Day 4 – Mt Rushmore and the Badlands…

We started the day going to Mt Rushmore.  It was a foggy, drizzly day and so we were hoping it would clear enough by the time we got there to be able to see it.   The drive down from the cabin was wet.  We decided to take the car as all three of us wanted to see Mt Rushmore and the Badlands and with the weather the way it was, taking the car made more sense.  We drove by the same lake we saw on day 3.  Here are some pics of the ride to Mt Rushmore.

Lake on 385
Lake on 385
Lovely weather for sight seeing
Lovely weather for sight seeing
A short tunnel
A short tunnel
Getting closer!
Getting closer!

We arrived at Mt Rushmore and could not see it.  Too foggy and wet.  Dang it!  We decided to hang out and go shopping at the gift shop they have there.  It’s actually pretty cool as they have tons of “stuff” to buy related to Mt Rushmore.  There was even an old guy there who had done some of the drilling on the mountain way back!  After buying a few patches and stickers – oh, and a christmas ornament – we headed back outside to check the weather.  Nope, still can’t see it.

We then decided to walk down what felt like a thousand steps down to the sculptors studio where we saw smaller versions of the faces.  Here is what that looked like.P1000111After visiting this area a bit, we then walked the ten thousand steps back up to the statue.  Being flat landers and not used to this kind of activity at altitude, I was breathing hard by the time we made it back to the top.  At this point, you could just barely see the faces coming through the fog.

Starting to see the faces through the fog
Starting to see the faces through the fog

There was a short video playing explaining how it was built and so we decided to watch that to see if the weather would continue to clear.  The video was interesting in explaining how workers basically drilled into the rock and then used dynamite to blow up the rock.  From there, they would come back with with drills to shape the final formation of the rock.  They would use the smaller version of the faces to calculate how much rock to remove.  Amazing how they were able to bring it together.  The artists comments were that he hoped that as generations came to see this sculpture, that they would see the faces of the men that created the best country in the world.  After the movie, we caught a better glimpse.

P1000126 P1000128As fate would have it, these would not be the best shots of Mt Rushmore, those would come on day 5.

We left Mt Rushmore and headed down to Keystone SD for lunch.  Buffalo burger at the Ruby house was excellent as was the pecan praline ice cream next door.  Next stop, the Badlands…or so we thought.

Back up to Rapid City and then east on I90.  We had seen a sign or two for the Minuteman missle historic site in the area and decided to go check that out.  Heading east on I90 close to Wall SD is a silo for one of the missles.  I suppose I should explain a little bit about what these are for people not familiar.

Back in the 1960’s during the height of the cold war, America deployed 150 minuteman nuclear missles across Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota.  The intent was that if you shoot nukes our way, we are going to shoot our nukes your way.  Thus a stalemate occurred and obviously no nukes went off.  However, during the Cuban missle crisis, we were very, very close to launching.  The movie 13 Days does a terrific job of explaining what was going on with our leaders during that difficult time period.  Be that as it may, we (the US) developed and maintained all of these missles until 1994 when we signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that began the process of decommisioning all (or so we think) of these sites.  If you have seen the movie Wargames, then at the very beginning, you see a scene with two officers down in a bunker being told to launch their weapons.  That’s basically what we were going to go tour.

Here’s a few pictures of the actual missle site.  The missle in here is a fake as is the glass top that was put in place for people to be able to look down into the bunker.

D9 Missle Launch Site
Explanation for the site
The glass on top is so you can look down into the silo. It would not have been there during working operations.
Believe it or not, this is an antenna. VHF
The site is pretty much in the middle of nowhere about a half mile from the interstate.
Notice the cover is shaped like a snow plow so that it could launch even in winter

IMG_2835 IMG_2837 IMG_2841 P1000144 P1000150

After viewing the missle silo, we decided to head to the command bunker and check that out.  That was located about 5 miles down the road.  Here is a picture of that site:


Why here?  Read the description in this picture.
Why here? Read the description in this picture.
The command area...above ground.  30-40 people operated at this base when operational
The command area…above ground. 30-40 people operated at this base when operational

Each command bunker like this controlled 10 missles.  There were 15 of these command structures around the area.  Some of them looked like farm houses.  I asked about the secrecy of this place and did the Russians know about it.  The answer was a definitive yes, the Russians knew about it.  That was the objective to make sure they were aware that we could kick their ass anytime we wanted.  Of course they could kick ours and so the MAD (“Mutually Assured Destruction”) doctrine prevailed.

Here are a few pics of the above ground structure including the security desk.  I will explain what the big cable is below.

Crew living area.
Above ground security desk
Amazing cable

The cable that you are looking at above went from the command bunker below ground to each of the 10 missles controlled by this location.  The cable contains around 50 twisted pair wires that connected to various sensors and computers at the silo.  The cable was then shielded with multiple techniques you can see in the picture.  The outer copper shielding was to prevent any negative impact from an EMP (“Electro Magnetic Pulse”) that would fry normal electronics.  In addition, this cable was pressurized which allowed the commanders to determine if the cable had been cut or broken.  Any type of break would instantly get the security force stationed above ground headed out to determine the cause.  There were 1600 miles of this cable deployed to the missles.

In addition to the above ground, we were also allowed to go down to the underground bunker as well.  Here are a few pictures from that experience.

Notice the missle is shooting through the Soviet flag
Notice the missle is shooting through the Soviet flag

P1000167 P1000168

This door weighs 10,000 pounds and yet could be opened and closed by 1 person given the bearings and balance for how it was installed.  No one other than the “missleiers” and the cook were allowed below ground.  Crews maintained a 24 hours on and 24 hours off rotation.  Security was tightly controlled for who got access to this area.  In the event maintenance work had to be done, it was always in the prescence of a commander and armed security.  They took this very seriously.

Butch and Alex
Butch and Alex

After visiting the bunker, we were overwhelmed by how impressive all of this was.  I highly recommend taking the time to do this if you are ever in the area.

Day 4 was still not done.  We next headed to the Badlands…


The panoramic shot was taken near the end.  The larger version of this shot is even more impressive.  The Badlands are this very interesting geological area of, well, they are not really mountains, nor are they hills per se.  They are just sticking up in the middle of South Dakota.  This link from the National Park Service does a good job of describing how the Badlands were created.

Here are some pics from our time spent there including the wildlife we saw.

IMG_2861 IMG_2862 IMG_2864 IMG_2868 IMG_2875 IMG_2879 IMG_2890 IMG_2898 IMG_2901 P1000214 P1000227The Badlands are cool and worth seeing.  After that we went to Deadwood where Bill Hickock was shot and killed.  We ate at the Number 10 Social Club which had amazing food.  Did a wee bit of gambling, lost $20 and called it a night.  Drove back to our cabin and called day 4 done…well, almost.  By nightfall, the sky had cleared and we were able to see the most amazing number of stars.  Everywhere you looked were thousands and thousands of stars.  Even through binoculars was just amazing to see.  A great day in South Dakota.

Mileage Report

Morning odo reading: 3,639

Evening odo reading: 3,639

Miles for the day: 0

Trip start odo reading: 2,417

Total miles for trip: 1,222

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