June 20, 2015 Badlands NP, South Dakota

IMG_20150620_130336We left the Mount Rushmore Black Hills area and traveled to Badlands National Park for two nights of dry camping in the park. What a beautiful view of the grasslands we had from our front door with a buffalo as our camp host. He was there the entire time, grazing and paying no attention to everyone camping. Badlands National Park is made up of 244,000 acres with the largest expanse of protected prairie ecosystem in the National Park system.IMG_0239

The Lakota Indians called the area “land bad” and French fur trappers referred to the area as “bad land to cross.”. While It is an area of peaks and valleys, wide prairies and wide extremes of weather and appears formidable, much of the land is level, fertile and covered with grasses. The land was homesteaded years ago with many ranchers’ descendants still living on the land with ranches of cattle and sheep. The livestock feed on the native grasses and wheat is often grown.IMG_20150620_130902IMG_20150620_131532IMG_20150620_131536IMG_20150620_131555

This area was once sea level and volcanic activity pushed up the ocean floor leaving marshy plains.  For approximately 30 million years layers of mud, sand and gravel were deposited. Prehistoric animals roaming the area died and were buried beneath the river sediments. The area is known today as being a rich source of fossils. About one to four million years ago erosion began to outpace the deposits, leaving colorful spires and formations. The movie at the visitors center said the formations are eroding at the rate of an inch a year!IMG_20150620_132551IMG_20150620_132641IMG_20150620_132905IMG_20150620_153726

The earliest people were mammoth hunters who came to the area over 11,000 years ago followed by nomadic tribes. By the mid 18th century the Lakota (Sioux) were present and used horses from the Spaniards. French fur trappers were the first Europeans followed by soldiers, miners, farmers and homesteaders. After 40 years of struggle culminating in the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890 the Lakota were confined to reservations.

Our first night a storm came up. We first noticed the lightning while taking an evening walk. As the night went on the lightning increased to an explosion of light, a constant light show we had never seen the likes of. Our weather system clocked wind gusts of 50 mph followed by rain and hail and we were really rocked in the RV. The most frightening thing was we were in the middle of nowhere with no place to go for shelter. We could not follow the storm’s progress on TV or radio like we did in Denver. We both have weather alerts on our phones and both phones were going crazy.  We watched the intense center of the storm pass fifteen miles north of our campground by using a radar weather app.IMG_20150620_154533IMG_20150620_155007IMG_20150620_155554IMG_20150620_163037

There is nothing quite like having your phone saying you are in a life threatening situation and should seek shelter and having no place to go! The next day a worker at the visitors center told us it was one of the worst storms he had seen and there had been tornado clouds above us. Some other tourists told us two hours to our south there were several semi trucks turned on their sides by the wind.


The view out our front door with our Buffalo host far right

The next day we drove the Badlands Loop Road, marveling at the scenery before us. The area reminded us somewhat of the Painted Desert in Arizona but not as colorful. The views and rock formations were magnificent. We saw bison, mule deer, a coyote and many prairie dogs. There is a very nice visitors center with a movie and exhibits about the area.

We were relieved not to have another bad storm during the evening but we were awakened during the night by a thunderstorm with heavy rain. Thankfully it did not include wind and hail.IMG_20150621_110804IMG_20150621_111104IMG_20150620_171331

We left the campground early the next morning since we had a couple places to visit near the small town of Wall.IMG_20150621_120347

IMG_20150620_115121The first was the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. During the Cold War the Ellsworth Air Force Base located nearby was one of the key facilities whose mission was to install the launch facilities in the 1960s, maintain and launch the Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM). Two of the ICBM sites have been preserved. Launch Control Facility “Delta One” has a guided tour which requires a free ticket and “Delta Nine” missile silo has a self guided tour. The guided tour can only accommodate 72 people a day and the tickets are usually all given out before 8:00 AM each morning. We toured the excellent visitors center with very informative displays and then drove to the site of the self guided tour. Under the STrategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in 1991, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. began to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear arms. Both countries agreed to preserved one missile to preserve the history and significance of the Cold War. The missile is there without the warhead and the door is welded half open. There are no longer any missile silos in South Dakota.IMG_20150621_141537IMG_20150621_141559

We stopped for lunch at Wall Drug, a huge tourist trap located in Wall, SD where everything under the sun with a western theme is sold. I did get some cute pictures of Bill!IMG_20150621_133458IMG_20150621_133524

IMG_20150621_150714We ended the day with a stop at the “Wounded Knee: The Museum”. This Museum documented in detail through exhibits and photos  the events leading to the massacre, the capture by the 7th Calvary,  the massacre of 300 Lakota men, women and children on December 29, 1890, and its aftereffects. It was heartbreaking.  The actual site of the massacre is located several hours away near the Nebraska and South Dakota border.

After leaving Wall we drove an hour to Black Hawk outside of Rapid City for a two night stay so we could get the oil changed and tires rotated on the RV.

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