National Parks

(On the third anniversary of our drive across the US and our arrival in the PNW, I think back and talk about what it was like on each day of the trip. This is Part 5 of an 8 part series)

January 25, 2011

Murdo. A small oasis in a sea of flat snow fields as far as the eye can see. We arrived last night, and ate at what seemed to be the only restaurant in town. I think everyone else in there was a local.

In the morning, I called the Minuteman Missile National Park. The website says you can get a tour of the missile control bunker, but it’s very limited, so check before you go. The Ranger was incredibly nice, and said there was space. The best part about this? We were in the Central Time Zone, and the National Park was in the Mountain Time Zone. I was calling at 9am my time, for a tour that would start at 9am his time.

I don’t necessarily think I would have been bored if we had taken this drive during the summer, but I really enjoyed doing it in winter. The snow on the ground almost served to highlight the most important parts of the drive. You couldn’t see the brown ground, only the buildings and fences that were tall enough to be seen.

South Dakota snow

South Dakota snow

The missile control bunker was exactly what I had expected. If you’ve seen any Cold War movies, you’ve probably seen this same thing. But if you’re ever in the middle of South Dakota, I’d recommend going.

After Minuteman Missile, we pressed on to Badlands National Park. Stepping into that park was almost like going to Mars. Pictures can’t properly convey the beauty and alien landscape of that place. And, again, I think the snow only served to accentuate the landscape. The hills and wrinkled landscape stood out more with small pockets of snow caught in them. It’s funny, because I usually gravitate toward man-made objects, and military or historical items even more so. I usually would rather go to a museum or than take a walk in the woods. So you would think I would want to go back to the Minuteman Missile NP. But the Badlands took hold of me the minute I saw it, and has not let go. It was the best single part of the trip across the country, and I very much want to go back. It was hard to try and find just one photograph that conveyed the Badlands. You will just have to go see it for yourself.

Pure beauty

Pure beauty

We continued on, and stopped at Wall Drug, as all travelers must. It’s not that the place is amazing or something to not miss. It’s that you drive for hours on a straight road with nothing but empty fields and signs for Wall Drug. It wears you down until you have to go, just to satisfy your curiosity. Plus, it’s yet another island (like Murdo) in the middle of miles of emptiness – so it’s a good place to fuel up yourself or your car.

Our day of touring ended at Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. This is where tour books come in handy. We had read about an alternate view of Mount Rushmore, and it was worth driving around the corner to see, once we had seen the main view.

Good ole George

Good ole George

That night we stayed at a hotel in Rapid City that had a water slide. Growing up in New England, all of our water parks were outdoors. You went during the summer, and did not go during the winter. So it was quite fun to end our day sliding down a slide into a pool while snow could be seen on the ground outside. South Dakota was my favorite state along this trip, for reasons I’m sure you can see.