Tuesday, September 2

Devil's Tower

Garry and I have spent the day slowly making our way West towards Yellowstone National Park. Today's touring highlights include a brief stop at the Air & Space Museum attached to Ellsworth Air Force Base, a wander along the lovingly restored Main Street of Deadwood and a hike around the base of Devil's Tower.

Devil's Tower is possibly best known for its starring role as the back drop for Steven Spielberg's movie classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I recall watching the movie as a child and being absolutely fascinated by its soaring features.  It really did look like something from outer space.

The tower is the eroded remains of a volcanic intrusion, created deep underground and slowly revealed over eons by the elements.  It rises more than 263 metres above the surrounding landscape.  Its sides are corrugated by long columns of solid green-grey igneous rock. It first comes into view more than 20 miles away. Its form immediately recognizable and simply grows in statue as the pass miles pass.

Garry and I stopped for a picnic at its base before taking a leisurely 40 minute stroll around its circumference. We spotted a pair of climbers about halfway into our journey. They come from all over to try their hand at scaling its angled rock face.  We never grew tired of watching its profile morph as we walked in its shadow.

However, the highlight of the day for me had to be the Black-tailed Prairie Dogs.  A sprawling "town" of these delightful, squeaking animals is located along the tower's access road.  We stopped to watch dozens and dozens of these furry little socialites go about their business. A few family packs complete with babies even made a brief appearance.  Too cute!

Our route to the Devil's Tower took us past Deadwood, one of Hollywood's original wild west towns.  It was once the home of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.  Both infamous locals are buried in the town's charming cemetery.  The town itself has been carefully restored over the last two decades, its preservation funded by taxes dollars from gambling venues scattered through out the town.

Our first stop of the day was the South Dakota Air & Space Museum.  Its primary theme is focuses on the Cold War as the neighbouring air force base is home to a squadron of advanced high-speed B-1B Lancer nuclear capable bombers, one of only two in the USA.  These formidable planes can carry deadly nuclear weapons swiftly across the Atlantic in a matter of hours. A retired model sits pride of place at the museum's entrance.

The base was also home to separate squadrons of Minutemen II intercontinental ballistic missiles. For more than three decade, a field of 150 Minuteman II missiles and 15 launch-control centers covered more than 13,500 square miles (34,964.8 km2) of southwestern South Dakota.  The last of these missiles were deactivated in 1994 under the terms of the START treaty signed with the Soviet Union in 1991.  Two inactive missiles remain on display in their original silos.

The supersonic Hound Dog nuclear cruise missiles are also impressive. The B-1B Lancer carried two of these sleek white jet propelled weapons under its wings. They totally look the part, aerodynamically stretching almost five metres from tip to tail (below - with Garry providing scale). It seemed extravagant to have such a large plane only fitted to carry two missiles. That is until you realize that each of these 790 kg missiles unleashes a blast three times larger than that which flatten Hiroshima.  You're inevitably left wondering how such a small device can wreck such havoc.

1 comment:

Rhonda said...

I've been reading your itinerary but just remembered the "blog"/ Great reading and photos. Thank you.
Hope you are both having fun.