Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

Across the U.S.: Day 52

by Kathy 14. September 2009 20:35

<< Day 51: Mitchell to Badlands National Park<  | Day 53: Custer, South Dakota >>

Badlands National Park to Custer, South Dakota


We woke at 4 a.m. to the pounding rain on the roof, accompanied by bright flashes of lightening that lit up our room through the shades, and followed by the sharp cracks of thunder.

The air today was surprisingly cold, with a brisk wind that chilled us through our clothing.

Our first stop this morning was the Minuteman Missile Visitor Contact Station, which was near the entrance to Badlands National Park.

During the Cold War, the United States maintained 1000 nuclear missiles ready to be launched at a moment’s notice. At the time that the Minuteman Missiles were installed, the Cold War had been ongoing for 16 years, and fear in the U.S. was rampant.

In 1961, the first Minuteman Missile was test fired. 150 missile silos were placed across the western plains and in the Black Hills of South Dakota, all aimed toward the former Soviet Union. No missiles, however, were ever fired at their intended targets.

The missiles could be launched via underground control centers that were miles away.  Thanks to Hollywood, many people mistakenly believe that the missiles could be launched by pushing a single big red button. In reality, the separate actions of two officers were required, with each simultaneously turning a key 12 feet apart; then at another launch site, two additional keys had to be turned simultaneously. The entire process would take less than 5 minutes.

In 1991, the U.S. and Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, under which each party agreed to reduce the number of active missiles by one half. The Minuteman Missiles near the Badlands were removed, and the land was sold back to the original owners—with instructions that they couldn’t dig more than 2 feet down.

There are still almost 500 Minuteman Missiles throughout the Great Plains—in the states of Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming and Missouri.

Genevieve worked hard to complete the Minuteman Missile Jr. Ranger requirements, and she earned an embroidered Jr. Ranger patch as a reward for her efforts.

Sebastian opted for some snuggle-time with me.

Driving back to the Badlands park entrance, we passed the Ranch Store, which had a large Prairie Dog sculpture out front.

We also stopped briefly at the Prairie Homestead, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Prairie Homestead included a sod house that was built by Ed Brown and his wife when they settled here and claimed their 160 acres under the Homestead Act.

We returned to the Badlands National Park Visitor’s Center.

Genevieve showed Ranger Paul her completed Badlands Jr. Ranger booklet. Ranger Paul carefully went through all of the information, asking her questions. Then he swore her in as a Jr. Ranger.

We still had several more places to explore today before we reached our next campground, which was near the small town of Custer. We set off to drive the 29-mile Badlands Loop Road, which took us through some breathtaking scenery. I just couldn’t get enough of the stripes—it was so fascinating to follow a dark stripe along one set of peaks and then see it continued within the next set.

The road curved through the tall land formations, and then crossed an area that had stretches of prairie land to the right.

To the left, the land had eroded into a valley:

We then cut down into the “Yellow Mounds.”

We veered off onto a dirt road and rattled our way 5 miles down the washboard surface to reach Roberts Prairie Dog Town. Here is Sebastian with his binoculars (notice the buffalo in the background).

Far off in the grass, we could see some bobbing dark shapes—the prairie dogs.

The prairie dogs were very wary of people and would scoot into their holes if we started moving in their direction.

Before leaving, we wanted to get a closer look at the resting buffalo.

This was the first buffalo that we had seen in the “wild”, so we were very excited! We walked cautiously down the road to get a better view, keeping a safe distance from the animal.

We wondered why he was so far away from the rest of his herd, which dotted the landscape in the distance.

One last look at the Badlands:

At the end of the loop road was the famous town of Wall, which is known for its large, touristy drug store.

The Wall Drug Store was started in 1931, during the Depression, and became famous for offering free ice water to weary travelers. It now has numerous other attractions and is visited by up to 20,000 people per day, including many who come on tour buses.

We decided to drive through the town of Wall and check out the drug store—we didn’t need to buy anything, but we thought we’d try to get a “feel” for the place to see if we might want to stop.

The homes in Wall were modest:

We thought the expresso bar inside of a car repair shop was a good combination:

The Wall Motel advertised that it was “retro affordable”.

The rooms looked quite “retro” from the outside. With a completely empty parking lot, it was hard to tell if the slogan was working.

We followed the signs to the Wall Drug Store, turned the corner, and . . . saw masses of cars and a long line of tourist shops. Oh my.

We opted to keep rolling down the road. Our next stop would be the Mt. Rushmore Memorial.

Sebastian fell asleep almost immediately.

The Firehouse Brewing Company had great roadside ads that had first grabbed our attention yesterday on our drive to the Badlands. Each billboard was accompanied by an old fire engine in an eye-catching pose.

(We didn’t eat at the restaurant, but we got a kick out of seeing all of the old fire engines along the highway.)

The sky above the prairie was covered with dark rain clouds, but light blue was peeking out from behind.

Rain did indeed splatter our windshield, but not for long.

The edge of Rapid City had some new tract housing developments--these were the first that we had seen in South Dakota.

Approaching the Black Hills:

A fire had raged through here in the not-too-distant past.

This bridge had wooden support beams, instead of the steel and concrete arches that we were accustomed to seeing.

The rock interior of this tunnel had been given a cement coating.

Near Mt. Rushmore is the town of Keystone.

Entering the national park.

Our first glimpse of Mt. Rushmore—the figures are on the far left side of the rock formation below.

I could barely contain my excitement! I had wanted to see Mt. Rushmore for such a long time. In doing research for this trip, I had come across an article in which the writer had expressed “disappointment” about how “small” Mt. Rushmore was.” I had prepared myself for a short rock cropping with fairly small carvings. Wow! Was I ever astounded! I was standing before a magnificent, granite mountain that stood 465 feet above the ground, with four 60-foot faces carved on it. And it was AMAZING.

The faces on Mt. Rushmore were carved between 1927 and 1941. The original idea for a mountain sculpture had come in 1923 from Doane Robinson, who was South Dakota’s state historian.

Here is a bust of Robinson:

Robinson had been looking for a way to increase visitors to the state, and he had envisioned a rock carving with the faces of various Native American and western heroes, such as Sacagawea, Red Cloud, George Armstrong Custer, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

However, the chosen sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, decided that “national” heroes, such as George Washington, would have a greater appeal. (As a side note, Borglum was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan, a racist, white-supremacist group. His personal views undoubtedly colored his choice of who would—and would not—be placed on the mountain.) Here is a photo and bust of Borglum:

Borglum chose the four depicted men—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln—because of their role in preserving and expanding the territory of the United States.

Borglum created the faces with the help of 400 assistants. He died unexpectedly in 1941. His son, Lincoln Borglum, tried to carry on his work for another 7 months but ran out of funds.

About ten years ago, a new Visitor’s Center and museum was completed, along with a Presidential Trail that wound around to the base of the carvings and gave a close-up view of the Presidents. (Hiking the trail is sometimes referred to as “taking the nostril tour.”)

About 30 feet down the Presidential Trail, we spotted a mother and baby mountain goat.

(A ranger at the Visitor’s Center later told us that sightings of the white goats had been rare recently.)

Near the base, we came across Ranger Emily, who was enthusiastically sharing her wealth of knowledge with a large group of visitors. We eagerly listened in.

The children remembered much of the information from the Mt. Rushmore book that we had shared together over the past two days (“Who Built Mt. Rushmore?”), and they were very engaged in Ranger Emily’s talk. They even raised their hands and answered a few of Ranger Emily’s questions!

We did indeed get a good view of the presidents’ noses.

George Washington was out front:

Thomas Jefferson was on Washington’s left.

Jefferson originally was supposed to be on Washington’s right, as shown below.

However, after two years of carving, a big crack was discovered in the granite. Jefferson’s image was blasted off, and a new carving was started on Washington’s left side. Moreover, Jefferson’s head is tilted upward—some think that this tilt represents Jefferson’s intellectual contributions to this country. However, the actual reason for the tilt was to preserve the structural integrity of the stone. When carving Jefferson’s face, Borglum discovered a crack through the nose; he then changed the design to tilt the head back so that the crack would run through Jefferson’s mouth.

Next is the often-shadowed face of Theodore Roosevelt.

Ranger Emily said that many visitors do not even know who Theodore Roosevelt was (or why he is important enough to be on the mountain). She stated that Borglum knew Roosevelt personally. Under Roosevelt, the U.S. Forest Service was started, and Roosevelt preserved 230,000,000 acres of land as part of the national park system. (Ranger Emily explained that Roosevelt had a strong connection to wilderness areas. When he was only 24 years old, his mother and his wife had died on the same day. He had moved to South Dakota and had relied heavily on the healing power of the land.)

Abraham Lincoln is next to Roosevelt:

Lincoln is the president who worked tirelessly to preserve the union of states during the Civil War.

Near the base of the monument is Borglum’s studio, which has many exhibits regarding the creation process. The design for the monument changed many times. This model showed the figures carved down to their waists.

Inside the museum was another design, showing Lincoln beside Jefferson.

The museum had many large photos and displays. Here is Sebastian in front of a photo that shows the scale of the faces.

The museum also had a small device that allowed people to view video segments of specific dynamite blasts that occurred on the mountain. After pressing a small button to select the desired blast, a visitor could then push down a handle and pretend to detonate the dynamite. Sebastian gave it a try:

(He was quick to point out that the handle did not actually trigger the video blast—the video started as soon he selected a blast option button; the explosion then occurred on the screen regardless of whether or not he pushed the handle down.)

In the Visitor’s Center, we watched the short movie about the history of Mt. Rushmore. Then Genevieve finished completing all of her assignments for the Jr. Ranger program here.

Ranger Jeannette, from New Orleans, carefully checked over all of the information in Genevieve’s booklet.

Then she swore Genevieve in as a Jr. Ranger for Mt. Rushmore.

Genevieve had earned three Jr. Ranger badges today! Her brain is definitely a thirsty one. You go girl!

One last peek of Mt. Rushmore (Washington’s head) as we left the monument:

These beautiful rocks were nearby:

Our campground tonight was near the small town of Custer.

The town had a display of painted buffalo. I snapped some quick shots, but we planned to come back tomorrow and spend time admiring the artwork.

As we were reviewing today’s activities before bed, Sebastian remarked that Mt. Rushmore “seems like it’s boring, but it’s fun.” He then clarified that he had thought visiting the monument would be “boring” because he wouldn’t be “doing” anything. He said that it had actually been “really fun going on the walk and seeing how pretty everything is.”

Genevieve added that Mt. Rushmore was “really beautiful” and that it had been “very cool to see a mountain goat and her baby.”

Hmmmm . . . “really fun,” “pretty,” “really beautiful,” and “very cool”—yes, my precious children, it was indeed all of those things for me too . . . and more . . . because I got to share the experience with you.

<< Day 51: Mitchell to Badlands National Park<  | Day 53: Custer, South Dakota >>

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Comments (2) -

1/20/2012 3:08:20 AM #

Tiberio Leonardo Guitton

Very good, very instructive and loving. Beautiful family. Votes of peace and joy forever.

Tiberio Leonardo Guitton Brazil | Reply

1/23/2012 10:12:11 AM #


Thank you, Tiberio! We appreciate your kind words and good wishes.

Kathy United States | Reply

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Map of Our Journeys

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Our travel map

Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

   Bumthang Valley
   Gom Kora
   Paro Valley
   Punakha Dzong
   Sangdrup Jongkhar
   Wangdi Phrodrang

   Janko Marca
   La Paz
   Laguna Colorada
   Laguna Verde
   Salar de Coipasa
   Salar de Uyuni
   San Pablo
   Santa Rosa
   Sud Lipez
   World’s Most Dangerous Road

   Banff National Park
   Battle Hill Nat'l Hist. Site
   Boya Lake Prov. Park, BC
   Burns Lake Bike Park
   Canyon Sainte-Anne
   Dawson Creek
   Eastern Townships
   Fort Nelson
   Jasper National Park
   Kluane Lake, YK
   'Ksan Historical Village
   Lake Louise
   Liard Hot Springs
   Niagara Falls
   Quebec City
   Thousand Islands
   Vancouver Island
   Watson Lake

   Forbidden City
   Great Wall at Mutianyu
   Hong Kong
   Summer Palace
   Terracotta Warriors
   Tiananmen Square
   Yungang Caves

Costa Rica
   Arenal Volcano
   Finca Corsicana
   Hanging Bridges
   Manuel Antonio
   Poas Volcano
   Proyecto Asis
   Sky Trek Zip Lining
   Venado Caves


   Amazon Rainforest
   Chaquiñan Bicycle Trail
   La Mitad del Mundo
   Napo Wildlife Center
   Papallacta Hot Springs
   Proyecto DCR
   Yasuní National Park


   Baja California
   Frida Kahlo Museum
   Hierve el Agua
   Marietas Islands
   Mexico City
   Monte Alban
   Oaxaca City
   Puerto Angel
   Puerto Escondido
   Puerto Vallarta
   San Agustin
   San Martin Tilcajete
   Santa Fe de la Laguna
   Santa María el Tule
   Studio of Jacobo Angeles
   Teotitlán del Valle

   Dead Vlei
   Elondo Village
   Etosha Nat'l Park
   Hippo Pools Camp
   Hoba Meteorite
   Khowarib Camp
   Moose McGregor's Bakery
   Mowani Camp
   Ngepi Camp
   Nkasa Lupala
   n'Kwzi Camp
   River Dance Lodge
   Seisriem Camp
   Treesleeper Camp

   Cañón del Pato
   Cerro de Pasco
   La Oroya
   Machu Picchu
   Nuevo Jaén
   Tingo Maria
   Yungay Memorial


South Africa

   Rock of Gibraltar
   Santillana del Mar

United States National Parks
   Arches National Park, UT
   Badlands National Park, SD
   Bandelier National Monument, NM
   Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
   Cahokia Mounds (UNESCO site), IL
   Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
   Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Cape Hatteras National Shoreline, NC
   Capitol Reef National Park, UT
   Civil Rights Memorial, AL
   Death Valley National Park, CA
   Denali National Park, AK
   Devil’s Tower National Monument, WY
   El Morro National Monument, NM
   Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
   Glacier National Park, MT
   Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
   Grand Tetons National Park, WY
   Great Basin National Park, NV
   Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI
   Joshua Tree National Park, CA
   Kaloko-Honokohau Nat'l Hist. Park, HI
   Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, NM
   King's Canyon National Park, CA
   Martin Luther King Jr. Nat'l Hist. Site, GA
   Mesa Verde National Park, CO
   Montezuma's Castle Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Monticello, VA
   Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD
   Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
   Olympic National Park, WA
   Petrified Wood National Park, AZ
   Pinnacles National Monument, CA
   Pu'uhonua o Honaunau Nat'l Hist Pk, HI
   Pu'ukohola Heiau Nat'l Historic Site, HI
   San Antonio Missions Nat'l Hist. Park, TX
   Tuzigoot National Monument, AZ
   Walnut Canyon National Monument, AZ
   Washington Monument
   White Sands National Monument, NM
   Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK
   Wright Brothers National Memorial in NC
   Yellowstone National Park, WY
   Yosemite National Park, CA

United States, Cities and Places
   The Alamo, TX
   Alaska Wildlife Conservation Cntr.
   Alpine Loop in CO
   Anchorage, AK
   Antares Junction, AZ
   Arctic Circle, AK
   Barrel Oak Winery in VA
   Biloxi, MS
   Bottle Tree Farm in CA
   Calico Ghost Town, CA
   Canfield Mountain Trail System, ID
   Cape St. Vincent, NY
   Carson City, NV
   Carter Caves State Park in KY
   Chappie-Shasta OHV Area, CA
   Child's Glacier, AK
   Circle B Chuckwagon Show in SD
   City Museum in MO
   Cody, WY
   Corn Palace in SD
   Crazy Horse Memorial in SD
   Custer State Park, SD
   Dalton Highway, AK
   Dinosaur Tracks in AZ
   Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC
   Dry Falls (Sun Lakes-Dry Falls), WA
   Fairbanks, AK
   Front Royal, VA
   Gallup, NM
   Goffs, CA
   Grand Canyon Caves, AZ
   Grand Canyon Skywalk, AZ
   Grave Digger Monster Truck in NC
   Great Salt Lake, UT
   Hackberry General Store in AZ
   Hannibal, MO
   Hatteras Island, NC
   Hawaii (Big Island)
   Hickison Petroglyphs, NV
   Holbrook, AZ
   Hole in the Rock, UT
   Homer, AK
   Honey Island Swamp Tour in LA
   Hoover Dam, NV
   Hyder, AK
   Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. in AZ
   John’s Peak OHV Area, OR
   Kailua-Kona, HI
   Keepers of the Wild Nature Park in AZ
   Kennecott, AK
   Kennecott Copper Mine in UT
   Kingman, AZ
   Lake Havasu, AZ
   Lake Tahoe, NV
   Las Vegas, NV (winter 2010)
   Little Brown Church in IA
   London Bridge in AZ
   Loneliest Road in America, Hwy. 50, NV
   Los Angeles, CA
   Lost Colony Show on Roanoke Isl., NC
   Lowe’s Speedway in NC
   Mardi Gras World in LA
   Mark Twain Museum in MO
   Meteor Crater, AZ
   Million Dollar Highway, CO
   Minnesota Zoo
   Mitchell, SD
   Moab, UT
   Moab, UT (dirt biking)
   Montgomery, AL
   Montpelier, ID
   Navajo Nation, AZ
   Needles, CA
   Nevada Beach, NV
   Newberry Springs, CA
   New River Gorge, WV
   New Orleans, LA
   Niagara Falls 
   North Pole, AK
   Oatman, AZ
   Old Faithful Geyser in WY
   Omak Stampede, WA
   Painted Desert, AZ
   Park City, UT (summer)
   Plymouth, NC
   Portage Valley, AK
   Portland, OR
   Prospect OHV Trail System, OR
   Resaca, GA
   Riverside State Park, WA
   Rock City in TN
   Rosa Parks Library and Museum in AL
   Roswell, NM
   Russian River, AK
   Salt Lake City, UT
   San Antonio, TX
   San Diego, CA
   San Juan Islands, WA
   San Francisco, CA
   Santa Catalina Island, CA
   Seattle, WA
   Sedona, AZ
   Shoe Tree in CA
   Shoe Tree in NV
   Silverton, CO
   Sonora, TX
   St. Louis, MO
   St. Paul, MN
   Talkeetna, AK
   Telluride, CO
   Route 66
   Twin Knobs Recreation Area in KY
   Virginia Beach, VA
   Washington D.C.
   Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park in IL
   Williamsburg, VA
   Winom Frazier OHV Area, OR
   Winslow, AZ
   Zion National Park, UT

Planning Our Adventures

For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

Click here to discover where we are now, as well as our uncoming travel plans.

Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin