Epic Us roadtrip ends

Day 13 – Devil’s Tower Wyoming –500,000 Sturgis-bound bikers –  Custer State Park and Crazy Horse mountain granite carvingDespite having to return our broken car we continue up to Devils’ Tower visitor centre and look around. The Tower really is magnificent both from Frank’s back porch which is actually closer than the visitor centre. Even as we look at it, we know that Frank and his charge are probably on their way back down. A couple of years ago, Frank climbed this tower every day for a year for charity, (the temperature in summer 150% and in winter it’s covered in inches of snow and ice – amazing man!Carry on through Custer Park , visit Crazy Horse granite mountain carving. Since 1948 only the face has been completed, and already we get a sense of the enormity of this project as the four presidential heads of nearby Mount Rushmore will fit inside the face. Back-track on ourselves inside Custer State Park (famous for it’s 1500 strong bison herd) and “Do” the Needles scenic byway. There are about a half a million bikers in the area already  as the week-long 75th anniversary of the annual “Sturgis” bikers Raleigh is about to begin, so winding hair-pin bend scenic highways are not an ideal option given that there are legions of these things on the road taking the curves wide and easy. Which idiot booked for us to be here this week – That would be me!!

Into Deadwood – big mistake. Deadwood is a one main street original Western Town (eat your heart out Doris Day),  with a casino in every building. A mini Vegas without any panache, and despite the influx of thousands of bikers, not much gambling is taking place and many of the restaurants are half empty.

Our Hotel – the “Bullock” is a refurbished original of the town which has been around since the early 1800’s. It is reputed to be haunted by the spirit of Seth Bullock the original owner who was an acquaintance of Buffalo Bill and had all sorts of fun in his life-time. This of course is why I chose the Hotel, I thought it might be fun to be “freaked out” of my mind all night long as the “Trip Advisor” web-site is full of traveller’s tales of sightings of Seth. nada, not even a slight tingling of my arm hair – and I feel stuff like this in all sorts of places.  Of course, it might have been better (or worse depending upon your point of view) if I’d not specified a “non-haunted room” when I booked (sorry double negative). I wanted to feel the presence of “something” in the cold light of day but not during the night……

Day 14  – Deadwood; The Badlands, Minuteman Missile centre, Wall DRUG and Mount Rushmore culminating in last night at Rapid City Airport hotel

Hack it round the I90 to The “Badlands State Park” area and make a wrong decision. We do the amazing badlands loop first instead of stopping at the “Minuteman Missile” centre first (at eastern end of this loop which takes an hour to complete).

Imagine you are living in the US in the late 50’s, early 60’s in the midst of the Cold War era. Your country – and Russia have been in an arms race since the late 1940’s in a bid to out-stock the other for nuclear dominance. You have been issued instructions on how to build a fall-out shelter on your basement ( basically you send off a plan of your house and several weeks later the government sends you back a diagram of the best place in your house to position the shelter and how to build it). You are conditioned to believe that the world’s only hope is the use of nuclear missiles as deterrents. This goes on until the fall of the Berlin Wall in the late 80’s. Cut to the existence of the Minuteman Missile, (D9)  a missile which with the advent of sold fuel technology can be launched with incredible speed – about 5 minutes from the order being given to actual launch – A squadron of these missiles ( Five of these missiles form a flight and 10 flights in a squadron)  can be launched from a single underground control centre many miles away. Imagine being one of the 3 missiliers in this launch room, and knowing that actually executing the job you’ve been trained to do,  means that firstly you are a “goner” (you would be in the direct line of fire of the retaliating returning missile and there was no way out of those pods) and secondly that the world as you knew it would be gone forever. If you failed to launch the missile for whatever reason, the “Operation Looking Glass” fighter planes overhead had the ability to activate the missiles. In other words, at the point of activation, the mission had failed.This threat went on for about 40 years. I believe that in the UK whilst we were part of this “Cold War” we were never as aware or as paranoid as our counterparts in the US (don’t quote me I might be wrong, though I lived as a child in both the US and the UK during these times). The missile silo here in the Badlands – along with its counterpart “showpieces” in other parts of the US –  though deactivated, have to be covered with a glass dome so that Russian satellites can check that it is not being deployed. Even today the updated version of the Minuteman lies in huge numbers primed and ready to go and buried in the depths of innocent looking US countryside.

Seeing this site had been my priority for this part of the tour as my Father had been a scientist in the US during the 50s/60’s and space/weapons had been a passion of his. However you can only book a free tour exactly one week ahead of your visit, and you need to ring as soon as the office is open that day. We were out of cell-phone range for all of 30 minutes during that crucial window and I couldn’t get a guaranteed place, so we turned up to go on the waiting list an hour before the tour was due to run. Unfortunately 5 other people had got their before us and only 1 of these got on the underground tour, so IF ONLY (I had gone straight to the centre and followed the magnificent “ Badlands ” loop after). We did get a Ranger-led talk at the silo site and saw a couple of films at the centre so not all was lost.

Onto WALL Drug – one of the largest stores in the US . Yeah worth the visit,

Supper in a Mexican restaurant, and onto Mount Rushmore for the evening; plagued by another enormous thunderstorm, it cleared for us to walk the trail at dusk and sit in the  outside auditorium, listen to the patriotic stuff, watch the film and see the monument “Lit” – boy that was a disappointment; we’d expected a proper sound and light experience – dunno why.

And that was it – our holiday was done. Back home next day via Denver and bumped up to Business Class  – whoopee

All I can say about the sights and experiences of this trip – AWESOME! No other words to describe it


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