South Dakota. Missile tour, Prairie Homestead, Badlands NP, Jewel Cave NP, Crazy Horse Memorial, Mt. Rushmore NM.
26.09.2016 - 30.11.2016 70 °F
I got up with the sun and retraced my way back to I-90. The police tapped on my window at 2am, just checking on me they said. The lady at the campground warned me that they would. Crossed the Missouri River and stopped at the first rest stop for bathroom, clean up and reload my water bottle. I saw a sign for the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site and decided to stop. It is just off I-90 and worth your time IMO. It was 8:30am and I walked up to the Ranger standing outside and listened to his information. They would open the doors at 9am and offered tours every half hour. I was in the first 6 and was given a ticket for the 10am tour. That gives everyone a chance to watch the movie on the cold war, then tour the exhibits. You have to drive to the Delta 01 Launch Control Facility to start the tour. I drove over to Delta 01 and joined my group. Jim, our guide actually worked at a launch control facility while in the Air Force then came out of retirement to to give these tours. His photo is on the wall and several on the tour recognized his name when he introduced himself to us. We walk inside the facility, take the elevator down to the launch control area. Now we know why only 6 are allowed each tour. The elevator only holds 7 adults. We learn about life underground for the airmen that control the missiles. It was very cramped quarters but I popped off a few shots for my blog. We were very fortunate to have such an expert on the Minuteman Missile and the launch procedures. The ranger at the desk told us how lucky we were to be taking the tour today. The summer crowds were gone, the weather was perfect and the free tours would end soon. I looked it up and he was right. You now have to book your tour online, $6.
30 minutes later we were back on top and I headed down 240 for Badlands NP (BNP). I stop at the Prairie Homestead Visitor Center to see if it is worth my time & money. I decided I don't want to spend the $7 to walk around old buildings. There is a real 1909 sod house on display but I am content to just use my zoom and get a few shots.
Down the road to BNP, I stop at the VC for my stamp, map, exhibits then take 240 back towards I-90. I got some decent photos of the erosion that makes BNP noteworthy. On my way out of the park, I see a line of cars pulled over. This usually means animals are in camera range. There is a prairie dog town close to the road so I pull over as well. I try to get something worthwhile, but really needed a bigger zoom than I have, Five minutes later I am back heading for I-90. I did not allow much time for BNP as I had been there many years ago and would not be taking any of the hikes. Just get some photos and move on.
240 joins I-90 at Wall so I stop for gas, food. There must be hundreds of signs for Wall Drug as you travel thru South Dakota. They claim they spend $400,000 and their signs every year. Ted Hustead started it all 1931 by offering free ice water to all that would stop at his store. The road to Mt. Rushmore brought thousands of travelers thru Wall and he never looked back. Now there are signs all over the world declaring how far they are from Wall Drug. My GPS takes me right to the place. The huge parking lots are a clue they get plenty of visitors daily. RVs and big rigs have their own parking lot. I go inside to see what all the fuss is about. I had not had anything to eat but pop tarts and granola bars so far, so I head for the restaurant area. The prices are a bit steep but the line is what deters me. There must have been 30 people in line before me. No thanks. Wall Drug is huge and packed with tourists. It looks like they have taken over several stores over the years and just kept getting bigger. You walk from room to room, each one full of kitschy stuff. Anything you want with Wall Drug on it, they have it. Plus souvenirs with the theme of Indians, buffalo, South Dakota stuff and everything else you could possibly want. I don't need any more souvenirs so I am in/out in 15 minutes. I found a gas station that also had a Subway sandwich shop attached. Paid for both gas and veggie sub and headed for Rapid City.
I ate while driving and in less than an hour was in Rapid City. I follow the signs to the Information Center and get some maps and advice. I told the lady my plans to camp in Wind Cave NP (WCNP) until the Buffalo Roundup. She calls them for me and tells me they still have spots available. Her advice was to take 79 South to Hot Springs. A quick look at the map and you realize that you are going too far south and have to go back north to WCNP. She tells me that going thru Custer State Park (CSP) and taking 87 South is very slow going and time consuming. I believe her and get rolling. I set my GPS and cruise control and set off for Hot Springs. I cruise the town looking for grocery stores, restaurants, motels. I see one motel that looks affordable and stop to chat with the guy at the desk. Rates are not too bad until the day before the Buffalo Roundup, then it jumps to $100+. He tells me there are only a few places open for dinner now. I stop at the China Buffet to get prices. She tells me it is $10 for the dinner buffet and they have a TV. I told her I would be back for food and Monday Night Football. A quick stop at the store for bananas, bread & water. WCNP turns off the water today in the campground and the rates are cut in half. I figured I would need a few gallons over the next 4 days. I then head up 385 to WCNP. I stop at the Visitors Center (VC) to verify they still have empty slots and the price has been reduced. Over to the campground, find a spot and pull in. Most NP campgrounds are so big that you drive in, find a campsite, mark it and then drive back to the entrance to reserve and pay. This campground is small enough that I just walk back to pay. I got 4 nights for $18 because I am a senior and the water was shut off today. I meet a Chinese girl that is at the pay station at the same time. We chat a bit and she tells me her name is Hanling, now living in Kentucky. I botched pronouncing her name and asked if 'Hailey' was OK. I think this has happened to her before. Many Americans probably mispronounce it first few times they try. Hanling was gracious enough to let me slide by with Hailey. I told Hanling my plans asked if she would like to have Chinese food in Hot Springs. I was pleasantly surprised when she said yes. We agreed to roll in about an hour. She had to set up her tent, and I wanted to take a sponge bath plus get my van ready for sleeping. I drove back to Hot Springs, parked and we went into the China Buffet. The lady running the place recognized me from earlier, greets us and seated us in a booth. One of the things I like about buffets is that once your drink order is in, you can help yourself. We both picked what we wanted were eating in minutes. I found out Hanling had been born in China but now living & working in the US. With a PhD in Engineering, she had landed a job in Kentucky at a consulting firm. I was impressed. My years at UNLV in Education could not stand up to a PhD! After eating, we went into the banquet room where the TV was located. After an hour of football I drove back to WCNP. Said goodnight to Hanling and hit the sack. I was up at first light and got my oatmeal going. I said goodbye to Hanling as she was heading to North Dakota and Teddy Roosevelt NP. After BF, I cleaned up and decided to tour Jewel Cave NM. Up to Custer then on 16 West. Parked, got my jacket and camera then headed for the cave tour booth. Jewel Cave is a constant 49f (9c) so you will need a light jacket. I paid my $6 for the cave tour and went into the VC. Got the stamp for my NP passport and waited for my tour to be called. Elevator down to the cave and follow our guide thru the cave. Jewel Cave is huge, 3rd longest in the world and not all of it has been explored yet. It was discovered by two local prospectors in 1900. They felt cold air blowing out and decided to explore what they could. Teddy Roosevelt designated Jewel Cave a National Monument in 1908. It was named Jewel Cave because the calcite crystals inside the cave resemble jewels when the light hits them. We listen to our tour guide tell us about what we are seeing. Cave photos are tricky but took what I could. They warn you when you book the tour how many stairs there are. They are not kidding. Anyone with mobility issues simply could not do this tour. About an hour later the tour was over and we took the elevator up and out. They do have 2 hiking trails at Jewel Cave, but 90% of the park was burned by wildfires in 2000. It will be decades before it looks anything like it did before the fires.
I looked at my map and decided to visit Crazy Horse next. I stopped to take a few photos of the burned area then on to Custer. Up 385 North a short distance is entrance to the Crazy Horse Memorial, I pay the $11, and into the building They have built a new visitors center since I was last here about 15 years ago. Take in the movie, the indoor exhibits then outside. There are plenty of Chinese tourists here all getting photos of the huge sculpture of Crazy Horse off in the distance. It is so big you could put all the President's heads at Rushmore on just the head of Crazy Horse. Those working on it admit they will not live long enough to see it finished. It is financed by entrance fees, no tax dollars used here. This is my third time here and doubt I will come back. Not that much progress in last 15 years that I can see. A few have speculated that it will never be finished. What is certain is that all of us here today won't be around if and when it is finished. I asked a few visitors to take a photo of me with both the model of the sculpture and real thing off in the distance. After about 30 minutes out on the plaza, I decided I had seen enough. I went back to my van to switch into shorts. It had warmed up considerably since this morning. It was another perfect day in SD. Sunny, warm, light wind.
As I walked to my van, I saw Hanling's car parked 2 over from mine. I recognized it and then checked the license plates to be sure. I changed and then fixed a PB&J sand plus an apple for lunch. I wanted to see her again so decided to wait until she was through touring the Crazy Horse Memorial. I greeted her when she got to her car and found out she had been over to Jewel Cave as well. I was a tour behind hers and then we both headed for Crazy Horse. She was going to visit Mt. Rushmore next and so was I. I followed her over to Rushmore and realized we made a mistake. Last time I was here they did not charge for parking. Now they do, $11 per vehicle. We could of left one car at Keystone and saved $11. Too late now. We each paid $11 to park and walked beneath The Avenue of the Flags. At the top of the amphitheater you have the best view of the President's heads. We both got our photos and then decided to walk the President's Trail. You get some interesting views of the heads as you walk the trail. Certainly worth doing if you are mobile enough to climb some stairs. There are a few exhibits at the end plus a small gift shop. I bought a Mt. Rushmore bag and we headed for the parking lot.
Hanling had booked a motel in Rapid City so I followed her there. I needed a Walmart for a folding chair for the Roundup. I left mine in Vegas and would need one in a few days. All of us viewing the Roundup will have hours to wait before they drive the buffalo past the viewing area. I bought some bananas, apples plus the chair and I was done shopping. Hanling found a Pizza Hut on her phone that was not too far from her motel. I put the address into my GPS and we would meet there in a few hours. I went to a Wendy's to use their wifi then read until time to meet. I used my GPS to find the Pizza Hut and got a surprise. It was for take-out only and not a real restaurant. I called her and said we needed to find a different pizza place. The problem was that my GPS is 10 years old and the pizza place close to her motel was not in my GPS. The street was not on my GPS either. Hanling was kind enough to drive to the Pizza Hut so I could follow her to the Pizza Ranch. The Pizza Ranch turned out to be a great choice. It is a buffet style with salads, soup, bread sticks, and dessert plus pizza. All for $11, a bargain IMO. I gave it a good review on TripAdvisor. We had a great meal and I had a good dinner companion. I got to know more about Hanling, her job and life in Kentucky. All too soon it was time to say goodbye, again. She could not stay for the Roundup and needed to head for Teddy Roosevelt NP. I had basically the same itinerary, but she would be 2-3 days ahead of me. She had noticed one of my headlights was out. I used my bright lights as much as possible on the drive back to WCNP rather than drive with 1 headlight. I set my GPS for WCNP but made a poor decision. I should have gone thru Hot Springs again but followed my GPS instead. It took me thru CSP instead. The lady at the Information Center was right. 16A & 87 has too many curves and slow speeds to make decent time to WCNP. That route may be shorter mileage wise, but not time-wise. I got back to my camping site about 10pm and turned in. What a great day. The weather was perfect, toured Jewel Cave, Crazy Horse, Mt. Rushmore plus had dinner with Hanling again. Hopefully we can stay in touch meet again one day.