Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Drugs, Missles & Badlands

On our first day in the Black Hills we did a 200+ mile road trip to the Badlands. Driving big distances is to be expected "out West" as things are spread out over a very large area. We stopped at Wall Drug and two national park sites.

As soon as we were on the interstate we began seeing signs urging travelers to stop at Wall Drug. The store became a big stop starting in 1936 when, after five years of not being able to attract business from the highway, they put up their first sign, "Free Ice Water." Business grew so rapidly that in 1937 they had to hire eight girls to handle the crowds who, after getting a free drink, began spending money. Oh yes, they still offer free ice water and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.
The small store has grown into a whole block of buildings selling just about everything, from authentic Western wear to typical imported Made in China tourist junk. It really has changed a lot since my visit in 1964 on my way to college in Montana. We can now put Wall Drug on our been there done that and don't need to go back list.

Just down the road from Wall along I-90 we discovered a different kind of national historical site, a Minuteman Missile launch command center. There were once hundreds of missile silos across the Great Plains. I was surprised to learn there are still 500 deployed. The sign at the entrance warned that in an emergency visitors must be capable of climbing two 15 foot ladders. While waiting for the tour we got some inside background from another visitor who had been a construction supervisor building command centers and missile silos all over the Great Plains. The group was so big they split it in two and while we toured the top side facilities the others went down the elevator to the underground command center. The top right pic is the building we toured. The top left pic is a ranger climbing the ladder after the elevator broke down. We ended up leaving and did not get to see the command center or find out if the group that did had to climb out. Bottom is the top of a missile silo a few miles away and the inside of the command center we did not get to see.

Next we drove through Badlands National Park. The land in the park was once an ancient sea floor that has eroded to produce spectacular, beautiful formations. There is very little water and in many places it looks like a moonscape.

A big horn sheep on the ridge. We also saw buffalo in the distance.

As with much of the West this year, the Badlands are greener than normal because of so much snow melt and rain. Here, the distant rain seems to dry out before hitting the ground.

The clouds began to clear and the colors became more brilliant in the sun.

The colors change with the different layers of rock and as the sun moves across the sky.

There is also a lot of tall and short grass prairie in the park.

Badlands National Park is different from the badlands we visited in North Dakota. It was formed by erosion and is more varied in color and appearance. It is a worthwhile stop and an easy drive off I-90 and you can stop for free ice water at nearby Wall Drug.

1 comment:

Doing It On the Road(Part II) said...

Drugs, missiles, badlands, if you had added some guns it would have been a perfect western post!