Today we had to leave for the airport early – by 6:30am! (We are not early risers by nature, if you can’t tell! ha) It was a quick easy drive to a small airport. 7 gates. ha Before we even got to Starbucks from the airport, my mother was already at her gate.

Norah couldn’t hack it that early. haha

We got our coffee and headed out East towards Badlands National Park. But about 50 miles before a town called Wall, these signs start popping up in all directions. In fact, we saw the first one a couple days ago along the road in Wyoming. Wall drug- famous for their FREE ice water and 5 cent coffee. They have been advertising on the roadways since 1931 when they opened in the middle of the great depression. The owner dug a well that gave ice cold water… and road weary travelers started dropping in for refreshment. The business grew into a must stop destination for the town of 800 residents…with over 2 million people stopping in a year for their free ice water 🙂

We arrived to Wall Drug about 10 minutes before they opened and the parking lots were already full and people were lined up outside the doors. ha

It’s just a bunch of small knick-knack stores with a drug store on one end and a cafe. A few quirky carved out characters to get your photo with. But…if you go all the way through to the backyard, you’ll find some fun. And your free ice water you were promised 🙂

So, after a fun little stop there, we headed into the Badlands. Thusly named by early Native Americans here because of its lack of water and hard to navigate terrain. It was bad land.

This, by the way, made our 10th National Park this trip! Quite a number for one roadtrip!

The Badlands is basically just a drive through about 20 miles of this scenery. There are a couple spots where you can walk out onto the rocks. A couple other short trails out in between some rock… but mostly just viewpoints and Prairie dog towns for viewing the landscape.

A bighorn sheep was holding up traffic for a good bit eating that good grass right beside the road.

We were driving the Badlands “backwards” coming in from the West, so we visited the visitor’s center last so we could learn more about the area and get Norah’s National Park Passport Book stamped. It’s a really cute book for kids (or adults really!) to document when you visited, what you saw, what you liked best, wildlife you saw, etc… and each park has a stamp available at the visitor center for you to get your book stamped, like a passport stamp. Norah really liked collecting the stamps. Hoping we can add to it over the years and she’ll have a great memory book of trips to various National Parks. Doubt we’ll hit them all- there are 63 parks, some in remote Alaska or the Channel Islands or American Samoa.. haha but never say never!

This skull was found in the badlands. Its of a Titanothere. I had never heard of such a thing. It was basically a two-horned rhino looking animal- but has no living relatives today.
Also, this creepy pig bear thing. ha No thanks on meeting this on the trail. This was an Archeotherium. A giant 5 foot-to the shoulders- pig.
But for every scary creepy animal they’ve reconstructed, there are these finds. This is a Messohippus. A prehistoric tiny horse. The precurser to our modern horse- yet just the size of a small dog. Now I want one as a pet.
I didn’t know owls burrowed in prairie dog holes… and I figured you guys might not either. So now you know! ha So strange.

After our exit from the park, while trying to walk out into prairie dog towns and see one up close, we find this private farm with a giant prairie dog statue out front where you can actually feed them, because they are like pets- not protected in the national park. It was busy, so we didn’t stop. Norah still hasn’t forgiven us. ha

Our last couple stops in this area were at the Minute man Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center and then on out to the Delta-9 Missile Silo launch site.

This visitor center is set up to memorialize our Cold War defense system- the Minuteman II Missiles that were buried underground in this area as our national defense system against Russian nuclear attack.

You can see the various naming convention of the different launch command centers underground. The green area had Alpha 1, Bravo 1, Charlie 1, Delta 1. A video of old footage said that November 1 in the red section had the best cook- he used to bake the guys homemade bread…so everyone wanted a November 1 assignment haha. Funny bit a humor to balance the very seriousness of their duties at the time.

Delta 1 is the only area that still exists and the silo still has a fake warhead in the shute ready to be deployed. They give scheduled guided tours to the Delta 1 command center underground where 2 men would have sat ready with keys and codes awaiting a command code to send the world into mutual destruction. The tours were booked out until September, so that will have to happen at another off-season non-Covid point. But we did go out to the Delta 9 launch site a few miles away to see the actual mission silo.

These Minuteman II missiles had 80 times the payload of the bombs we dropped on Japan. Imagine the impact-1-2 million people dead with each blast and we had hundreds of these ready to go. Russian had more than we did! Imagine a launch across the Eastern seaboard. 150 million dead or so? Scary, scary stuff.

My favorite artwork from the bunkers haha
Just to show the obsession with all things atomic at the end of World War II. You really don’t want me to get going on how we never needed to nuke Japan once, let alone twice to end the war. That it was just a bunch of boys who wanted to demonstrate power and test their new weapons… its complicated and I don’t have enough energy today, so you are spared that soapbox 🙂
A chart explaining the chain of command and multiple steps needed to actually launch a missile. Luckily, it never came to that.

After taking in the exhibits at the visitor center, we drove the 15 miles out to the Delta-9 Missile silo

At first, you think- why South Dakota? But seeing this graphic depiction of the trajectory to Moscow…it all makes a lot more sense now. In 30 minutes, any of these rockets would have reached Moscow.
There is a glass top over the silo now so you can see now inside to how massive these rockets were.
The retractable cover that would have ran back along the track to allow the launch of the missile, if fired.

So, after confronting just how close we were to killing ourselves off for about 30 years there… we drove on towards Minnesota. Along the way we passed a billboard saying “Feed Otis Popcorn” – and Otis was a camel. Well, Norah saw it… and she REALLY wanted to feed Otis popcorn. haha Good marketing, folks. So… that’s how we came to stop in at 1880 town along the interstate.

Kegan and I were not overly thrilled to be going here, but we didnt have a ton planned- they had bathrooms and Norah seemed to be genuinely excited about feeding a camel. ha Even less excited to learn they charge almost $20 a person for the pleasure of visiting their town! But… all in all, we were really glad we stopped! They had some really neat items and a huge collection of antiques I hadnt seen before…. so I changed my tune. Now, I say it’s definitely worth a stop!

The desk of the sculptor of Mt. Rushmore unassumingly sitting in a round barn. ha
A prop from Dances with Wolves that was used in scenes when his horse was shot. Apparently, the people who own this had Buck, one of the horses that was used to film the movie and there was a ridiculous amount of letters and paperwork proving that “Cisco” who was famous at the time as the stunt horse, was actually all scenes of Kevin Costner riding Buck, their horse. *eyeroll* – so ignore the Dances with Wolves stuff if you go. ha Otherwise, cool stuff.
Norah immediately recognized the wolf Two Socks here from the movie as well. We had her watch it before our trip to give her a little more historical context about the West.
The first building you enter is a two story museum in an actual round barn with a hay loft. It was very creaky and squeaky…not sure its been inspected to hold the weight it holds and all the tourists.. but no collapse while we were there 🙂
They have moved a ton of old buildings to the site. Most of which are in better condition than other frontier type towns we’ve seen with this similar theme of preserving the feel of an old frontier town.
Every building had fantastic antiques and items in great shape. I was impressed with the types of things displayed.
This was really the highlight for me. A full REAL saloon building. Still with the stage area, the upper balcony, the upstairs brothel rooms still set up and furnished as they would have been. Someone working behind the bar downstairs. It felt like you stepped right into 1880 and you could play a hand of poker or sit upstairs if you were a lady along the wall and watch the commotion below. I have never seen a real building from the time still look like it was ready to open for business in a few hours! It was very cool.

We finally got back around to Otis…but he was just inside a fence, chilling… no one around and no popcorn to be seen. And he wasn’t interested in us. ha So…Norah did not get to feed a camel popcorn, but she saw him and she seemed happy enough.

Walking back to where Otis was, we saw Longhorn cattle up close. Closest we had ever been. Those horns are MASSIVE.

An old bank complete with old teller window
Old fire engine
Old firehouse. Norah got to ring the bell for the whole town to hear.

We got back on the interstate and headed East again, passed this guy walking his pet dinosaur along the road.

That brought us to the Dignity statue at a rest area overlooking the Missouri river- at the location where Lewis and Clark crossed out into the territory on their expedition.

This spot along I-90 near Chamberlain, South Dakota was also the spot where Lewis and Clarke set up camp before crossing the Missouri River into uncharted territory with the Corp of Discovery in 1803. It makes sense- the entire eastern side of the hillside slowly slopes down to the river like one giant boat ramp.. so I can see how this seemed to be a good spot.

There was a large gallery of items explaining some of the crew and goods the exhibition used…there was even a 55 foot keelboat like the 3 the group used for supplies… but of course looking at my camera role, the only photo I took was of the stuffed prairie dogs that they discovered! haha

Random giant pheasant

We trucked on across South Dakota, eventually arriving at the famed Corn palace in Mitchell, SD.

Every year, the town of Mitchell creates all new murals out of corn cobs for display. They have been doing this for over 100 years, attracting visitors to their town. It’s the world’s ONLY corn palace. ha

Showing how they create the murals. Sketch them out, mark the color for each area. Cut corn cobs in half and put them in!

Last stop of interest today along the road was the Porter sculpture park near Montrose. I thought it looked interesting, but after visiting and talking to the strange man who designed all of this- I now call it a must stop.

He said he works on the sculptures during the winters and then mans the booth and runs the RV campground in the summers. He said it sure beats sheep herding. ha

He said this had an “Indiana Jones vibe”- some reviews online said it had a satanic theme and they wouldn’t visit… but after seeing and talking to the guy- he’s just weird. He’s not a devil worshipper. Definitely Indiana Jones seems more accurate, no matter how weird it may seem. ha
He made little metal bats that hung upside down inside the bull.
A very watchful eye up in a corner inside, too.

All in all, a great little walking path with tons of poems to accompany his many sculptures. We enjoyed seeing them as well as our conversations with the artist himself.

Dinner was just a roadside BBQ joint right up the road from our hotel. Unassuming and we didn’t have high hopes- but they had OUT OF THIS WORLD smoked chicken wings. Couldn’t recommend them more!

One more post for the last two days coming up – Minneapolis to home- coming soon! 🙂