Monday, October 15, 2012

The South Dakota Badlands

We pulled out of Custer on Friday morning, September 28, and headed east. Our first stop was the obligatory visit to Wall Drug Store in Wall. 

It's a "happening," all right.  It covers several square blocks and offers everything from food to fudge to souvenirs.

We then paid a visit to the Buffalo Gap National Grassland Visitor Center. This national grassland, unlike the section of the Thunder Basin National Grassland we visited in Wyoming, has lots of grass.  The Visitor Center had interesting exhibits and plenty of information as well. For example, did you know that there are now 20 publicly-owned National Grasslands administered by the USDA Forest Service? Of these, 17 are located east of the Rocky Mountains from the North Dakota Badlands to north-central Texas. West of the Rockies, in Oregon, California and Idaho are three more.  The Buffalo Gap location is primarily a mixed-grass prairie, with tall and short grasses.  Even wearing their "winter colors," the grasses are beautiful. 

By afternoon, we were parked at the Badlands/White River KOA park four miles south of Badlands National Park.  Ordinarily we only stay in KOA parks for overnight stops, but this one is different. It has nice, big spaces, plenty of trees, a large fenced dog park and miniature golf. 

The park sits right on the White River, and normally there is fishing. However, this year due to the extreme drought the river has been dry for over 1 1/2 months. I don't know what it looks like with water in it, but dry it certainly is white as you can see in this view from the bridge.

We would have stayed longer, but unfortunately, the park was closing for the season, so we were only able to stay two nights. On Sunday, we moved to the Cedar Pass RV Park in Badlands National Park. Here is a great sunset shot John took from our campsite there right after a small shower passed over. 

Cedar Pass has 30 and 50 amp electric. However, water is only available from centrally-located faucets, and there are no sewer hookups. The views are great, though, and we enjoyed our stay there on Sunday night.

We were fortunate to be in the area for the full moon on September 30.  Here is a shot from our campsite at the Badlands/White River KOA.

And this is how the moon looks rising over the Badlands.

And moonset just after sunrise the following morning.

As you can see from these and the following pics, I really enjoyed the photo ops! The vistas are stunning, and change at each bend in the road. 


While in South Dakota we visited another location that has intrigued us. Not far from Badlands National Park is the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.  Following WWII, both the United States and the Soviet Union developed arsenals of nuclear missiles. By the late 1960s, the U.S. had deployed 1000 Minuteman I & II missiles.  We learned that these were located in missile silos in the Midwest and upper Great Plains, including 150 in South Dakota. Following the implementation of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 1991, all of South Dakota's missiles were deactivated and all but one of the silos destroyed. One, Delta-09 remains intact. A glass viewing dome allows one to look inside to see how the missile was stored in preparation for launch.

We also visited the building and underground bunker a few miles away where crews were stationed around the clock in case the missile needed to be launched. We were fortunate to have as our guide a volunteer who had previously served at these locations while he was in the military. He provided a wealth of information about just what procedures were in place to ensure that the missile could be launched if necessary, and to prevent an accidental launch.  The following is a photo of the bunker facility, which has been kept just as it was when the order came to deactivate the missiles.

And here is the sign (which you may have seen replicated elsewhere) on the door to the command center.

If you have a chance to visit the Minuteman Missile Historical Site, be sure to do so. It's fascinating and a little frightening to learn how very close our country came to nuclear war on more than one occasion. Do make a reservation, though. The tours of the underground bunker are limited to 6 people at a time, and fill up quickly.


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