Monday, 26 September 2016

South Dakota road-trip (day 3)

 We were rudely awoken at 0515 by what sounded like a pack of coyotes going mental outside our cabin. We quickly realised that it was indeed our neighbours 3 dogs making the awful racket.

Neither of us would be getting back to sleep now, so we embraced the opportunity to see the Badlands by sunrise. By 0630 we were showered, dressed, out and in the Badlands witnessing the spectacular sight of the sun coming up over Pinnacle Point Thank you doggies we wouldn't have wanted to miss it. 

There were very few people there and peacefulness that surrounded us as we watch in awe as the sun rose above the bluffs and illuminated the scene around us. Awestruck we got back into the car and carried on with our drive around the loop. It was difficult not to pull over at every opportunity as every turn we came upon the most beautiful shapes and colours. However, we had planned to get to the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in time for opening we limited ourselves to every other pull in. 

As we drove along we passed prairie dogs and big horn sheep. We made a stop for a light breakfast of pumpkin bread but overlooking the Badlands the setting was perfect, with amazing views, the sun just beginning to warm away the chill and only the sound of the meadow larks overhead.

Apologies for all the pictures, it's hard to limit it to just a few.

After a few more stops including stunning White River Valley Overlook we eventually left the loop to arrive at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site  and scored tickets for an 0945 tour of the  Launch Control Facility Delta-01. We spent some time in the visitor centre browsing the great displays and surprisingly impartial information provided. Some of this was chilling, the amount of times the World nearly got to see its destruction due to mistakes and misinterpretations was unbelievable. We stopped by the gift shop to grab some postcards and a rather splendid t-shirt before headed of to drive the short distance west on the I-90 to our tour of the Launch Control Facility Delta-01

After a tour of the surface facility that house typically eight, but up to twenty personnel we entered the lift cage and descended through 10m of reinforced concrete and then through the 2m thick blast door into the Launch Control Centre where two junior officers on twenty four hour shifts awaited the order to launch the missiles at the ten launch silos that they controlled. Fifteen such Launch Control Facilities on this short stretch of the I-90 all made up the 44th Missile Wing from Ellsworth Airforce Base outside Rapid City.  

In all there were 450 launch control facilities in the USA mainly in the mid west, each controlling ten Minuteman missiles, truly chilling.

After exiting Launch Control Facility Delta-01, we drove west some more along the I-90 to the Launch Facility (Missile Silo) Delta-09 just outside Wall where we were staying, It is amazing how close these things were to the major roads and population centres in the area. The Launch Facility (Missile Silo) Delta-09  is preserved with a inert Minuteman II missile visible in it's silo through a glass viewing pane. It actually seems quite small and innocuous for something able to deliver a 1.2MT warhead anywhere in the world in 30 minutes.

From Delta-09 we drove back up the I-90 to the north-east entrance to the Badlands loop, pulling in at The Ranch Store for cold drinks a Diet Dr Pepper for him and an Iced Coffee for her. We also brought a bag of peanuts - no, not for Paul this time but for the very cute Prairie Dogs that had made the area their home. 

Outside the Ranch Store we set about feeding the local Prairie Dogs, some we're so tame that they would take them from your hand! Soon we were out of nuts and headed back in the Badlands for another loop in the different direction to this mornings. This time it had a very different feel to it, the temperature had risen to 88F there were quite a few more people about but the natural wonder of the rock formations was still stunning. After an initial stop at Big Badlands Overlook we next pulled into the the Door and Window parking area. Walking out to the start of the Window Trail we realised that we were ill prepared for the short hike out into the Badlands and Paul went back to the car to gather water and supplies, leaving me to stand waiting in the midday sun in the middle of nowhere, Hmmm reminds me of Death Valley again! 

Although the Window Trail walk was only a mile loop it felt much more due to the heat and you can easily see why people quickly become disorientated. Once back at the start we walk to the other point of interest at Door, much shorter this time. 

Back in the car again until we got to Fossil Exhibit Trail and did the short circuit, following the Badlands Loop we were soon back out of the Park heading to Wall for some much needed refreshments. 

Badlands Saloon and Grill opposite Wall Drug seem a good place for a stop for beer and pizza. Suitably refuelled we made some purchases of a t-shirt and some Wall Drug Store fudge (peanut butter and chocolate). On the way out of town we grabbed a Subway for tea later and a few more supplies from the food store and headed back to relax at the cabin. 

Whilst loafing outside our neighbour came over to apologise about his dogs, it turns out that he was from northern Wisconsin himself. Although we had had a busy day we felt we should go once again back into the Badlands and to Pinnacle point to this time watch the sun setting over the hills. Our world is such a beautiful place and opportunities to see the Badlands at dawn, noon and dusk should be seized. 


After enjoying the beautiful sunset and with the heat of the day disappearing we went back to the lodge for our Subway supper, books and a very early 2045 bedtime, well we had been up since 0515.

Checking the car we had already done 908 miles on the trip so far!

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