TandemHearts

Badlands & MIMI 2007

September 12th, 2007

  • Tandemhearts' photo

The “Work is Over Rated” tour reached its outer limits of civilization with a trip to Badlands National Park and the Minuteman Missile Historic Site. This corner of South Dakota is pretty empty and is a long drive from anywhere (2 days from Glacier National Park and 2 days from Moab), but it was worth it. As a “bonus”, we stopped at Wall Drug.

In early 2007, Thom found an article that described the Minuteman Missile Historic Site and it became the nucleus of of our travel plans. One of the newest parts of the park service, this site preserves a Cold War era missile silo and launch control facility. Because it is so far from anywhere (1800 miles from our house), we needed to find other things to do when we got there. The National Park Service internal designation for the site is MIMI, so for months we talked about how to get to mimi. Mimi is adjacent to the Badlands National Park, so we figured that we could put together a full day at the two places. That meant driving over 1,000 miles round trip just to see mimi. It was worth it. The missile facilities are very small, so the park service requires reservations for the 6-8 person tours that are offered once or twice per day. The tour starts with you driving your car down the highway, caravanning with the other tour members and an NPS car, to reach the launch control facility. The LCF is a nondescript building, not much bigger than a double-wide. On the surface, all you can see is this dull, generic military building, surrounded with a fence and miles of open land. The surface building housed security personnel, a cook, and maintenance staff. The LCF staff are all assigned to a nearby air base, so most of the personnel infrastructure was there. Inside, there are some dorm rooms, a kitchen, a rec room, the security office and an elevator. Down the elevator is what it’s all about. Underground there is a capsule for the missiliers. This is were the men and women who control the launch of the nuclear armed missiles worked 24 hour shifts, sealed in a chamber little bigger than a hallway.

After the LCF tour, you again jump in your car to caravan to a missile silo. Each LCF controlled 10 silos. It took the agreement of 2 missile crews, each with 2 people, to actually launch a missile. The silo has been fitted with a glass top, so that you can gaze down at an actual Minuteman missile – minus the nuclear warhead. There is also a vehicle on display that was used by security personnel to travel between sites. The vehicle is pretty spartan inside and looked like it would be no fun in a cold South Dakota winter or a blazing summer.

  • This is the crew commander's position. It has lots more indicator lights, but again, very few actual switches. On the right side you can see the slot for the key, just under the number "60". ...

The tour gives some history and a glimpse into the daily routine of the missile crew. The above ground facilities are sort of interesting, preserved from when the LCF was decommissioned in 1994. But the capsule tour is the reason to go; that is were you get a sense of the responsibility the missile crews carried. It was very thought provoking, especially when you remember that while the 150 missile silos in South Dakota are retired, there are about 500 missile silos still on active duty in Montana and North Dakota.

  • Sunset over the Badlands hints at the complex landscape.

Badlands National Park is actually very small compared to the other parks we had visited on this tour. The main road through the park is just 22 miles long. There are probably less than 20 miles of hiking in the whole park. Nonetheless, it is an interesting place. The big attraction is the ridge that divides the upper and lower prairies. The ridge is only a couple of hundred feet high, but it has a great texture and at sunset the color is impressive. Because it rained the day we were there, we only drove the 22 mile loop road, with no hiking. One end of the loop road is near the town of Wall, SD so we made a trip to Wall Drug.

  • It rained too much to hike around, so we took a trip to Wall Drug. They have billboards for about 500 miles on every highway, in every direction. One of their big claims to fame is the 5 cen ...
Wall Drug started as a drug store in the middle of nowhere. Today it is a shopping complex & tourist attraction in the middle of nowhere. They are famous for bill boards that dot the highways for miles around urging you to stop in. They offer free ice water and 5 cent cups of coffee. The “Free ice water” offer was what got them going. In the 1930s, free ice water was a great draw to drivers on the lonely, desolate cross country highway. Today the big draw is the over the top tourist trap atmosphere. Wall Drug is now a collection of small stores – the western store, the knife store, the rock shop, the bookstore, the camping store, etc and a couple of restaurants. Most of the stores are fairly generic, but two are notable – the book store and the camping store. The book store sports a great collection of western history books and books by and about Laura Ingles Wilder, author of the “Little House…” books. The camping store has an impressive array basic camping gear. No fancy names, just a lot of useful basic equipment. This was surprising because it is hard to imagine many people camping in the area. Oh, and that 5 cent cup of coffee – it’s worth about 3 cents, very weak.

We took in all three places in one day. Another day of hiking Badlands might have been interesting, but we don’t feel that we missed much because so much is visible from the pull outs along the loop road. The photo of the missile will take you to the complete gallery.

  • This is the last Minuteman Missile in South Dakota. The warhead has been removed. There are still hundreds of active silos in other states.
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