Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Badlands of South Dakota

Sunset over The Badlands.

10:00 p.m.

I'm camped on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, south of the Badlands, and west of Interior, South Dakota. Nature is putting on its own fireworks display; the whole northern horizon flashing with lightning. I was anxious about camping on the Grasslands. I need a shower and to do laundry! But it will have to wait. I saved $15-25 tonight!

My tent is wide open, wind whipping through. Hopefully no storm here tonight!

Moved away from an area along this remote track, that was scattered with beer bottle glass, cans and shotgun casings. "That’s all I need is a bunch of drunken kids showing up near my camp during the night." Had to carefully avoid cactus driving out into the prairie grasses.

It had been a hot day – mid 90’s. I have serious doubts about using the "Aerostich" riding suit in even warmer places (though I didn’t think to put on my lightest weight clothing – I wore jeans and a t-shirt under the suit today.) As long as I'm riding, it's tolerable, but with frequent stops to take photographs, to read informational signs, or check out sights, the suit becomes a cumbersome sweat box.


Began the day around 8:00 after a very restless sleep. As is common, got my best rest after sunrise, but it's short-lived because campground activity soon starts up.
An exciting storm last night gave the area a pretty good soaking.

Met the young couple at the adjacent site. They were moving back to New York City after spending a few years in the San Francisco area. Both artists, they had wanted to get up to Minneapolis to see the Walker Gallery, but were now running out of time.

I had not heard of the gallery and asked what made it special. They said it's one of the finest modern art museums in the nation. Thus, they planted the seed - perhaps I'll detour to Minneapolis.

On the road again by 9:00, headed for Mt. Rushmore. A few other people seemed to have the same idea. Miles from the monument, a line of orange cones blocked visitors from parking on the shoulder, while orange plastic mesh barriers on the opposite side prevented trespassing in the forests on the monument's backside. All traffic was directed to the "concession parking." The Department of the Interior is cracking down on freeloaders. "Pay admission, or forget about it." I willfully disobeyed the signs, stopping to snap pictures from the roadside. I was surprised how small and compact the sculpture is in actuality, not the towering monument I had always envisioned.

Human nature being what it is, there is no stopping, standing (or even thinking about stopping or standing) anywhere you can view the faces. You've got to pay the fee. Fortunately, they were too short of personnel to patrol the entire perimeter, and I was able to snap this. Take that Department of Interior!

For miles leading up to Mt. Rushmore, the roadway is lined with cones and barricades to prevent people from parking outside the "concession parking" and sneaking in without paying.

Sneak in and go to jail!

This is a teaser. They allow you a free view of the profile, from a roadside turnout. But to get the full face, you must pay. I was too cheap to pay the $8.00 parking fee.

Another bootleg photo (with prison-threatening barriers). The monument was actually much smaller than I had envisioned it since childhood (when I first saw it on a postage stamp.)

These guys are watching for turning traffic.

Passed through more gold rush towns (tourist traps) quickly making my way out of the hills. I was surprised at what a draw these Black Hills represent for the region.

Rolling into Rapid City, I found the "Black Hills Bagel Shop" and a sign that they offered wi-fi! It was well into the 90's and I needed a refreshment break. Ordered a bagel and drink, then set up my computer. Finishing the first, I asked for another round. I was just getting into the blog, when I learned they were closing at 1:00. How dumb is that!

Forced back out onto the street, I decided to go see the air museum at Ellsworth Air Force Base. Perhaps it would be cool there. Rode around town, thinking I would probably just stumble into it. That wasn't working.

Out along the interstate, I found a Visitor’s Center and stopped in. The folks there said the only tour of a Minuteman Missile silo (which I wanted to see) was some 70 miles east. They directed me to the museum at Ellsworth, just a few miles away.

A big thunderhead was moving in from the west, blocking the sun and bringing some welcome relief from the heat. I browsed among the aircraft on display outside the museum, "keeping one eye on the sky". The storm was skirting around to the south, but I didn't want to let it get ahead of me for the ride east.

The enormous B-52 bomber was the most interesting to me. They played a huge role in Vietnam, obliterating much of the landscape. I recall seeing flights of three pass high over my ship. Standing on the ship's bridge three miles offshore, the impact zone far inland, out of view, the concussion would still rustle my uniform.

The fearsome B-52D Stratofortress delivered the Vietnam War's massive "Arc Light" carpet bombings.

The B-52 could carry 108 of these 500-pound bombs.

The B1B "Lancer" Bomber. Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, SD is home to these stealth bombers.

Let's kick butt.

An old B-29.

Fortunately, these aircraft are now only homes for pigeons.

A loud speaker announced the next tour of the Minuteman silo in 45 minutes, "the only tour in which you will descend into a silo." The information at the Visitors Center was bogus! I signed up.

The tour was pretty silly; mostly it showed off all the wonderful base facilities (stores, restaurants, new housing, clubs, "Burger King", $15 million fire department, etc.) I was amazed at the new investments on base, especially since Ellsworth is one of the bases being considered for closure. (Another city fights to keep jobs.) The investments sure looked like somebody’s "boondoggle".

The 11,500-acre base is now home for the B1B Bomber (“The Bone”). Currently, about 3,000 work on base (down from 8, 000,) though 14,000 live in the residential area.

The B1B has a 3-mile long runway (Ellsworth is also the 4th choice for space shuttle landings). We were shown the two huge fuel silos (primarily kerosene) dedicated to the B1B.

Looking back on the madness that was the Cold War, we visited the silo, which was really only a training facility, never an active missile site. At the height of the Cold War, the 44th Missile Wing, based here had 15 Launch Control Facilities, each commanding 11 Launch Facilities (each LF had one ICBM). That's 165 ICBMs within 75 miles of Rapid City. The missiles were only located at sites in northern states (Idaho, Montana, North and South Dakota), since the shortest route to the Soviet Union was over the North Pole. The silo was actually pretty anticlimactic and the visitors were soon bored, standing around the stuffy old military equipment.

Memories of the Cold War Era

A trailer such as this lowered the nuclear warhead onto the missile inside silo. It was skirted to prevent satellite reconnaissance viewing the silo interior.

This vehicle was used to transport and install the missile in the silo.

Inside a Minuteman Missile Training Silo. Within 75 miles of Rapid City, there were at one time 165 Minuteman missiles targeting the Soviet Union. Other sites were scattered across South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Minnesota, all targeting the Soviet Union via the shortest route - over the Arctic.

A dummy missile inside the 90-foot silo.

This converted B-25 was General Eisenhower's personal aircraft during World War II.

Finishing up the tour, I now saw there was actually a chain of thunderstorms running roughly west to east. I jumped onto Interstate 90, wishing to get some miles under me, and maybe outrun these storms. But I couldn't miss "Wall Drugs". (How can you pass up a business that has placed literally THOUSANDS of highway signs all over the state?)

Weather turns threatening over Rapid City.

The town of Wall, 50 miles east of Rapid City, is dominated by the block-long complex that is "Wall Drugs". It's really a drug store-turned-amusement park. They advertise "free ice water," and sure enough, if you can find it amidst all the gift shops, restaurants, book stores and such, there's a small spigot with a stack of paper cups beside it. Cold water, though not particularly good-tasting. I visited their ice cream counter and asked for a raspberry malt. It was quite good, and reasonably priced.

I ran into the couple en route to New York again. We compared notes on the day's travels. They told me I should have visited the Crazy Horse Memorial. It is more powerful than Rushmore, they said.

A short ride south of Wall is one entrance to The Badlands National Park. Entering into the park, I found it a pain stopping and un-suiting each time there was a beautiful sight, especially in this heat and dry air. And there were MANY beautiful sights.

The Badlands

I was anxious to figure out my camping situation though, and didn't linger much. Confirmed what I had heard from another motorcyclist: the tar they use to patch cracks in highways, in hot weather will become quite slick, a hazard for motorcyclists. This was especially true here at The Badlands.

South Dakota's Badlands.

At the tiny town of Interior, stopped for a cold drink and some salty chips. Stood outside the small country store, wondering what to do next. A clerk came out and we chatted about the weather. Decided I would go to Wounded Knee (south of here), since I missed the Crazy Horse Memorial.

1 comment:

Moto Diva said...

PUTAIN!!! Wonderful picture.