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!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

South Dakota road-trip (days one and two)

We have been living in Wisconsin for the past 5 months now and a couple of months ago we felt it was time to start preparing for a little holiday. We decided to head to the Badlands and Custer State Park in South Dakota on a little road trip. A mere 750 miles just to get to Badlands then another 100 miles for Custer State Park.

So, on Friday morning we packed up the car and set off at 0915. We had a quick stop for some breakfast at McDonald's in Sauk City; Egg and Cheese McMuffins and Hash Browns all around. Very soon, in heavy weather, we found ourselves crossing the Mississippi at La Crosse and over into the state of Minnesota.

We were making good time but felt we needed to stop for some lunch and as Austin was down on our list for a possible break we pulled of the I-90 only to struggle to find anything before settling on a quick ice cream and a coke at Dairy Queen - so a vitamin fuelled lunch - we were soon back on the interstate heading to Sioux Falls for our first nights stay.

The drive on to Sioux Falls wasn't as boring as we thought it might have been, field after field of corn, but a gorgeous sky above the field and plenty for us I-90 first-timers to see. We made a fuel stop at Jackson before crossing the South Dakota border and pulled into rest stop where we sat out in the sun by a sculpture of a tee-pee eating a picnic of salad and cheese before heading into the visitor centre.

The super helpful chap Del could not do enough to help us with our route and activity planning and we were sent on our way with a pile of maps, leaflets, great advise and even some stickers. Back on the road again for a short hop into Sioux Falls and after 455 miles and 8 hours driving by Paul we arrived at our stop for the night; the Best Western Empire Towers.

We unpacked the basics, Paul had a short break painting then we headed the short drive to the very pretty downtown area of Sioux Falls, and after finding a parking spot, thence to the Woodgrain Brewing Company for a delightful pint of their Blood Orange Wheat and cheesy Potato skins. Unsure if it was fatigue setting in but Paul managed to drop his first pint, bad form old chap!

When we made to depart we notice along the street that there was a number of sculptures, so we had a little stroll to view a few which including an owl, Native American and deer. All part of the city's sculpture walk which we would have loved to have completed but after a hard days travelling, bed was calling despite it not being that late.

Victoria did spot the lovely cupcake shop Half Baked and needed a red velvet cupcake for supper, verdict was that it was good cake! So back to the hotel with a stunning Harvest Moon looking down on us.

After a great nights sleep we awoke early to find the weather cloudy and with a slight chill in the air. So, after showers and dressing we grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel - cereal and bagel for Victoria, banana and giant freshly made waffle for Paul! We packed our baggage and set of to have a look at the South Dakota BB57 museum via a quick detour to Walgreens as somebody had picked up a cold sore - lovely. Checking the web-site it showed that the museum opened at 0830 so we were there bright and early so we could continue our journey. Unfortunately, the website was out of date and the museum did not open until 0930, never mind we can have a look at the exhibits outside.

A great reason to stay at Sioux Falls - despite it being about a half way to our destination - is Falls Park, site of the falls of the Big Sioux River. Falls Park covers 123 acres which you are free to walk around and view the beauty of the the many waterfalls over the 100 foot course that deposit over 7,400 gallons of water each second.

It was time to say goodbye to the Falls and crack on with the rest of our journey to Wall, just outside of the Badlands. After about an hours drive from Sioux Falls we pulled off of the Interstate into the town of Mitchell to check out the worlds only Corn Palace. A quirky attraction that is decorated using corn, wheat, native grasses and straw depicting a different theme each year. The theme for 2016 is music with pictures of Elvis and Willy Nelson among many others.

Before leaving the palace we ensured we gave thanks to Corn God - you can never be to careful and went to grab a coffee but failed to find anywhere on the walk back to the car so we headed back onto the I-90 promising ourselves we would stop when we saw somewhere promising. Before we knew it another hour of driving had past and we were arriving at our next stop as recommended by Del at the visitor centre yesterday.

There is a rest area on the I-90 overlooking the Missouri River just outside the town of Chamberlain, which today just so happened to be dedicating the statue called 'Dignity'; a glorious 40ft high statue of a Lakota Sioux woman overlooking the Missouri River. We arrived with the dedication already underway, and was greeted to a display of Native American chanting and dance. If you every get a chance to see the statue do, she is truly beautiful.

Paul was keen to get moving again as we were only half way through today's journey so after filling up with fuel in Chamberlain, where we managed to put in premium by mistake (costly!) We grabbed a super large soda and off we went fuelled by a bag of vegetable straws each for lunch. We crossed the deep blue waters of the Missouri River and between Winner and Okreek we had lost an hour as we had skipped onto Mountain Time! Hooray it's now lunchtime again.

Busting for a wee after said soda we stopped at 1880 Town for the use of the facilities. Unfortunately, the very delightful train car diner had closed for the season, so, we had to make do with Blue Bunny bars and a sit on the swing chair before checking out the gift shop.

Back on the I-90 for what should be the last hour of driving we drove past the vast plains of the Midwest a truly spectacular sight where you feel you really do meet the sky. We just had to stop at the Plains Pull-out view point for some quick photos it's here that we felt it would be a good idea to document our days exploits by starting an Instagram story video, which I feel safe to say we are truly dreadful at.

We soon were driving into our accommodation for the next 2 nights Frontier Cabins. We checked in and were given the keys to our charming log cabin overlooking the Prairie.

After unpacking the baggage and settling in we felt we needed to stretch our legs and decided to Walk the 6 blocks away to Wall Drug store, a slice of kitsch Americana on the plains. This place is advertised for hundreds of miles on the I-90 and really is a little theme park of sorts. Exploring Wall Drug we saw many of the sights, sounds and of course photo opportunities it is famous for!

Despite our very nourishing lunch of Vegetable Straws and Blue Bunny bars we felt we should refuel with a drinks so we headed into the Cactus Saloon for a few Blue Moon Wheat beers and a Jim Beam bourbon cocktail for Victoria, goodness those are strong. We felt that as it was still only 5pm we better eat something as the alcohol had gone straight to our heads. So we settled our bill, a bargain $14.60 and crossed the street back to Wall Drug for a Garden Burger each in their cafe. We also felt we should partake on the free iced water that we had seen be advertised for hundreds of miles on the Interstate along with a similarly advertised home-made maple doughnut and 5 cent coffee, which surprisingly was quite good.

Walking back to our cabin we picked up some ciders from the store to put in the fridge for later. We were keen to check out the Badlands Park and as its recommend to see it at either dusk or dawn due to the lighting on the rock formations and it's only 8 miles to the park entrance we got in the car to drive into Badlands however we get to gate and realise that we have no cash to pay the park fee, purses and wallets were in the cabin! Bloody Hell! So it's a drive back for sunset at the cabin and an early bedtime.