of the formations constantly change, but all have the common quality of being austere, foreboding places to exist. There are many turnouts and places to park and explore parts of the park. It was, indeed, a memorable experience.
The Visitor Center is near the Northeast entrance, or in our case, exit. One of the features in the center are videos of interviews with people who live and work in the Badlands. These accounts, by ranchers and Native Americans, are very engaging and shows that even the Badlands can be a home.
Minuteman Missile Historic Site
On the same road that exits the Badlands, where it crosses I-90, the Minuteman Missile Historic Site. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union maintained a military posture of Mutually Assured Destruction (appropriately called MAD). This was based on a triad of nuclear missile platforms: nuclear armed aircraft and submarines, and missile silos spread across the country. Most of those silos have been deactivated and the missiles removed and disarmed as part of treaty agreements with Russia.
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site protects two facilities that were once part of a Minuteman Missile field that covered the far western portion of South Dakota from 1963 through the early 1990s. There were 15 Launch Control Facilities that commanded and controlled 150 Launch Facilities (Missile Silos) holding Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. The park preserves two of these facilities in their historic state—Launch Control Facility Delta-01 with its corresponding underground Launch Control Center and Launch Facility (Missile Silo) Delta-09. These two sites, along with the Minuteman Missile Visitor Center, comprise Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Time and the fact that the two preserved sites were in the wrong direction allowed to visit only the visitor center.
Beeline for Home
From there, we headed east on I-90 to Plankinton, SD, where we had dinner and boondocked at another Coffee Cup Fuel Stop.
By this time, we had already added one day to the total trip and we felt it necessary to make best time to home, thus, the last two days of our trip were limited to travel. At the end of day 20, we spent most of the night at another truck stop, about 30 minutes west of St. Louis.
On day 21, we left the truck stop about 3:00 in the morning so that we could get through the city before morning traffic. Home was a relatively easy, and familiar, drive from St. Louis.We arrived home in the mid-afternoon.
This concludes the chronicles of our odyssey. I may add another post or two recapping certain aspects of this trip that span the timeline, or highlight special features and events.
Finally, I want to thank the folks at Riverside RV in Indiana for designing such “cool little camper” as the Whitewater Retro 177. It is easy to pull, easy to set up, and comfortable to live in for extended trips. It made this trip possible for us.
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