Wednesday 16 July

Trip Start Apr 13, 2008
Trip End Oct 27, 2008

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Flag of United States  , South Dakota
Sunday, July 27, 2008

Wednesday 16th July
We 'did' Badlands today.  For those of you who don't know about this place, well it is  part of the National Park Service which means you pay to enter the area (we don't because we bought our annual pass in June and this covers all the parks all over the country).
In general a national park is an area or place that has been designated, by congress, as having outstanding natural features or something with significant historical interest etc. it is run by the NPS which is government funded.
Badlands is an area of outstanding, weird and wonderful rock formations like nothing else I have seen, although we have now been to so many weird and wonderful locations here - particularly in Utah.  It is kind of hard to describe so hopefully when we add the photos it will be easier for you to picture it for yourselves.  Most of these places have formed as a result of sandstone under a shallow sea that covered much of the states. When this sea disappeared, the remaining rivers carved canyons and erosion took hold leaving weird and wonderful "monuments" behind, often full of fossils and even dinosaur fossils in places.
The drive through Badlands takes about 45 minutes but we stopped for lunch, a look at the visitors centre and various photo stops along the way so it took us a while.
As we have been driving along the I 90 we have been seeing hundreds and hundreds of signs for a shop called Wall Drug. Each sign was advertising a different product or service. For example one was advertising "free iced water", another 5 cent coffee, etc. we read our rough guide only to discover that if you are travelling in South Dakota this shop is a must!  It turns out that it has been in business since 1931 as a drug store that started advertising free iced water as a gimmick to help the ailing sales figures in a tiny shop in a town called Wall.  It has become so enormously successful that it can see 20 000 visitors a day at the height of the summer. Well I guess it is impossible to ignore a total of 500 road signs - it's true!- so we made our pilgrimage along with the rest of the I 90 traffic to this small town, completely over run with tourists, all here to see this shop! As you can imagine Steve and I have been thinking about how we might get 20 000 customers through our shop in one day! We're working on it!  I don' think free water would quite do it!
After we had had our 5 cent coffee, free lemonade and some ice cream we left as we needed to get back down the road for about 2.30 to meet the park Ranger at Delta 9 missile silo for a talk.  This morning we had popped into the Minuteman Visitor info centre and watched a video about the nuclear missiles that were all underground here in South Dakota during the cold war years. This was fascinating, but we were unable to go on the tour of the launch centres which are also underground, but miles away from where the missiles were located. We would have needed to book a month ahead.
All but this site have been deactivated and filled in since 1992 when the government stepped down the nuclear arms defence programme.  Between about 1967 and 1991 the US had hundreds of these missiles located across the country side of South Dakota in a constant state of readiness in case Soviet Union decided to attack. 2 men sat underground manning the computers that could launch a missile within one minute of the word from the President. (hence the name Minuteman  This one site was left for the National Park Service to take care of to show a part of very recent history. Of course the nuclear bombs have been removed and the missile sits in position in the silo, empty, as if it was ready for lift off. 
We visited Delta 9 which is the site of the missile launch area where you can look down into the silo at the missile although it is covered in a glass window.  The launch centre that was manned by 2 people is about 10 miles away underground and that was the bit we could not see. However the ranger who talked to us was an ex launch man or missillier.  So he knew everything that we wanted to know about it.  He was quite dramatic and quite over the top but he created a real atmosphere when explaining the power of these weapons.  Much of the info he told us has only recently been declassified and actually we were among the first few people to actually visit it as it has taken from 1992 to 2007 to get it all sorted out and ready for public access.  Quite amazing really.
So we had had quite a busy day all in all and we were ready to find our spot for the night. We found a place just off the I 90 in a place called New Underwood, which was a very small place with not much there except a very tatty looking campground.  We hovered outside it for a bit but eventually we ventured in and enquired about a site. It turned out to be dead cheap with electricity water and sewage connection. There wasn't anything else there at all so we just closed the door and turned on the A/C for the rest of the evening. We were able to use our own shower as there wasn't one on the site.
Poor Zach is quite obsessed with bad weather and gets very anxious when he sees any black clouds looming which at the moment is most afternoons. We have to constantly reassure him that we are safe, but I must admit it can get pretty violent at times and I get almost as anxious!
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