Monday July 9thIt was fortunate that I was able to make it all the way to the Badlands National Park and able to find a camping spot in their Cedar Creek Campground near the main visitor center. I was in bed and asleep by 10:00pm MDT and up before sunrise the next morning. My plan was to find a scenic location to catch the sunrise for what I hoped would be lovely photos. From my pre-trip research, Norbeck Pass seemed to fit the bill, so that was my first destination on my drive of the park. With a 5:15am sunrise, I was ready with time to spare since it would take some time for the sun to clear the craggy peaks located along the Fossil Trail.
This National Historic Site is free, but has very limited capacity (max of six every half hour) for their main tour of the launch control facility. At the visitor center, they have a couple of small exhibits and show a brief (12-15 minute) video explaining the significance of the missile facilities that existed throughout South Dakota during the cold war era of the 1960's. With the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991, the Delta Launch Control as well as the Minuteman II missile silo (aka Delta 09 Launch Facility) located some 10 miles away, were decommissioned and the missile itself unarmed.
The photo to the right shows the missile beneath the surface of the enclosed dome (see photo above).
After my time at the Minuteman Missile Historic Site, I headed back into Badlands National Park to travel out the far western end, in hopes of see more wildlife including buffalo. Unfortunately, this part of my drive seemed to really be a long waste of time as the herd was too far away to see anything more than brown "dots" and the road itself was just a rough washboard gravel surface making for a long and bumpy ride. Coming out at the other end of the park, I then drove north into Rapid City where gas was a top priority before heading on to Custer State Park.
After my drive along the Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park, I headed out towards the town of Custer. As with the town up by Mt. Rushmore, the tourism industry seems to be providing visitors with all of the trappings of any good tourist town. It looked remarkably like Branson, Missouri or Wisconsin Dells in terms of the old time photo shops, candy & fudge stores, tee-shirts selling two for $25, etc, etc. and too many people wandering the streets. I must say, however, I did enjoy all of the artistically painted buffalo found throughout Custer. Many told a historical story while some were simply decorated in wild and outlandish designs.
I left Custer, South Dakota heading on west towards Wyoming. The next several hours would find me traversing through a lot of small western towns through the plains and oil fields that brought economic boom to this area many decades ago. I ended my night at the KOA in Buffalo, Wyoming . . . a perfect location to start my final drive day to Yellowstone.
Footnote: On Sunday I drove 792 miles in 12 hours and on Monday I drove 434 miles.