Day 3 Corn Palace, Missiles, Homesteads & Badlands
Trip Start Jul 22, 2011
27Trip End Aug 15, 2011
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After filling up with gas we headed out of Sioux City parallel to the interstate for about 50 miles. Lyn’s dream was always to head off the interstate onto some dirt tracks like you see on the films, so we headed off and found ….. a dirt track! We stopped and took lots of photos, and made an impressive dust cloud behind us as well. The scenery was very relaxing; blue sky, little fluffy clouds and green corn fields for mile upon mile upon mile.
We headed back onto the interstate, but were soon suckered into watching the infamous roadside signs. We ended up veering off to a place called Mitchell, which was the "Home of the Corn Palace"
After another little stop at a tiny little coffee shop about the size of a garden shed, Lyn loves this sort of thing (the coffee was $1!), we headed back onto the Interstate; next stop the Missouri River, where we went for a little walk to take in the view. The Missouri is huge, even though it’s over a 1000 miles from the sea, it joins the Mississippi at St Louis.
After the Missouri the landscape changed dramatically. We climbed onto a plateau which we would be on for the next 200 miles. We left the corn fields to enter the high prairies; a total change in contrast and colour. The sky was like the Orb’s classic song “Little Fluffy Clouds”. It was a quintessential mix of smooth undulating fields, deep blue sky and cotton wool ball clouds, for mile after mile, as far as the eye could see. We could have beaten yesterday’s GPS photo, with a 275 mile straight line across South Dakota
We stopped off at a rest stop, where we parked next to a Harley, complete with a strapped on pig (Hog). Tegz introduced Pussell, and another photo opportunity was born!
We also managed to gain an hour, as we crossed from Central Time to Mountain Time. This seriously freaks me out; how can crossing an invisible line give you an extra hour in your life?? Not that I was complaining; we needed as much time as we could get today!
We then stopped at the entrance to Badland’s National Park, where we stopped for something to eat. We wanted to visit the Minuteman Missile site, so Lyn wandered over to the Visitor centre to see if he could get us onto a tour, although we felt this would be unlikely as they are so limited with numbers, and fill up so fast. Luck was with us, and he got us onto the next tour, so we drove off to the Missile Site.
We reached the locked installation gates, where Ronnie the Ranger let us in at 2pm
Basically, we went into the only remaining underground Minuteman missile launch control centre. The Minuteman Missiles were ICBMs (Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles) which was developed in the 1950’s as nuclear deterrent during the Cold War. Delta 01 Launch control facility was the only one out of 450 missile sites nationwide selected for preservation after the end of the Cold War. There were over 1000 missiles, scattered over the Great Plains, with 150 in South Dakota. They could be launched by crews who were stationed miles away. The missiles could travel over the North Pole and arrive at a target, in Russia in 30 minutes. The 1.2 megaton warhead was the equivalent of over 1 million tons of dynamite, and could travel at over 15000 miles per hour.
Ronnie gave us a fantastic tour. The launch centre is 31 feet underground, where the two members of staff were locked in securely for 12 hour shifts, awaiting the call that could spell out the end of the world. Contrary to popular belief there was no “red button” to press, instead 2 men had to simultaneously turn two keys, 12 foot apart. It is hard to imagine the state of readiness at the time; also a back up plane known as “Looking Glass” circled the area 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, for 30 YEARS, so the missiles could be remotely launched from the sky, should a launch be impossible from the base. It was also amazing to see a little BBQ pit out in the compound, where the staff had to routinely burn all sensitive papers at the end of every shift
Hopefully the visit will bring to life some of American history for the kids; they were amazed to hear that America was within 13 minutes of turning the keys during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and that a computer glitch almost lead to an unexpected launch, which was saved with only seconds to go. As Ronnie said “Thank God for geeks!”
After this amazing visit, we stopped at a Prairie Homestead, which Tegz and I went to explore. We had been quite close to the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder earlier in the day, and as Tegz is a big fan of the “Little House on the Prairie” books I thought it would be nice for her to see a genuine homestead. It was the home of a family who lived on 160 acres in 1909. The house is made from sod and cottonwood trees, and is dug into the bank. Some of the furnishings are original. It all looked really idyllic, but I bet it wasn’t so pleasant in the harsh winters! We really enjoyed the visit; it’s just a shame Tegz wouldn’t dress up in the Pioneer clothes that were there! Spoilsport! She was amazed to see that they had to get water from a well; “they had to get water from all the way over there??” I tried to take photos of the prairie dogs, but they were too quick for me!
After our visit, we bought this year’s Annual Park Pass, for a brilliant $80. This will get us into Badlands, Arches, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks.
We drove into Badlands to start the scenic loop. We stopped off at the first look off and went out to explore, but boy, was it hot, well over 90 degrees. We climbed up some of the buttes, but they were very tricky to climb, and slippery underfoot. Guess who fell on her bum? (Clue; she’s blonde and 13!) It was hard to take good photos as the buttes are so pale, and the sun overhead was so harsh. I bet it’s beautiful at sunrise or sunset. I think we all enjoyed the park, but it’s not one of our favourites.
We drove back to the interstate, and onto see the actual Minuteman Missile that’s been preserved, but it closed at 4pm. Bummer!
We called in at Badlands Harley Davidson for another T shirt for Lyn, and then onto Rapid City, to grab a quick half hour in Borders, which we found is closing down! They are closing 320 stores here as well! We had a quick meal in Applebee’s next door, and then onto our hotel; which is a La Quinta for a change. We emptied the car, and the kids have crashed out and are now sleeping, while Lyn and I struggle to sort things out here for tomorrow, and write this blog. I hope it’s worth it, and someone is reading it as I’m bloody knackered, lol. It’s been a long day, but a good one. Tomorrow…..well, that should be a good one too!