We had to drive quite awhile to get to the Badlands National Park, but we had not been there back in 2005, so it was definitely on our list to do this trip! It was an extremely windy day, so I am very glad we took the truck and didn’t trey to ride over on the motorcycle. I am not sure I would have enjoyed the day if we’d had to fight the wind on the bike.
The Badlands National Park is a mix of both prairie/grasslands and the more well known eroded gullies, peaks, buttes and hills. The park consists of 244,000 acres with 64,000 acres within Badlands National Park that have been designated as wilderness lands. The black-footed ferret, which was almost made extinct through loss of its habitat, has gained a foothold in the park since being reintroduced there. We watched a video showing how the biologists are reintroducing this rare ferret into the Badlands. Of course, we didn’t see any on the road – they are nocturnal and very elusive creatures. We did see big horn sheep though munching grass right no the side of the road.
Franklin Roosevelt established the Badlands National Monument on Jan. 25, 1939, with Congress adding 130,000 acres previously used for military purposes at the end of the 1960s. On Nov. 10, 1978, the area was officially made a national park. Although hiking on the trails is allowed, I am glad we didn’t try to hike in the strong winds we had today. In fact, we were delayed at the visitor station because a hiker had fallen on a trail nearby, and a helicopter had to come in to take the person to a hospital so the only road through the park was blocked for awhile.
At one time, the park was at the bottom of a great sea, and the result is large numbers of fossils have been discovered in this area. Badlands National Park is famous for the preserved bones of a variety of prehistoric mammals that once roamed this part of North America. Many fossils were on display at the visitor center and while we waited for the road to re-open, we looked at them. In the park, weird shapes are etched into a plateau of soft sediments and volcanic ash, revealing colorful bands of flat-lying strata. The sand colored, red, yellow, and greenish bands in the sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires in the park are sedimentary rocks. The stratification adds to the beauty of each scene, binding together all of its diverse parts. A geologic story is written in the rocks of Badlands National Park; it is an account of 75 million years of accumulation with intermittent periods of erosion that began when the Rocky Mountains reared up in the West and spread sediments over vast expanses of the plains. The sand, silt, and clay, mixed and inter-bedded with volcanic ash, stacked up, layer upon flat-lying layer, until the pile was thousands of feet deep. In a final phase of volcanism as the uplift ended, white ash rained from the sky, completing the building stage. It was eerily beautiful!
Near the Badlands National Park, there is a small new national historic site, dedicated to an eerie reminder of the Cold War: missile silos and a control center make up the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. In South Dakota alone, there were 150 nuclear-tipped Minuteman Missile silos planted in ranchlands. Several of these sites (Delta and Bravo units -- each with a Launch Facility and 10 missile silos) were just north of the Badland’s boundary. The Delta Launch Control Facility just off I-90 and a missile silo further up the interstate are both part of this new historic site. We got to see the one silo that has been preserved, with the warhead removed, some internal parts filled with cement and components of the launching mechanisms welded together, rendering them dead but plenty realistic. It was also a powerful experience for both of us to get to stand in the underground control center, which is like a buried spaceship, where two men would have needed to insert their two keys simultaneously, to activate the launch sequence. A crew of men stayed topside, in 3 day shifts, fighting boredom, while providing support to 2-man crews who stayed locked below ground in a buried cockpit from which command decisions were made, and alerts processed. It was more special since the man who gave us the tour had actually been one of the missileers back in 1963-1964.
We were lucky and got guided tours of both locations. At Launch Control Facility Delta-1, we learned that the building functioned as topside support for the underground launch control center. It acted as a multi purpose facility to help personnel perform their mission. Its primary purpose was to assist the missileers stationed underground in carrying out their mission. Mechanical implements such as a backup generator for auxiliary power and environmental control equipment provided backup support in the event of an emergency. The building contained a security control center where all security activities were coordinated from and personnel would be processed when coming on site. The structure also included living quarters, a day room, a dining area, and a recreational room that the Air Force personnel used during three day duty shifts. All remain as they looked in the time period in which they were used – even the magazines of the time are still there.
From 1963 until 1991 Delta-09 contained a fully operational Minuteman Missile. The Delta-09 silo was one of 150 spread across western South Dakota. In total there were 1,000 Minuteman’s deployed at the height of the Cold War. These nuclear sentinels waited silent and deadly to perform their destructive duty at a moment’s notice.
Fred was very interested in this historic site. We learned a lot about it. The first Minuteman within Delta-09’s silo was the IB. The IB was part of the second stage in development of the system. An improved encasement for the missile’s motor led to an effective increase in range from the 4,300 miles of its predecessor, the IA, to over 6,000 miles for the IB. The IB weighed over 65,000 pounds yet could travel at speeds in excess of 15,000 miles an hour. To put this speed into perspective, consider that a person driving across the continental United States will average 50 hours for the trip. If they instead piggybacked on a Minuteman their travel time would be cut to five minutes. A Minuteman could strike its intended target within the Soviet Union in half an hour.
Minuteman II’s replaced their predecessors in the early-70s in the 44th Missile Wing fields. The missile housed in the Delta-09 launch facility now is a Minuteman II test missile. The Minuteman II was considered a technological wonder at the time of its deployment. Upgrades had been made in order to improve precision and range of America’s existing ICBM force. The Minuteman II had a range of up to 7,500 miles, effectively placing it within reach of almost anywhere on earth. It had the capability to strike within 900 yards of its intended target.
Each Minuteman II carried a 1.2 megaton warhead. This singular weapon could wreak untold devastation upon an enemy, making it truly a technological terror. A one megaton warhead is equivalent to one million tons of dynamite. The Minuteman II’s warhead was sixty-six times more powerful then the Atomic Bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan during World War II that killed 140,000 people. The most shocking statistic is that the Minuteman II’s warhead was more powerful then all the bombs the Army Air Force dropped on Europe in their successful bombing campaign that led to American victory in World War II.
A one megaton explosion releases an unprecedented amount of energy. Any structures at or near ground zero are immediately vaporized. The blast fireball is a mile in width. Those witnessing such an explosive force see a blinding light many times brighter then the noon day sun. A tornado like vortex with wind speeds of over 150 mph engulfs the surrounding area for miles. The residual effects of radiation contaminate not only the blast area, but also send radioactive particles swirling into the atmosphere. Truly, the destructive effects of a Minuteman’s warhead are so great that America vowed to never use these weapons in a first strike capacity. Only in the event that an offensive strike had been launched by the Soviet Union would America have launched its nuclear weapons.