Thursday, July 15, 2010
Do You Want to Play a Game?
I was never very afraid of Nuclear War. I don't know if it's because I never thought about it or if my Mom and Grandma didn't worry about it so I didn't. Maybe I assumed we'd never be capable of using nuclear devices (aka bombs) again after we saw the devastation of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Who knows? I think if I'd lived in North or South Dakota or Wyoming, though, that I'd have been worried, very worried. Did you know that we had 1,500 minuteman missiles scattered around these states? You could see the tops of their silos from the highway. You could see the house-like launch sites, too. You couldn't miss them; they were surrounded by 8 ft. high fences with antennae. Why South Dakota? Because we could shoot the missiles up over the Arctic Circle and they could be in Moscow within 30 minutes. Of course, Moscow had their long-range ICBM's pointed at us, too. Theirs could be over to targets (like Washington, DC) within 30 minutes, too. Oh, happy day! This is what I learned on Terrific Tuesday or at least that's what was written on the tickets that we received at the Minuteman Missile Visitor's Center. At 8 am, they started handing out free tickets on a first come, first served basis to the 9 am, 10 am and 11 am tours of the launch control facility. We got there at 8:30 am after calling to make sure there were still tickets. We secured our tix to the 10 am tour and then drove back 17 miles to the missile silo itself. We looked down into the silo and saw the top part of the minuteman missile and the huge door that gets blown off when the missile flies. After checking that out we drove back down 14 miles to the launch site. We put our name on the list of tours and waited until we were called. One of the missilers (the guys who would shoot off the missile) said that their jobs were hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of sheer panic. They had tv, books, magazines and basketball to alleviate the boredom, and a cook made them 4 meals a day. The support staff had the same boredom troubles except they had to go out in all kinds of weather to check security breaches like the local jack rabbit or grasshopper who tripped the alarm. Then we took an elevator down 31 feet to where the missiles were launched. Steve almost forgot to take pictures he was so fascinated by being in the actual room. The two missilers were seated 12 feet apart. They monitored 10 missiles per launch facility during their 24 hour shift, locked in a vault with a 5 foot thick door. They each had keys that they had to turn simultaneously to launch the missile when they got the alarm and processed the codes. The man who ran the elevator for us had spent time as a cook in several of the launch sites. He worked 3 days on and 6 days off and lived in the area. He said that he was never worried about dying in a nuclear attack and actually preferred that to living in the aftermath.
After seeing a man-made "wonder" we headed to see a God-made one, the South Dakota Badlands. We stopped at the first pull-off spot. There was a boardwalk down to a gap in the hills that fronted the parking lot. It opened up to a vista of a desolate yet striking landscape. We wandered around a little and then got back in the car to drive the 36 mile loop, hoping to see some denizens of this part of the world. After about 6 miles, we were done. not with the drive, mind you but rather with the landscape and the lack of life. We'd seen a chipmunk and a few birds and that was it for wildlife. Of course, it was pickin' hot, so maybe all the wildlife was smarter than we were and hunkered down in the shade. All in all we were glad to get to mile marker 110 and the town of Wall.
South of the Border has nothing on Wall Drug. Since we'd left Rapid City we'd seen signs for this Wall Drug place. At first, I was put off by all the advertising. I do tend toward being a gosh darned independent, but after seeing so many signs, I was caught up in the spirit of the thing and asked Steve if we could eat lunch there. He agreed. We walked in to one big shopping opportunity. Not all of it was gaudy souvenirs. You could buy cowboy boots, hats, spurs, camping equipment, rocks, fossils and western art if you were so inclined. We were content with the souvenirs and the free bumper sticker. We treated ourselves to a buffalo burger each and onion rings and spent the rest of the couple hours we were there just looking around and posing for pictures with the various statues posted around the place. Wall Drug even had a t-Rex that would look at you and a few times an hour would huff and puff and scare the kids. We wanted Americana kitsch as we drove around this great country of ours, and we found it in Wall Drug.