Monday, May 25, 2009
Good Morning South Dakota! The greatest thing about camping is waking up with the sun. Well, at least I wake up with the sun. Angie still enjoys sleeping in as late as I allow her to. The KOA was a welcoming sight in the morning. The "K"ampground was teeming with National Park employees enjoying a preview day of the grounds and also taking advantage of pancakes, sausage biscuits w/gravy and bacon from the kitchen. We, however, only opted for coffee that morning. We broke down camp early as we had a 9am appointment with the Minuteman Missile Silo at the north end of the Badlands.
Minuteman is one of the newest national parks. The park offers tours of a decommissioned nuclear missile silo from the cold war era. The tour itself is actually of two different sites. The first is a launch control facility and the second a missile silo itself. The launch control facility controlled ten different missile sites within the area. All operations were done in a bunker three stories underground inside of a thirty ton steel capsule. Our NP tour guide was actually stationed at a Minuteman site in Missouri (I didn't know we had nukes in MO!) Talk about a character this guy just bubbled with retired military all over him, sense of humor and all. After the launch facility we got back on the highway and drove a few miles to the missile site. The silo was nothing more that a hole in the ground with a cover that strangely resembled a small greenhouse. Upon further inspection the contents was a six story rocket ready to take out one of six targets in under thirty minutes. Both sites were nothing more than an acre with a fence around them as you approached but their importance quickly came to fruition as you stepped within the fences. What surprised me more than anything about these two sites was their shear distance from the highway. Neither site was anymore than a half mile from I-90. I just couldn't help but think how many people have traveled this road over and over again and never realized that the power to destroy the world lay just to the side of them. There were over 100 nukes at one point in SD. Yet the people never seemed to think they could possibly have been a target. Incredible visit I recommend it if you ever have the chance.
The promise of food pushed us from the missile site and on to our next destination. Our next stop I do not know how anyone could pass up unless they purely skipped it out of spite. There must be 400 billboards from the South Dakota line to where we were beckoning us to stop. Who am I to disagree with such persistence. At exit 110 we pulled off and made our way through the town of Wall and the "world famous" Wall Drug.The store resembled that of a rural downtown. Filling up both sides of the street with shops, knick knacks and restaurants all bearing the Wall name. Wall much like the Corn Palace in Mitchell may be nothing more than a tourist trap, but it really is something to see. Half -way down the main entrance is a side hallway displaying the family history and how they have built their business over the last century. If nothing more this creates respect for the hard work and dedication of the Hustead family. Angie and I ate a modest lunch at Wall and hit the road once again as I was excited to get to our next stop.
Well I thought we were getting where I wanted to go, but we had to make a stop at the Reptile Gardens on the way and why not? Crocodiles, Alligators and giant Tortoises....color me sold. We perused the dozens upon dozens of animals that could potentially kill us. It is great to have a girl friend that finds creepy crawly animals not only intriguing but cute and cuddly as well.
Finally we were driving the winding mountain road up and up through the Black Hills. We rounded the corner and made our way to the top of the parking structure. Luckily we were blessed with a beautiful day. Bright blue skies with happy big puffy cumulus clouds that added a Bob Ross feel to the mountain as we strolled through the state walkway. As I approached the platform I was simply in awe at the sheer size of the work of art that lay before me.
Angie was not nearly impressed as she had been there before but she was still quite happy to be there. We perused the museum below seeking an education about the difficulty of the project that Borglum had undertaken. How awe inspiring the mountain is I still at the same time am torn with the monument itself. I can't help but wonder how beautiful the mountain looked before these 400 men blasted and chiseled away the presidential figures. I am all for respecting the men that have paved the way for our country; but at what cost? I say give me a statue; leave the nature to itself. It is majestic enough.
After leaving Mt. Rushmore my planned camping site of the night was down the road in Wyoming. We decided to stay off the interstate and instead to stick with U.S. 16 taking us out of SD and into WY. If you ever have the time to take a drive through this country that does not involve the over commercialized interstate highway system, take it! Finally, real America. The small towns and people that make up this country. The drive was beautiful through Wyoming, my goal was to make Devil's Tower to set up camp and still have time to make it to a local watering hole for a drink and the Cavs game. We, however, decided to camp at Keyhole State Park about twenty miles outside of the park. We were able to sit up camp and make our way into the tiny town of Pine Haven. We drove up to the "R" Bar for some dinner, a libation and a basketball game. The bar was a quaint little tavern for the town there were a few locals coming in and out while we were there. I actually had to ask to have the game put on one of the T.V.'s as the local population were more concerned with the outcome of American Idol than they were with what was happening in NBA finals. That definitely surprised me more than anything. I am sitting in a Wyoming bar filled with rough and tough ranchers decked out in dirty jeans and work boots. Their program of choice? Two boys dueling it out for top singing honors. I am enthralled by the people in this country every day.
I can not wait to see what I will encounter tomorrow!
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